Inspirational: This Environmental Science Professor Doesn’t Live His Life in a State of Constant Suffering

A classroom of environmental science and engineering majors was befuddled recently by the strange enthusiasm of Professor Matthew Nguyen as he explained the effects of ocean acidification on the ocean’s role as a carbon sink. 

“Every day I walk into this classroom and learn more about how our planet has one foot in the grave and 19 nails in its coffin,” said Grace Williams, CC ‘25. “If I had to teach that material to a bunch of doe-eyed college students, I’d have fled to the wilderness by now.”

Another student, Jeff Scranborough, SEAS ‘27, recalls similar experiences in Professor Nguyen’s class. “I feel like his lectures are less about teaching us the material and more of a coping mechanism. I came into office hours one day and he just dumped a bunch of figures about the ice caps and global warming on me with a smile on his face. I understood barely half of it, but it was enough to give me nightmares.”  

For Professor Nguyen, a 15-year veteran of Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, his student’s observations don’t come as a surprise. “At some point you just accept that this is gonna be your life for the next few years until everything goes kaput, and then you just get to revel in it,” explained Professor Nguyen. “I explained the positive feedback loop caused by the melting ice caps to this freshman who was taking the class as a science credit and just watched his hope for the future drain from his eyes. God, I love my job.”

Despite this explanation, many of Nguyen’s pupils remain bewildered. “I really don’t get it,” said Williams. “I mean, he does teach in DEES. Imagine working in a department that sounds like the setup for a deez nuts punchline—that’d drive anyone insane.”