The development of an undergraduate major in toxicology at Nazareth College provided the opportunity to develop a one-credit Principles of Toxicology Seminar designed to address ethical reasoning skills and communication (both oral and written), areas which can be challenging to address in traditional courses and which have been noted to be areas of deficiency in toxicology graduates. The seminar is a co-requisite to Principles of Toxicology, the introductory course in the major, and is built around the study of 5-7 environmental issues selected by the students. The issues are introduced through readings, documentaries, and student small group oral “environmental issue presentations.” Students then write “policy papers” through which they survey the primary literature to determine the health effects of the chemical(s) implicated in the issue and make a determination of whether they believe the data support the current exposure limits set by regulatory agencies. Student evaluations of the seminar using the IDEA metric indicate substantial progress on objectives related to critical thinking and oral and written communication skill development, among others, as well as overall very positive views on the seminar itself and the field of toxicology. Thus, this seminar may serve as a pedagogical model of a course that engages students with real-world environmental issues of interest to them, while facilitating the development of the ethical reasoning and communication skills that can be challenging to address in the traditional curriculum.
Nazareth College, an independent, primarily undergraduate institution serving approximately 2,900 students, has recently developed a bachelor of science in toxicology program designed to prepare students for entry into careers in industry, government, or academia or for further study in graduate or health professional programs. The strong life sciences foundation courses and the variety of upper-level biology and chemistry electives already in existence at the College necessitated the development of only three new courses for the major – Principles of Toxicology, Ecotoxicology, and Cellular Toxicology. The program, including curriculum development, course design, and approval by both the College and New York State, took two years to develop. In its first year in existence, the program has attracted nine majors and the first course in the toxicology sequence, Principles of Toxicology, has become one of the most popular life sciences electives at the College.