PhD Program in Environmental Health Offers Multidisciplinary Focus

PhD program in environmental health

Elizabeth Marder (left), Chandresh Ladva, Heather Strosnider, and Cassie O’Lenick are the first PhD students in environmental health sciences. Another five students enrolled this fall.

Elizabeth Marder remembers the day when her interest in the environment was sparked by a lecture on the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Her curiosity led to an internship with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C, where she maintained a public database on ingredients found in cosmetics; a summer traineeship sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; and an internship at cdc. "All gave me an introduction to the smorgasbord that is environmental health," Marder says.

Her curiosity has grown since from nascent to encompassing. She is one of the first four students to enroll in a doctoral program in environmental health sciences that launched at Rollins in fall 2011.

Central to the new doctorate is a multidisciplinary focus that mirrors a wide-reaching field. Whether students go on to pursue careers in population science, basic science research, or environmental exposures, the RSPH doctorate will give them broad, fundamental experience in core disciplines, says Jeremy Sarnat, director of graduate studies in environmental health.

"We want them to be exposed," Sarnat says. "It helps them figure out what they want to do."

 One of the students, Heather Strosnider, who completed her Rollins MPH in 2004, waited to pursue a doctoral degree until the school got its program up and running. "This program gives us the wiggle room to create our own path," she says.

Specifically, students take two years of classes in three research areas: exposure science, biologic mechanisms of susceptibility and disease, and environmental determinants of population health. During their coursework, they rotate with faculty who are working on solutions to real-world environmental challenges. Along with the program design, the faculty are what drew this first competitive batch of students to Rollins, they say.

When Paige Tolbert became chair of environmental health, one of her top priorities was to offer a doctoral program. "It was long overdue," she says, "with all of our competitors already having one." But coming late to the table allowed RSPH to design a distinctive program that Tolbert expects to fuel a growing synergy in research and scholarship. "This takes us to a new level," she says.

This fall, the department welcomed five new students to its second PhD class.—Rhonda Mullen 

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