Integrating Data Science into Environmental Health Sciences’ Curricula

Andrea Baccarelli, Leon Hess Professor Environmental Health Sciences Chair, Environmental Health Sciences

Jeff Goldsmith, Associate Professor Biostatistics

The Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) department examines how environmental exposures and climate change affect human health and disease. As data are the foundation of our research, data science is fundamental to the development, analysis, and interpretation of our work. Compared to biological data, encompassing genetics through proteomics, environmental data are infinitely complex. As we train the next generation of environmental public health leaders, our students must have not just a glancing familiarity, but rather an ingrained understanding of data science.

Through three complementary and sustainable initiatives, we plan to bring graduate students in public health to a higher level of quantitative fluency and engagement with data science. First, working with Biostatistics faculty, we will develop a new intensive course: Introduction to Data Science for Environmental Health. This course will be team-taught with Data Scientists and Environmental Health Scientists in the second half of the second semester to give master students a stronger theoretical foundation on data science and provide a technical toolkit for students to take into their summer practicums. Second, with the guidance of biostatisticians, we will formally evaluate how our department can more effectively implement data science throughout our curricula to synergize how data science is taught in upper-level EHS courses. Finally, during the funding period, we will begin developing a masters-level state-certified program in Environmental Health Data Sciences.

Our department seeks to develop a more cohesive approach to data science in our courses and program offerings to ensure that our masters students, who arrive with strong biological but sometimes limited quantitative backgrounds will be trained with quantitative skills and will gain experience using the analytic tools necessary to understand environmental health data more effectively. We anticipate students will graduate with enhanced analytic training and will be poised to become future environmental public health leaders.