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Faculty Profile: Michael Musso

MPA in Environmental Science and Policy professor Michael Musso

MPA in MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) professor Michael Musso has taught at Columbia University for over four years. Musso teaches the Risk Assessment and Toxicology course during the MPA-ESP program’s summer semester, as well as at the Mailman School of Public Health in the Environmental Health Sciences Department.  He works full time as an environmental consultant at HDR Inc., a top-ranked architecture and engineering firm.

1. Why did you choose to teach at Columbia in the MPA-ESP program?

A former professor of mine – who actually had been the one to spur my interest in human health risk assessment – moved to the west coast thereby creating a teaching position at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.  I had stayed in touch with the Environmental Health Sciences Department at Mailman over the years, so I jumped at the chance to step in to teach the Risk Assessment & Toxicology course as an adjunct.  That led me to interviewing for and accepting the teaching role for the Risk Assessment & Toxicology course with the MPA-ESP program in the summer of 2009.

2. What is new in your area of expertise?

The areas of toxicology and risk assessment are constantly changing, based on new research and exposure assessment being conducted in many parts of the world. There are emerging methods used to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals.  In addition, the guidance and regulations related to applying the research and science to risk assessment and management (i.e. cleaning up a hazardous waste site) is also being advanced on many fronts.

3. What course do you teach and why do you think that it is important to the field of sustainability?

I teach the Risk Assessment & Toxicology course during the second summer session of the ESP program.  I believe the subject matter will be important to sustainability when addressing real or perceived concerns about technologies, substances, and chemicals being used to reduce Greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Take for instance, the use of smart meters.  They are demonstrated to do a lot of good for reducing carbon footprint, but there are emerging concerns about radio frequency. I believe that the methods of risk assessment will be increasingly applied to analyze and communicate risks, and as part of risk-benefit analyses that are important to policy makers.


4. What is your favorite part of your job as a professor?

The questions and discussions in class are what I look forward to the most when I come to work.  In my short time teaching in the ESP program, I have repeatedly found class discussions and questions to be right on point, and more often than not the students seem to grasp the applied science of risk assessment right away.  I would have to say, also, that the end of the semester group presentations are wonderful.  I assign topics that are relevant and fairly open for interpretation, and the groups have to complete and present a risk assessment in 20 minutes before handling questions from peers and myself.  I am continually amazed at the organizational skills, poise, and public presentation abilities shown by the students.

5. What do you believe is the greatest benefit of the MPA-ESP program’s science curriculum to its students?

I firmly believe that it is important for future drivers and advocates of environmental policy to be exposed to the “hard” and applied science that takes place behind the scenes so that they can get a feel and appreciation for how technical people think and approach the issues.

6. What kind of field work are you doing now that is related to Risk Assessment?

I work full time as an environmental consultant, and have been fortunate to have worked with and learned from some incredible people.  My areas of interest and experience include investigation of contaminated sites and properties, data interpretation, risk assessment, regulatory compliance, and risk management and communication.

Students in the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy (MPA-ESP) program enroll in a year-long, 54-credit program offered at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), in partnership with the Earth Institute. Throughout this one year program, students are immersed in courses that combine Columbia University’s hands-on approach to teaching public policy and administration with pioneering thinking about the environment. During the summer semester, students learn the fundamentals of environmental science, while the fall and spring semesters focus on teaching the policy and economics necessary to becoming successful environmental analysts and managers. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.

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