professor
Goran Ekstrom

Dec 2020

I LOVED this class. I'm quite shocked at how many people dislike Professor Ekstrom as I found him to be an incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable professor who successfully made me care about a topic about which I was previously extremely blasé. His lectures are a bit dense but I found them absolutely fascinating and I learned so much about the way weather, storms, and chemicals work and how they pose threats. Professor Ekstrom is extremely passionate and you're guaranteed to learn something if you're interested in the material. Discussion sections are optional but the problem sets rely heavily on basic statistics, so if you haven't taken statistics in the past/took it in high school and forget most of how it works (like me), definitely attend the discussion sections as they completely cover all math topics necessary to do the problem set and even go through the set with you problem by problem. The TA, Ingrid Izaguirre, is absolutely wonderful. She responds quickly, is extremely helpful with questions, and gets problem set solutions back quickly. Keep in mind I took this class during COVID when everything was online, so maybe in person his class would be different, but ultimately I looked forward to this class every week and would recommend to someone interested in actually learning something about science rather than seeking just a filler. There are weekly problem sets but they don't take much time (1-2 hrs, 2-3 for someone who struggles with math) and Ingrid is a great help if needed. There was one midterm that was based pretty much completely on his lecture notes and slides and one final. He also offered the option of doing a paper on a topic of your choice so the final would count for less. His lectures aren't necessarily necessary to doing well on exams but they are definitely helpful in understanding the material and are generally interesting to listen to. Basically, I found Professor Ekstrom to be incredibly intelligent and responsive to his students' needs (ie, offering the option to do a paper, posting lecture notes and videos, answering emails and questions). His lectures are dense but really interesting. Take this class if you're interested in the material. I'm an English major and definitely do not regret it.

Jan 2019

This class was a lot harder than I anticipated. I only took it to fulfill my Science Requirement, but regret thinking it would be easy. Goran is a cute, little, old man that you will find adorable and sweet, but his lectures are incredibly dense. He is obviously very knowledgeable about the content, especially earthquakes and seismology, and I appreciated that he was very humble and not too braggy. The TA, Dan, was wonderful. He emailed back solutions to problem sets very quickly. Our class was about 40 people, but being an 8:40 am lecture, there were literally only 5 people in the lectures every class. Most of us who actually came were freshmen. Professor Ekstrom posts his powerpoints, outlines, and lecture notes on his class site, so you didn't really need to come, but it definitely helped to be able to listen to him talk out and explain his notes. His exams are very easy to understand and clearly reference things that he talked about in class. However, it is difficult to get full credit on the questions, even if you understood the answer perfectly because he is an inconsistent grader. There's a lot of definition memorization involved. He also expects you to be able to apply concepts he taught in different scenarios to prove you understand them. Also be prepared to draw the diagrams he drew in class, even the ones of the ocean. Overall, I'm glad I took the class because I learned a lot more about environmental risks such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, asbestos, floods, etc. Also, I genuinely loved Professor Ekstrom and Dan. They are very considerate and kind people. However, the problem sets and statistics were hard; you need to attend the discussion sections to attend them. The tests and finals were also really hard. The tests aren't curved, so prepare yourself for some really sad and low grades. But Professor Ekstrom does curve your final grade in a unique way. Depending on how many people are in the class, he curves in groups. For example, the top five students will get an A, the next five get an A-, the next five get a B+, so on and so forth. This ended up being VERY generous to my grade and I was pretty pleased with my final grade, considering I did pretty awful on both of the hourly exams. They also drop the lowest problem set grade. I would recommend this class, but I would also warn you to go to his lectures, no matter how tempting it is to sleep in. Become good friends with the TA and make sure Professor Ekstrom knows who you are. It will all help in the long run. Also make a Quizlet early on to study all topics and terms since his exams and final are all cumulative. This will make your life way easier.

Jan 2017

The class is the most straight forward class you will ever take at Columbia. Dr. Ekstrom's lectures are clear, slightly dull, and completely unnecessary to do well. He posts perfect lecture notes on his websites from which the exams are verbatim based upon. The problem sets are easy if you've taken any high school statistics or math class. Good science filler. The TA, Max Cunningham, was excellent for the course.

Aug 2014

TERRRIBLE COURSE. I completely agree with the comment below. it was misleading and Goran taught nothing. Hes cute and old and sweet but trust me under that endearing accent is a man with no clue how to successfully and properly assign homework, write a test or run a course. Every single student of his was disappointed with his actions and misleading behavior and every single student in Logan Brenners TA class was automatically given a disadvantage because she was the HARD TA and unjustly took off points. Best part is she had no idea what the hell she was doing and looked cometplely confused and lost the entire course and the entire time she was teaching. I felt like I taught myself for a full semester, they did absolutely nothing to help or teach any student. This class was a mess, AVOID EKSTROM AND ESPECIALLY AVOID LOGAN BRENNER AT ALL COSTS!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 2014

