Previous Courses

Food for all: Ecology, biotechnology and sustainability

With the human population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, how will we meet the increasing demand for food in an ecologically sustainable way? Historically, rapid increases in yield have been a result of advances in three main technologies:

(1) genetic improvement
(2) use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
(3) expanded irrigation.

Each of these technological advances, however, has limitations or has led to significant environmental degradation. There is an urgent need for new approaches to food production without destroying the environment.

In this interdisciplinary course, we will examine the pros and cons of two divergent approaches to meeting this food demand: organic farming and genetic engineering.  Using contrasting crops grown in developing and industrialized countries as case studies, we will evaluate:

(1) how ecological knowledge makes food production more sustainable
(2) what existing and emerging approaches can, in the face of climate change, contribute to a reliable supply of nutritious food
(3) the political and economic drivers that shape who has access to these technologies.

We will also explore stakeholder-specific perspectives (growers, advocacy groups, industry, governmental agencies), as well as develop important communication skills for negotiating these different perspectives.


Colin Orians
Professor, Department of Biology, School of Arts and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies Program, School of Arts and Sciences

Timothy Griffin
Associate Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Director, Agriculture, Food and Environment, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Sara Gomez
Visiting Scientist, University of Rhode Island

Child and Youth Development: International Perspectives on Children in Exceptionally Difficult Circumstances

Millions of the world’s children encounter developmental contexts that present major challenges to healthy mental and physical development. Some children experience life in institutions such as orphanages, refugee camps, juvenile detention facilities, homeless shelters. Others are child soldiers, or experience trafficking or forced child labor. The magnitude of the issue is large both domestically and internationally.

This seminar explored the following questions among others: How do these children growing up in exceptionally difficult circumstances become thriving adults who make positive contributions to the social, cultural, and economic structures of their societies? What are the long term consequences of marginalized mental and physical health and low educational attainment? What programs an policies are in place, nationally and globally, to assure that these children’s potential contributions are maximized?


M. Ann Easterbrooks
Professor, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development
School of Arts and Sciences

Christina D. Economos
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, School of Medicine
Associate Director, John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and PolicyM/p>

Laurie C. Miller
Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics
Director, International Adoption Clinic
School of Medicine

The Obesity Epidemic: Science and Food Economics

Obesity is unlike any other major public health issue and comparisons with other disorders pale. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS rarely afflict more than 10% of the population in an given country, while national surveys indicate a third of adults are overweight and another third obese in the United States. Moreover, nearly 1 in 5 children from 2 to 18 years of age are overweight. The World Health Organization reports that the obesity epidemic does not discriminate between affluent and developing societies. Simply put, it is difficult to imagine a global public health problem of compelling urgency that is more appropriate than the obesity epidemic as a theme for an interdisciplinary Tufts University Seminar.

Seminar participants investigated the obesity epidemic through several lenses, including: the genetic, physiological and environmental variables that contribute to the obesity phenotype; clinical interventions; public health perspectives; and food economics and public policy. Students will participate in monthly seminars presented by leaders in the field of obesity, and attend regularly scheduled classes to discuss the history of obesity, techniques used to study obesity, previous research and recent experimental and theoretical advances in the field. In addition, students will have the opportunity to work in small groups directly with experts in the field to produce a publishable review article.


Emmanuel N. Pothos
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
School of Medicine

Robin B. Kanarek
Professor of Psychology
School of Arts and Sciences

Susan B. Roberts
Senior Scientist
Professor of Nutrition and of Psychiatry
Director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory
Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging

One Health: Interdisciplinary Approaches to People, Animals and the Environment

Emerging challenges to human, animal and ecosystem health demand novel solutions. New diseases are emerging from unique configurations of humans, their domestic animals and wildlife; significant new pressures on once robust and resilient ecosystems are compromising their integrity; and synthetic compounds and engineered organisms, recently introduced to the natural world, are spreading unpredictably around the globe. Globalization is also providing opportunities for infectious organisms to gain access to native hosts, which in turn leads to changing patterns of disease distribution and virulence. Faculty from all three campuses will provide expertise and guidance for individual and group teaching and learning, to help better understand the complex nature of these problems and to reveal innovative solutions. Students will examine and represent their discipline’s perspective and tools to other group members; learn and incorporate other disciplines into their own thinking; and collaborate with others on the development of new, synthesized solutions. The course will explore interdisciplinary team-oriented approaches to complex health problems and set a framework for similar cross-school collaborative learning and teaching experiences at Tufts.


