May 3 2016

AK CSC Graduate Fellow Selected to Participate in Expedition to Antarctica

Seventy-eight women researchers are preparing to go where very few have ventured. Among these women, Joanna Young, a geophysics doctoral student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and a graduate fellow of the Alaska Climate Science Center (AK CSC) has been given the opportunity to participate in the Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica.

“I’ve always wanted to go,” says Young, “to see an entire continent covered in ice is just amazing.” Young is no stranger to ice. She has spent a great amount of time on glaciers, and her research is dedicated to studying them in the Juneau area. She is also a lead instructor for the Alaska Climate Science Center-sponsored Girls on Ice Alaska program, which involves leading high school girls out onto glaciers to learn about climate change, mountaineering, and to build confidence.

Glaciers haven’t always been her focus. During her undergraduate years, she studied astrophysics. It wasn’t until Young got involved in field work and hiked the Canadian Rockies over several summers, that she found her new passion. She realized that she wanted to apply physics in a way that would allow her to fulfill her need to be outdoors.

“Being outside has been Joanna’s natural state since she was very young,” says Carolyn Young, her sister. “It’s not just being outside, but also what she can do outside.”

Young wanted to find a balance. “How can I combine a physics background and field science?” She asked herself. “Then I met a glaciologist.” From then on, Young has dedicated her career to glaciers.

Spending time in what can sometimes be harsh conditions is worth it to Young. She describes herself as being humbled to be part of such a vast landscape surrounded by towering mountains and hefty glaciers. What really excites her is hearing and seeing glaciers moving. She sees them moving right before her eyes as a chunk of ice breaks off splashing into the water below. Through these moments, she sees the landscape as what she describes as being very alive.

Young will now take her passion for glaciers and the outdoors with her to Antarctica for the three-week expedition. “In so many ways it really parallels what we offer in Girls on Ice, except that it’s for grown-ups,” says Young, “and when I applied I pointed that out and explained to them what Girls on Ice was and how I felt this was all connected.” Young explains that it’s “not just my science background but the Girls on Ice Program is a big, big part of the reason that I was selected for the program.”

The Homeward Bound expedition goes beyond addressing climate change. “The focus is less on science and more on leadership development,” says Young. “There’s a lack of women’s voices at the leadership table.” Participants will spend three weeks working together to address female leadership in science.

Women must have “the guts to push through all the barriers,” as Erin Pettit a geophysics professor and Young’s advisor put it, because of “subconscious biases” towards women in the science field.

In order to address these barriers, women researchers on the Homeward Bound expedition will build their confidence in order to take on more leadership roles in the science community. They will also be given the chance to collaborate on the complex Arctic systems. Young mentions that the women will also be learning about strategic skills for taking an idea and later developing a plan to put that idea into effect.

The main aspect of the expedition that Young is looking forward to is getting to network with “such cool women.”

Pettit agrees, and explained that the most valuable skills Young will gain from this expedition will be “building confidence to be a leader” and making a “connection with people”.

Young enjoys making these connections through her fieldwork. “You leave with such close ties. These will probably be people I stay in touch with for the rest of my life.”

Young’s participation in this expedition was made possible by the AK CSC and the UAF Resilience and Adaptation Program.