Bruce Monger, Professor of Introductory Oceanography, one of the largest courses at Cornell

Bruce Monger

After teaching Oceanography for ten years, Bruce Monger, Professor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has influenced tens of thousands of students. Each year his course, EAS 1540: Introductory Oceanography, draws over a thousand students.

Students flock to Monger’s course for his animated teaching style, climate activism, and inspirational calls-to-action. Monger teaches students about waves, tides, and how marine ecosystems work but his main goal is to produce a class of students that understand the impacts of climate change and are invested in a sustainable future.

“I want to motivate every single Cornell undergraduate to become civically engaged and raise their well-informed voices and share their educated opinion on how best to move our society toward a more sustainable future,” says Monger.

Students learn ocean basics in the first half of the course then move on to learn about human-caused threats to the ocean – including global warming, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, overfishing and marine pollution.

Climate change can be complicated and difficult to understand for many, especially with the amount of contradicting news stories on the topic. Monger teaches students the grounding framework of climate change which allows them to place all the constant news stories into context – giving them a big-picture understanding of where the world is headed without intervention.

Monger believes there is an unspoken contract made between a society that builds a university and the students who attend that university.

“Students who enjoy the rewards of a college education and achieve a high level of academic excellence owe the society their voice and opinion on how best to make the world better for everyone in the society.”

One of the mandatory assignments in Introductory Oceanography is to write a letter to two United States Senators and their congressional district Representative in which they express their personal view about a climate change issue of their own choosing.

Monger implores students to think deeply about creating a meaningful life – encouraging students of all majors to think about ways they can help create a sustainable future. He has influenced many students to shift towards civically-minded careers in areas such as environmental law, civil engineering, architecture, and chemical engineering.

A Cornell Daily Sun article details the path from Introductory Oceanography to Capitol Hill for one student. Benjamin Finegan ’19 was so inspired by Bruce Monger’s course that he joined a protest in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in November of 2018. The occupation of the office of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was an effort to put the Green New Deal at the top of the Democratic political agenda.

Monger has been rated as one of the best professors at Cornell in the Business Insider. Many of Monger’s former graduate students attribute their interest in the earth and oceanography and the direction of their research path to him – often continuing on to become faculty members in those areas.

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