Twenty-six Years of “Walking on Air” Moments
Carol Tobin knows about transition. In 1992 she was one of eight staff members who moved with AIHA from Akron, Ohio, to northern Virginia, close to the regulatory heart of occupational health and safety. When the Fairfax office opened its doors on Nov. 1, the Ohio transplants were joined by dozens of new staff. “Fifty people all started the same day, at the same time, in an office that had just been rebuilt from a cement floor,” Tobin recalls. “That was the utmost transition experience anyone could ever have. I mean, we’re having a lot of staff transition now, but nothing compares to back then.” To make matters even more challenging, AIHA’s Permanent Conference Committee was in town that very day to plan the 1993 AIHce. “There were people who were sure that the 1993 conference was going to explode, that there was no way we’d be able to pull it off with all that staff transition,” Tobin says. “I’m not saying that it was easy behind the scenes, but to most members, it looked pretty seamless.” A seamless experience is the goal of every professional in Tobin’s position. The average member’s conference begins when the lights go up at the opening session and lasts the better part of a week. For Tobin, AIHce is a year-long project requiring a high level of coordination among staff and dozens of volunteers. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that no one knows anything about,” she says. Asked to reflect on the ways AIHA has changed over two-and-a-half decades, Tobin focuses on technology. For many years, building the AIHce program involved a series of face-to-face meetings among dozens of staff and volunteers. The annual session arrangers’ meeting was a lively affair where volunteers bargained with each other to get their preferred presentations into their sessions. “The room would start to buzz just like the Wall Street stock exchange,” Tobin says. “People would start bartering and swapping and shopping abstracts. It was a big negotiation, face to face.” When the bartering ended, the PCC would resolve conflicts and schedule the presentations. “If a session arranger wanted to appeal a PCC decision, they would have to march up to that head table and talk to the two conference co-chairs and make a case,” Tobin says. “It could get pretty passionate.” Technology has somewhat muted that passion, Tobin says. Today’s session arrangers use Web-based software to swap abstracts, and negotiations are carried out via phone or e-mail. While Tobin takes pride in having successfully moved this process online, eliminating travel expenses and saving time, she recognizes that technological improvements come with intangible costs.
Over the next year, AIHA will say farewell to four senior managers with a collective eight decades of experience in the association. The Synergist will profile each of AIHA’s retirees prior to their departure. This month, Carol Tobin spoke with The Synergist about her twenty-six year career as AIHA’s director of Global Education.
“The scripting, the production, the rehearsals—to me, it’s like a little taste of showbiz.”
“It did a lot for collaboration among technical committees and the PCC when they were together that one day and building the program. That just doesn’t happen now. But again, that’s progress. There’s a pro and con to every advance.” One thing that hasn’t changed in Tobin’s time at AIHA is the excitement she feels from the keynote sessions at AIHce. “The scripting, the production, the rehearsals—to me, it’s like a little taste of showbiz,” Tobin says. “You’ve got two thousand people in the room, all of the leaders of the profession, all the members, all the different disciplines. With some of these sessions, it’s created my most walking-on-air moments.”
They’ve created some white-knuckle moments, too. One year, a keynoter’s itinerary included an international flight and multiple connections, with poor weather forecast along the route. He was due to arrive at 2 a.m. for an eight o’clock presentation. “I was basically up all night like an air traffic controller monitoring websites” for weather reports, Tobin says. Everything went off without a hitch, but since then she has added a clause to the standard keynoters’ contract requiring them to arrive by 9:30 the night before. With her retirement set to begin on Jan. 1, Tobin is looking forward to far fewer worries about logistics. She plans to do many of the things that the year-long AIHce timetable has kept her from doing, such as indulging her interest in history, and possibly taking some dance classes. But she feels fortunate to have spent such a long career in the service of the industrial hygiene profession. “There are so many people I have enjoyed working with,” she says. “It has been my pleasure to work with hundreds of volunteers going back now for twenty-six years. I’m always impressed by what they do in their work, and how they devote so much time to this organization when they’re so busy and have such important jobs in their own areas.”
AN AIHA FAREWELL
thesynergist | TOC | NEWSWATCH | DEPARTMENTS | COMMUNITY
AN AIHA FAREWELL
Mallory, at age 14, became entangled in an ice-packing machine while working a summer job to earn money for church camp. Once a budding athlete and artist, Mallory lost function in both arms. Her life will never be the same.