A major priority in the design of this course is the engagement of students as scientists and citizens. This is accomplished through the variety of techniques described below.Chemistry and Policy Syllabi (Acrobat (PDF) 170kB Jul11 08)
In the Course Intersection Method, two courses interact for a three
week period toward the end of the regular semester. Students get
together at the beginning of the semester to decide on the project
and to assign a division of labor which mixes student groups from
both classes. Prior to the
beginning of the course intersection period, the Chemistry students will have learned about lead measurement through laboratory exercises emphasizing instrumentation, calibration and validation and will have worked with abridged EPA methods. They will be prepared to approach the project as analytical chemists. The Urban Studies students will have examined how cities reflect power hierarchies. They will have reviewed major questions in urban theory and looked at global and local variables influenced by consumption, production, distribution and exchange patterns, in terms of job possibilities, housing, education and health care, i.e. the background knowledge for policy making.
At the beginning of the course intersection period, we present the historical context of the primary commercial uses of lead that have led to its ubiquitous urban distribution, as well as epidemiological and toxicological studies of lead, including various sources of information spanning scientific primary literature, reviews, newspapers and government reports. Then, as integrated groups, Chemistry and Urban Studies students collect samples for lead analysis, and begin to discuss steps in policy making. The exercise has three culminating events: the Instrumental Analysis students present their results of sample analysis to the Urban Studies students, who, after consideration of the science, make a presentation of their policy options. Finally groups comprised of students from both courses discuss the recommendations, giving the experience of peer teaching the connections between science and policy making.
|Timetable for Intersection Period||Instrumental Analysis||Urban Studies|
|Preparation||Group assignments and project description, sample collection||Group assignments and project description, sample collection|
|Week I||Risk assessment/methods for lead measurement/Sample Preparation||History of Pb use/Epidemiology and Toxicology/Sample Preparation|
|Week II||Sample analysis||Debates on policy|
|Week III||Chemistry students present to Urban Studies audience||Urban Studies students present to Chemistry audience|
During the pair of presentations, we give special attention to how social scientists and scientists collaborate and communicate with one another regarding policy recommendations with economic, political, and social considerations. Along with the policy recommendations, we ask the policy makers what additional information would benefit the policy decision process and challenge the scientists to propose new studies, again reflecting the interaction of the scientific community with the general public at an early stage (e.g. public hearings) of urban problem solving. This is intended to reflect the dialog that occurs when a municipality, interest group, etc. requests that the scientific community provide them with the results of a study. Special emphasis is placed on understanding how the experimental design limits (or extends) what can be said about the data, sources of error and uncertainty, and statistical analysis of data. We initiate a broader discussion of the roles of scientists and policy makers and we emphasize how effective communication demands understanding of both the audience and the issues, and that the civic responsibility of scientists and policy makers requires good communication between the two groups as well as with the public.
We have chosen lead poisoning as the focus topic for our course intersection due to the wide availability of published studies, accessibility of lead analysis in an undergraduate laboratory setting (Breslin, 2001; Markow, 1996), public awareness, and most importantly, the continuing salience of the lead poisoning problem. This is especially true in urban environments where minority groups are disproportionately exposed (English, 2001; Millstone, 1997; Warren, 2000).
Because of the prevalence of lead contamination, the choice of setting for the course intersection project can be drawn from old homes, playgrounds, residential neighborhoods, former industrial sites, or school buildings. We have also consulted with the College Institutional Review Board regarding issues pertaining to work involving human subjects.
The intersection period thus serves as a model for what happens in
a democratic process. In such a process, an optimum solution might
only be achievable if policy makers understand and appreciate all
information, including the value of scientific data, in order to
serve the public responsibly. Conversely the value of the input of
such data might certainly be heightened if scientists are
appreciative of the social context of the problem, and are prepared
to participate in making policy as citizens. Bridging this gap in
an academic setting provides our science and social science
students with first hand experience questioning boundaries, and
prepares them for the challenges of informed decision making as
contributing citizens in a democracy.