Dover Bay Secondary School student Cassandra Elphinstone will spend part of her summer on ice.
She won’t be attending a summer hockey camp, though she is strong athletically. But she is one of just five Canadian female students and one of 65 international students hailing from 13 countries chosen for a life-changing Arctic adventure that will help foster a better understanding of the natural world and the pressures it faces.
A member of Dover Bay’s eco and outdoor clubs, Elphinstone, at the urging of teacher Gord Graham, applied for and received a Leacross/R.Bern Foundation Arctic Scholarship, which will fund her two-week learning adventure. Part of her success in obtaining the scholarship came from a $50,000 award the eco-club won for an essay it submitted in a nationwide contest hosted by Staples.
Her love of nature and dedication to protecting it began at an early age.
“I went camping with my parents a lot when I was younger, and as I got older I couldn’t wait for my next opportunity to be in the outdoors,” said Elphinstone. “I appreciate the environment which is why I want to find a career that will help preserve it and understand our place in it.”
Elphinstone’s love for the outdoors is matched only by her enthusiasm for science, including biology and physics, and she hopes to bring all of those attributes to the team.
She is also looking forward to learning about other cultures, creating lasting connections with the students and professional explorers who will be leading the team, and understanding the different perspectives other cultures have on environmental responsibility. Five of the eight circumpolar nations will be represented on the trip and over 12 languages will be spoken.
“One of the most amazing things about it is the people, especially the professionals who work in these fields. I want to know, partly, how they’ve gotten so far and how they’ve done what they did. I also want to learn about their careers, what they think about them,” she said.
Elphinstone leaves Nanaimo for Toronto on July 23, where she’ll catch a connecting flight to join her team in Iceland, which they will explore for three days. From there, they will travel on an icebreaker to Greenland, and then to the northern reaches of Labrador and Nunavik where they will visit Inuit communities and learn about their perspectives on the effects of climate change. It wraps up on Aug. 7.
While travelling on the boat, the students will participate in workshops, seminars and presentations, as well as learn about Arctic sovereignty, governance, and international relations. Expedition activities will include wildlife encounters with whales, seals and polar bears, as well as visit archeological sites along the coast, including Eric the Red’s settlement.
Part of their responsibilities will be to provide updates at www.studentsonice.com/arctic2011 on their progress.
Elphinstone said so much of her generation is tapped in to rapidly changing technology but don’t know how to use it productively, and it takes away from their connection to nature. She hopes that while she will be learning from and being inspired by professionals in the fields of science and nature, that she, too, can pass inspiration along to her peers and generations that come after her while finding her own career path.
Since 2000, more than 1,600 high school and university students from 40 countries have visited polar regions with Students on Ice program.