Muskie School of Public Service

Muskie Faculty Spotlight - Dr. Ben Greenfield

In our faculty spotlight, read about Public Health faculty Dr. Ben Greenfield.

How long have you been at USM: Since September 2021 – about 20 months

What made you choose USM: During the interview, I really connected with my colleagues in the Public Health program. I appreciated the strong focus on serving students, the opportunity to teach in professional programs (BSPH and MPH), and the clarity of the campus mission. My wife and I were also eager to move to this vibrant region of Southern Maine, where we share many values, and for the opportunity to move closer to family.

Why did you decide to study your field: My field is environmental health science, the investigation of how our surrounding environment affects our health, safety, and well-being. I originally got involved because I wanted to work in outdoor settings, solving real-world problems and helping others. I have continued in environmental health science because it combines many areas that excite me: the outdoors, natural sciences, pattern recognition, human health, and policy. The field combines tasks I enjoy in data collection, descriptive analysis, science communication, and outreach. I also like developing and telling stories about our past legacies and present impacts to the environment, and how this in turn affects us.

Any favorite class you have taught: I have enjoyed teaching Epidemiology to our MPH students a lot. For many Public Health students, Epidemiology is where the rubber meets the road in terms of using evidence to inform health decision making with. The discipline has a rich history and a lot of embedded philosophy of science practices that warrant reflection. Epidemiology gives students the experience of thinking like scientists, while examining real world problems that they are passionate about.

Tell us about your current research/projects: I have been working with two USM graduate students on the analysis and description of lead contamination in historic industrial areas. The current focus is the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, where I used to work. This region has a legacy of resource extraction and industrial activity, as well as longstanding issues of structural racism and economic disinvestment. We are examining soil contamination as a possible indicator of historic land use and present environmental injustice. We are specifically evaluating the hypotheses that non-white populations or low income populations live in areas with higher soil lead levels. These kinds of investigations feel timely in the current national conversations about structural racism. I am also fascinated by the relationship between historic and current land use patterns, and their impacts on soil contamination.

I have two current funded research projects, focusing on engaging middle and high school students in environmental health investigations, using low cost and/or portable sensors. In both projects, I collaborate with leaders in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Our goal is to get kids excited about science by studying the environmental health patterns, hazards, and sources in their own communities. This is an area with a lot of ongoing research and outreach activity throughout the US. I am interested in opportunities to bring more of these kinds of investigations to Maine, in collaboration with investigators and policymakers in Muskie, as well as the College of Arts and Sciences (e.g., Environmental Science), other schools in the U Maine System, and beyond.  Here, here and here are some websites on my current funded projects.

Favorite thing about Portland/Southern Maine: My wife Abby and I love the immediate access to so much great food, natural beauty, open minded and decent people, and culture. We have taken our dog on dozens of beach walks, and have begun exploring the stores, restaurants and breweries of Washington Avenue.

Favorite thing about the Muskie School: It is exciting to be part of such a transdisciplinary school. I have never before been in such close proximity to scholars from so many disciplines: anthropology, geography, tourism, public health, policy. I am looking forward to intellectual cross-pollination opportunities.