Gretchen Kaufman
Assistant Professor of Wildlife Medicine in the Department of Environmental and Population Health
Director of the Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Joann M. Lindenmayer
Associate Professor of Public Health in the Department of Environmental and Population Health
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

J. Michael Reed
Professor of Biology
School of Arts & Sciences

Elena N. Naumova
Associate Professor of Public Health and Family Medicine
Director of the Tufts Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Diseases
School of Medicine

Stem Cells and Human Enhancement: Scientific Frontiers, Ethics, and Policy

The medical promise of embryonic and adult stem cells has generated enormous excitement because of their potential to cure human diseases for which no cure exists. However, societies must weigh the advancement of stem cell science against ethical issues that lie at the heart of the value of human life. This ethical dilemma is currently the subject of government legislation, public policy analysis and heated public debate. This University Seminar will provide a dynamic forum for its students to explore how societies can balance their desire for progress in personal health with their respect for alternative religious, cultural and societal views about the origins of human life. This seminar will delve into scientific, economic, theological and moral controversies that have tremendous impact on the well-being of individuals and societies. Ultimately, this seminar will allow its participants to be informed, empowered and fully-engaged in the debate over the development and use of stem cells and other similar conflicts, and will guide their understanding of the need to balance society’s capabilities and conscience.


Jonathan Garlick
Director, Division of Tissue Engineering and Cancer Biology
School of Dental Medicine

Sheldon Krimsky
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning
School of Arts and Sciences

David Kaplan
Professor and Chair, Department of Biomedical Engineering
School of Engineering

Mitchell Silver
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy
School of Arts and Sciences

Water and Diplomacy

Water and Diplomacy: Integration of Science, Engineering, and Negotiations

It is often said that “water is the new oil.” Indeed, water promises to be the resource that determines many countries’ wealth, welfare, and stability in the 21st century. The nature of water as a resourc is changing. Water resources are increasingly over-used, water quality is sub-optimal, and ecological integrity is excessively taxed. Such tensions are exacerbated at dynamic political, physical, cultural, and economic boundaries. A changing world requires a changing education. This interdisciplinary seminar — co-taught by faculty from Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and the Fletcher School of Diplomacy — is designed to encourage students to think across boundaries, emphasize knowledge integration, and link information to action. The goal is to combine multiple perspectives in order to explore solutions to water conflicts and the negotiations required to achieve those solutions. The seminar will emphasize collaborative learning opportunities, co-teaching of classes by students and faculty, and integrative activities that span disciplinary, physical, and political boundaries. Students will collectively produce a state-of-knowledge “white paper” that will be disseminated to a global audience and revised by future students and faculty

Water and Diplomacy Seminar Sequence

Water resources are increasingly over-used, water quality is sub-optimal, and ecological integrity is excessively taxed. Water conflicts occur when natural, societal, and political forces interact. Together, these forces create water networks. As population growth, economic development and climate change create pressure on finite water resources, management of these water networks becomes critically important.

This interdisciplinary water diplomacy seminar sequence encouraged students to combine multiple perspectives in order to explore solutions to water conflicts and the negotiations required to achieve those solutions.

Water and Diplomacy I: Water Science and Systems

Designed for students of the “societal domain” (social science, policy, and diplomacy) to provide an overview of “natural domain” variables (Water Quantity; Water Quality; Ecology) related to water issues.

Water and Diplomacy II: Public Policy Science and Ecological Economics

Designed for all “natural domain” (natural science and engineering) students to provide an overview of “societal domain” variables (Governance; Economics; Values) related to water issues.

Water and Diplomacy III: Science, Policy, and Politics of Water Management

The course emphasized both quantitative and qualitative approaches to analyzing water conflicts using recent advances in complexity theory and mutual gains negotiations within the water diplomacy framework. Students tested their understanding of these principles and approaches by participating in a new complex negotiation simulation exercises on water cooperation and conflicts we call Indopotamia.

Water and Diplomacy University Seminar Faculty:

Shafiqul Islam
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering
Professor, Water Diplomacy, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

William Moomaw
Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Kent Portney
Professor, Department of Political Science, School of Arts & Sciences

J. Michael Reed
Professor, Department of Biology, School of Arts & Sciences

David Small
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering, School of Engineering

Lawrence Susskind
Professor, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Richard Vogel
Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering

Brian Roach
Research Associate, Global Development & Environmental Institute