For almost a week, Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, communication, tantalized his class, Communication 2850: Communication in the Life Sciences, with only the vaguest of details about a “super secret mystery guest.” Lewenstein would only say that the “mystery guest” was tall, thin and a Cornell alumnus.
“While I heard the gossip about his potential appearance, when he actually walked into the room I was so surprised,” Josh Helfgott ’11 stated in an e-mail. “He walked in wearing his trademark bow tie and smiled at the class. All I could do was smile. He looked just like he does on TV.”
As the guest walked into room 345 in Warren Hall yesterday to raucous applause from the class, Lewenstein said, “Apparently many of you have recognized our guest Bill Nye class of 1977.” Even though Lewenstein never announced who his “mystery guest” would be before he introduced him to the class yesterday, the rumors spread about Nye’s appearance regardless, as many Cornell students attended the class yesterday who were not enrolled in Lewenstein’s course.
In addition to coming to Communication 2850, Nye also attended the Astronomy 1102: Our Solar System. There, Nye spoke about life in the universe and the place of humans in the universe, according to Nick Murray ’11. Murray said that Nye was greeted by the longest applause he had ever seen anyone receive in a lecture. One of the main points Nye made, according to Murray was, “no matter what you do, it’s all about the joy of discovery.”
As Lewenstein introduced Nye and showed several clips from his new television show, Stuff Happens, that airs on Planet Green, Nye situated himself comfortably in the second row between two students.
After Lewenstein’s introduction, Nye stood in front of the room and wished everyone a happy Earth Day. He spoke about the impossible standards of “traditional environmentalists,” but still stressed the importance of realizing the human impact on the environment.
In one of the segments from Stuff Happens, Nye was standing on a beach looking at all the cigarette butts strewn throughout the sand. He cited this as one example of human pollution that adversely affects the environment and animals. Nye said that many birds mistake the cigarette butts for food and ingest the harmful chemicals in the cigarettes when they eat the refuse.
Throughout Nye’s speech, he made self-deprecating remarks about his new show. Nye commented on how he perceived the show to attract a very sparse audience. After he polled the audience to see if anyone had seen the show, he questioned one girl who raised her hand.
“You’ve actually seen it? Oh my God, I thought I met all six of the viewers. … Have we met?”
In discussing his new show as well as his renowned Bill Nye the Science Guy television program, Nye discussed the difficulty of balancing entertainment and science when creating these types of programs. He mentioned how many people have told him before that he is creating an educational television show, and that he needs to focus more on the education. However, Nye countered by claiming, “If it’s not entertaining, it’s not going anywhere. … I wouldn’t go out there if I didn’t have jokes.”
Nye drew an extended analogy between creating a television show, building a car and writing an essay for a class. He said that while the creator starts out with some sort of outline, they often run into problems when they try and build the product immediately following the creation of the outline. At this point in the creation process, Nye said that many begin to create their product even though the direction they need to take is still unclear.
“People [are] willing to try once, then they just want to start making them,” Nye said. “Try making your second prototype. … Do the outline a second time.”
In discussing how he eventually landed his own television show, Nye described how he took a risk in quitting his job from Boeing to pursue a stand-up comedy career.
“I quit my job October 3, 1986 … roughly,” Nye said.
As a prelude to his eventual television show, Nye worked at the Pacific Science Center where he would put on scientific demonstrations.
One of the questions Nye received from the audience asked him to elaborate on the differences between creating television programs for children and for adults.
“It was so interesting when Bill said that the biggest difference between producing a show for adults versus children isn’t how he teaches the material but rather it’s the topics that he teaches. He would teach adults just like he teaches children, he said, but he would talk about more mature topics to adults,” Helgott stated.
Nye’s fame instigated the flouting of some traditional conventions in classroom protocol. Not only did students outside the course attend the lecture yesterday, but they were so bent on getting pictures of Nye that they weren’t even worried about concealing their cell phones during class.