Senior Andrew Fagerheim Hopes to Pursue a PhD in Oceanography

andrew fagerheim columbia

Notebook is a Columbia News series that highlights just some of the many fascinating students who study at our University. 

Columbia senior Andrew Fagerheim has been committed to climate change activism since he was in high school in upstate New York. He and a friend led their village’s climate task force, and he attended COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 and a White House summit on the climate crisis this year.

When are you graduating from Columbia, and what is your major? 

I’m a senior at Columbia Engineering, so I’ll graduate in 2024. I’m studying Earth and Environmental Engineering.

What drew you to your academic concentration? 

I knew I was interested in climate and environmental issues coming to Columbia, and the EEE department seemed to provide a solid technical foundation along with overview classes in many topics, including water quality, wastewater, waste materials, air quality, and the climate system. I also liked that alums had been able to apply their EEE degrees to many different fields related to the environment.

I’ve also been able to take a few classes in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, which have been really interesting, and have informed what I currently research and what I want to study in grad school.

I’m in Dr. Dhruv Balwada’s ocean turbulence group, and my project involves studying ocean eddy stirring by using vertical profiles of tracers (like temperature and salinity) collected from autonomous floats. This could have important implications for heat transport throughout the ocean.

How did you become a climate change activist, and what are some of the things you’ve done to pursue that? 

I was introduced to climate education while working with the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Program, based out of a science and nature museum in the Adirondacks. After attending the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit at the Wild Center, my environmental club worked on multiple action projects at our high school, including building a garden, greenhouse, and solar charging station. My friend and I also led our village’s climate task force, which received certification in the New York State Climate Smart Communities program. I represented the Wild Center at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021 and at the first Building Climate Resilient Communities Summit at the White House this year.

How do you make the best of your time in New York City? 

I like going to Broadway shows, and I feel lucky to see shows for free through the Urban New York and Engineering Student Council lotteries. When my brother visits, we like going to museums together and seeing the New York Philharmonic (with my student discount!). I enjoy taking walks in Morningside Park, Central Park, and the Hudson River Greenway. Also, I’m a public transit nerd, so I appreciate the buses and subways for getting around the city, and having a convenient Amtrak station to get around the East Coast. 

What are your plans post-Columbia?

I’m applying to PhD programs in oceanography. I’m interested in the role the ocean plays in the climate system, redistributing heat, carbon, and nutrients around the globe. I hope to be able to combine my research interests with my climate education work.

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