I am completely SHOCKED by the comments below this and in even more shock that Goran has a silver nugget. Yes he is cute and adorable, however these qualities do not make a good professor. And trust me Goran is anything but a good professor. I have never been more disappointed in a professor or mislead by a professor/course in my life. On the first day of this course, Goran told his students that there would be 3rd grade math, adding and subtracting basic numbers only, and that there would never be calculators needed. This was a blatant lie; not only were calculators REQUIRED for every single test and homework assignment (without a miss), I found myself attempting to teach myself statistics, calculous, economics, trigonometry all myself in order to successfully even attempt to do the homework as this math was ON the homework however, was literally never gone over in lecture. Goran tells you that discussion sections are optional- seems nice right? However, what he doesn't tell you is that 70% of this class is based PURLEY on information from discussion sections. We learn all the math in discussion sections, however the TA's (Hannah L & Logan Brenner) are too stupid to understand the math and literally have no idea what theyre doing or what theyre explaining. Basically, you end up teaching yourself everything because these TAs are not only incompetent but give you CONFLICTING information with what Goran says in class. There is absolutely no standardized grading in this class and EVERYTHING, repeat everything, is graded unfairly. If you bring this up to Goran or the TA's they will turn a blind eye OR do everything in their power to cover up their own mistakes of taking off unfair points. It is extremely frustrating and I would warn everyone and tell everyone to NOT take the class and run as far away from it possible. I am a sane normal person and I cannot believe people ever ENJOYED this disgusting joke of a course.

May 2014

Just wanted to throw in the mix below; this is one of the easiest-feeling classes I've taken at this school, and I'd definitely recommend it for a science requirement filler. Not to discount the opinions below, maybe it just happened to be a good match for me, but I don't want the thread to sound too discouraging. (I'm pretty good with numbers and understanding probability/stats, so maybe that helps?) I'm loving the material and the low commitment (maybe 2 hours a week to do the HW and a few hours to review before exams. as long as you listen to the lectures that's really all that's needed). Not loving the 8:40 am. The TAs are both wonderful. Prof Ekstrom is really clear, concise, and adorable. The material is generously posted online. Textbook might help but I'd have no idea because I didn't buy it.

May 2014

Others have already said it: Professor Ekstrom is adorable. He is genuinely passionate about the topics and his enthusiasm makes him a great person to learn from. One thing you should know is that this class really covers an amazing variety of risks and disasters from earthquakes to tornados to arsenic to asteroid impacts-- it's not just about climate change (which I think some people thought it would be entirely about, although you do spend two lectures on climate change). You really get to learn about such a variety of topics (and they are topics that are generally good to know more about to life a long and healthy life), which is why this class has been one of my favorites at Columbia (and I'm not even in a science major). I do agree that the course can be a but challenging at times, but you should really give it a chance. If you have any experience in basic statistics and physics, you will be fine. If you don't, you might need a little more help from the TAs, but it's still not that bad. For me, the payoff of useful and interesting knowledge was definitely worth the effort. I took this course as a second semester senior, and I am so glad I did. The tests were a but challenging but fair, and as long as you actually go to lecture, you will probably be fine. Professor Ekstrom, like I said, is great. He knows that many people in the class are not science majors and makes the topics accessible. The TAs do, as well (and they never talked down to us or made us feel stupid for not already knowing some of the stuff). The class is a average level of commitment in terms of work level, but a really worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Give the class a shot if you even have the slightest interest in emergency management, basic environmental science, the sociology and psychology of disasters, environmental or civil engineering or real world statistics. Or if you just want to understand what's happening that next time a Hurricane Sandy comes along.

Apr 2014

Ekstrom is adorable, and he really cares about the material he's teaching, and it shines through in his lectures. He tries, but, unfortunately, he doesn't always succeed. I end up spending half of the lecture on my phone, and he's a bit dry for an 8:40 AM class. The class material is all really interesting, and he tries to make it accessible and engaging and humorous, but this class can get HARD. The TAs can be tough graders, and there will be curveballs on the midterms (of which there are two) that you will not have seen before. The problem sets were all over the place -- some were ridiculously easy and quick, while others were incredibly difficult and could take hours for me to finish. There is roughly one a week (except the weeks when there are exams). My grades were all over the place in the class, and reflected that -- some were A+'s and some were C-'s. You win some, you lose some. This class is essentially a statistics class taught through the lens of environmental science: they want you to do some mathy stuff, so they throw it into what could be a really genuinely interesting class. Discussion sections are optional, but are helpful in making sure that you can at least do the problem sets. They don't do much else, and that's the reason anyone goes. I ended up P/D/Fing this course like the person below me did, which makes it easier on me, but it's not worth it over all if you're not a science person looking to get through your science requirement with an easy A. It's just not happening in this class. Bottom line: take it if you're interested in the material, but don't go into it expecting to coast. Take it if you really, really, really want to challenge yourself.

Apr 2014

Goran is adorable-- but it's hard to go to an 840 class every other day. Homework is really hard if you don't go to office hours (which I did, every week). If you aren't good at memorizing and decent at math/science, this is not the class for you. The TAs throw random stuff at you on the midterms. It's really annoying. As someone who studied EVERYTHING, I didn't appreciate that. Final is 40%! So if you fail, you really fail. But discussion sections aren't mandatory, which is great. I ended up P/D/Fing this course which was the best decision ever. The class went from an enrollment of 80-something to 20-something if that gives you any hints about the difficulty of this class.

Nov 2013

Professor Ekstrom is awesome! He is engaging and certainly a scholar on environmental disasters. During my time in the class, he actually decided to cancel for a week so he can go to Japan and study a minor earthquake that happened there. He is super approachable and wants to help his students. Ekstrom knows how to hash out concepts that non-science people struggle with. He is a pretty easy grader. For example, if there is a math-ish question on an assignment, you do not need to get the right answer, just follow the correct procedure to get there. The TA's that I had were amazing and I suggest you go to discussion section if you need further explanation on certain formulas utilized in class.