‘What matters to U,’ Bill Nye?

The renowned scientist and TV personality addressed students in an inaugural discussion series presented by Student Government.
Bill Nye, The Science Guy

At a sold out event, Bill Nye – yes, the Science Guy – sat before hundreds of University of Miami students, faculty, and staff to discuss climate change. Best known for his syndicated Disney program, the down-to-earth scientist motivated and encouraged the audience to take action.

Following opening remarks from Jeffrey L. Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs; and President Julio Frenk, Nye was interviewed by Sam Purkis, chair and professor of marine geosciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, in the first “What Matters to U”—a series of moderated discussions sponsored by Student Government.

Purkis didn’t shy away from hard-hitting questions, as Nye has faced criticism for being one of the world’s leading climate change advocates during a time when some question its existence.

“Climate change denial has been an enormous problem in the United States,” said Nye, now the CEO of The Planetary Society, a non-profit organization that promotes the exploration of space through education and advocacy. “I will claim that climate change contrarians or deniers, those people are old. And they will not be in charge pretty soon and you guys are going to be running the show. I am excited about that, because you guys are going to go out there and change everything.”

For decades, Nye has been successful at making complex science topics and issues more fun and engaging. Throughout his discussion with Purkis, he did not deviate from that formula—and even wore his signature bow tie. The student audience cheered him on as he stressed several calls to action.

From new construction technology, to new power sources, to minimizing waste, to new zoning laws and more, Nye encouraged students to be the leaders of change to combat climate change—specifically in Florida.

It took Student Government and the What Matters to U program committee about nine months to bring Thursday's event in the Shalala Student Center ballroom to fruition. Frenk thanked Evan De Joya, Student Government president, and Keegan Gibson, chair of the committee, for their work.

"It's really great to see our students leading this as part of an exchange of ideas," Frenk said. "I am very proud when I see our students so engaged."

Gibson said his committee wanted a speaker who would not only teach during a lecture, but would also interact with students. Nye did just that as student moderators, Jack Comaratto and Andrea Candelaria, asked Nye questions from the audience.

Jordan Chabot, a junior studying mechanical engineering, said he was surprised but hopeful that Nye focused on major contributions that students his age can make to combat climate change, such as new inventions in solar and electrical power, instead of smaller-scale suggestions about how to improve the environment.

“As an engineer, I think solar power is very possible and as he said, it’s not hard to make, but sometimes it is hard to sell. It’s interesting that he thinks solar can have such a large-scale use,” Chabot added.

Celeena Memon, a freshman studying chemistry and psychology, liked the fact that Nye emphasized the importance of voting.

“I’m politically active and a lot of people here don’t vote and it’s ridiculous,” Memon said. “For [state] elections here, one vote can change who will be governor, so I really liked that.”

Senior exercise physiology major Tope Abisoye, among other students, said she came to see Nye speak because she spent much of her youth watching his television show. Yet, she also recognized the importance of Nye’s message about the importance of decelerating climate change.

“He had a big impact on my childhood, and the lives of many students,” Abisoye said. “Because of that, he was able to talk about important issues like climate change in a way where people from both sides of the aisle could understand and have an actual conversation about it.” 

The Science Guy left the audience with this piece of advice: “Everything you do effects everybody, so you want to be aware all the time.”