Communications and Marketing Office student writer Claire Williams ’25 shares her biggest takeaways from a three-day visit to campus by climate scientists Jonathan Overpeck ’79 and Julia Cole.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with two of the leading scientists in climate research: Hamilton alumnus Jonathan Overpeck ’79 and his wife, Julia Cole. As my professors had said throughout the week, these researchers are “big deals.”

Overpeck, the dean of the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, co-authored the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a 2007 Nobel Prize for its groundbreaking efforts to understand climate change. Cole, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, builds our understanding of climate change by studying past climates through sampling and chemical analysis of corals.

Jonathan Overpeck classroom visit
Photo: Zack Stanek

The pair came to Hamilton as this year’s Morris Visiting Fellows. They hosted a variety of events for students, including a “Geolunch” on careers in the climate space, a career mentoring session, and two presentations on their research. I attended all the events, and these are my two biggest take-aways.

  1. Keep your mind and your options open.

Hoping to one day enter the field of research myself, I eagerly listened during the “Geolunch” where Overpeck and Cole explained the paths that had led them to their current careers. I expected to hear the same recipe of summer internships and networking that we often hear from career advisors. Instead, I heard about how they kept their minds and options open. 

Overpeck graduated from Hamilton as a geoscience major expecting to go into “hard rock science.” His graduate advisor at Brown University, however, was part of the emerging field of climate science. While Overpeck did not plan to follow in his advisor’s footsteps, he took classes for his intended career and simultaneously participated in climate science research. He kept his mind and his options open, and he realized that climate science was where he wanted to be.

  1. There is hope amidst climate change.

Jonathan Overpeck
Photo: Oliver Zhao ’24

I had been especially excited throughout the week to attend Overpeck’s and Cole’s presentations to learn about the research driving our knowledge of climate change. Overpeck spoke of the accuracy of climate models, of climate change-induced mega droughts and intense precipitation events. Cole discussed her experience studying corals and her latest research on corals’ ability to track El Nino Southern Oscillation, a recurring climate pattern in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. 

Though both talks were fascinating, it was difficult not to feel dejected as the data predicted the future catastrophic effects of climate change. But toward the end of their presentations, both Overpeck and Cole ended with reasons to have hope. Renewables are being implemented at an all-time high, the economics are pushing us toward increasing this trend, and governments are making (and some, even keeping) their commitments to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. It is not enough, nor is it fast enough, but it acted as a reminder that it is not yet too late.

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