On the Job with Rich Schlesinger
Rich Schlesinger, who is the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs of Dyson College, oversees departments on both campuses, and handles special projects, most currently the academic oversight of the renovation of the science facility in One Pace Plaza. He approves adjuncts hires, fosters faculty research and addresses student issues that rise above the department level, among other responsibilities.
Prior to coming to Pace in 2002, Schlesinger was a professor of Environmental Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine where he also directed a research program aimed at examining the role of air pollutants in the development of respiratory disease.
For three decades, he has worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in various capacities in the area of respiratory toxicology. His work outside of the University enables him to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in this critical field of science.
What is respiratory toxicology? What is it about this specialty that captured your interest?
Respiratory toxicology is the field that looks at the effects of inhaled chemicals on the respiratory tract. This can examine chemicals in the outdoor atmosphere, or contaminants in indoor air that derive from building materials, for example. I actually got into the field by accident. My first job after college was in a testing laboratory that examined the efficacy of some inhaled drugs and this resulted in my pursuing toxicology as a course of study.
Why is respiratory toxicology important to the average person?
The lung is the most vulnerable organ for inhaled chemicals since it has a very large surface area that interfaces directly with the outside environment; it has nearly four times the total interfacing surface area as does the combined surface areas of the gastrointestinal tract and the skin. Because of this large surface area, inhalation becomes a major route for entry into the systemic circulation for airborne toxic substances.
Tell me about your work with the EPA.
I am currently a member of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Oxides of Nitrogen Primary Review Panel and the Sulfur Oxides Primary Review Panel. These panels review the scientific basis for setting the Federal air quality standards for oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulfur, respectively, as mandated by the Clean Air Act.
On top of your responsibilities to the deanery, why do you take on “extra” work with the EPA?
While my primary commitment is to Pace University, I feel that it is also important to maintain a presence in my professional field of respiratory toxicology. Working with the EPA helps me keep me up–to-date on the science, and I contribute to a public service in terms of helping assure that air quality standards stand up to rigorous scientific review. This work also assures that the latest toxicology advances in my field are reflected in my teaching the toxicology course.
Which courses do you teach?
During the regular semesters, I teach UNV 101 (Introduction to University Life) and co-teach a Learning Community entitled The Biology of Science Fiction Films with Catherine Zimmer, associate professor of the Film and Screen Studies program. I generally teach Principles of Toxicology as an on-line course during the Summer session.
This science fiction film course sounds very interesting. How did you and Catherine come up with the idea?
The course is aimed at non-science majors who often find the presentation of scientific concepts to be dry and boring. It is designed to present science topics in a manner that allows students to understand and remember them by providing them with some point of reference. For example, we show Jurassic Park and discuss genetic engineering. Another film we show is The Day After Tomorrow and we discuss this in terms of climate change.
Which is your favorite film?
My favorite is Alien, which involves the discussion of exobiology, or life outside of Earth. Regardless of how many times I have watched the movie, the manner in which it was filmed continues to instill anxiety even though I know exactly what will happen next.