The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has excellent programs for training scientists and engineers, as well as specialists in management and economics. To prevent their programs from becoming silos, MIT uses its Centers, such as the Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS), to enable cross-program interactions. The Training Core of the MIT Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center exists within CEHS and addresses the need for integration by providing cross-disciplinary education and training to scientists and engineers from seven departments. By way of this Core, people trained in this program are well prepared to address problems created by hazardous chemicals in the Mystic River Watershed and in rural communities in Maine. Moreover, by way of this Core, trainees are prepared to become the next generation workforce that will address the problems of acute contamination affecting many other areas of this country. Chemicals to be studied in the field as research foci include alkylating agents and polycyclic hydrocarbons; the training program is more generic and includes study of a broader array of compounds typical of those found at the more than 1,200 heavily contaminated Superfund sites in the U.S.
The training program employs an educational paradigm that cross-trains chemical, biological, civil and environmental engineers – along with chemical, biological and earth scientists – in the needed areas of biochemistry, toxicology, environmental and epidemiological sciences. The Training Core combines elements of existing programs at MIT, as well as units developed specifically for the purposes of this proposed MIT SRP Center. The centerpiece of the Training Core, which helps to integrate the whole and make it greater than the sum of its parts, is a course in “Fundamentals of Toxicology and Environmental Health,” to be taught each year in an intensive format during the 3.5-week MIT January independent activities period. It has a research project design element, similar to other courses taught at MIT. The design projects are inspired by interactions with the community, via the Community Engagement Core. The course content is at the graduate level and catered to their scientific and engineering constituencies.
The MIT SRP Training Core includes a mentoring plan for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, as well as an internship opportunity for students and postdoctoral fellows interested in the field of environmental health. The Training Core also implements a well-established strategy for recruitment of next-generation environmental scientists and engineers from under-represented groups.