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Environmental Justice Experiential Learning Opportunity Program – Summer 2023

Environmental Justice Experiential Learning Opportunity Program – Summer 2023

Environmental Justice Experiential Learning Opportunity Program – Summer 2023

Aug 31, 2023

The MIT SRP created and conducted an Environmental Justice Experiential Learning Opportunity (ELO) program from June 3rd to July 28th, 2023.  Supported in part by an MIT ELO award, this program offered eight MIT undergraduate students the ability to participate and experience on-hands laboratory activities in a range of ongoing SRP research.  In addition, there were seminars from the US EPA and Silent Spring Institute to underscore the need for public health work centered on environmental justice.  Furthermore, workshops such as strategies in reading manuscripts and research papers as well as career options gave the ELO students practical concepts as they continue their academic path.  To make the learning tangible, there a visit to Wilmington, MA where the Olin Chemical Superfund site is located.  This field trip allowed the students to see first-hand how environmental contamination has public health consequences, but more importantly, the discussions and interactions with Wilmington community members showed them on a personal level, the difficulties and the life changing aspects for those living near a Superfund site.

As part of the program, the students kept a journal, reflecting upon each experience, whether it was a workshop, research work, or a field trip.  These reflections were to describe not just what they learned academically, but also to ponder on and to examine societal behavior and moral struggles regarding public health and economics.  The feedback from the students expressed a new understanding and a greater appreciation of how research can advance public health and the benefits of community engagement.  They noted that this multi-faceted learning experience enriched their:

  • Understanding of environmental justice and its associated challenges
  • Research skills
  • Knowledge of public health organizations and their impact on problem-solving
  • Career development ideas
  • Wellness in balancing studies and personal happiness
  • Awareness of what community members experience when they are impacted by hazardous chemicals.

A critical aspect to the training program was to provide training to Postdocs and Graduate Students who served as mentors for the undergraduates. The mentoring experience both enhanced their leadership skills while also raising awareness to the public health challenge that are faced by millions of people living close to Superfund Sites. The importance of environmental justice was also a theme throughout the training experience.


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