Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.

I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.


Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.


Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors


Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.


Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.


Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.


Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.

While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.


Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences.  I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.


The stunning landscape of Antarctica


Duelling Chinstrap penguins


Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to  visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.


Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica


It’s here! It’s finally here! After nearly 2 years of waiting, hard work, connecting, planning, and anticipation, it’s here. Tomorrow I will be boarding an airplane bound for Buenos Aires and then Ushuaia, in Argentina. Ushuaia is where we – 76 women from around the world, all with science backgrounds – will board our ship (The Ushuaia) and head for the Antarctic Peninsula.

Homeward Bound isn’t a vacation. It’s a women in science leadership expedition. Our mission – to elevate the role of women in science, to enhance our leadership abilities, and to have an influence on decision making and policy development, globally, around sustainability and climate change. In a nutshell, it’s about creating a better future.  And we believe that women need to play a far, far greater role in shaping that future, than we have in the past.

Homeward Bound isn’t just a women’s leadership expedition. It’s the beginning of a movement. It’s the beginning of change, of a new era where women have an equal seat at the table, where gender ratios in all careers are far more balanced, but most especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Homeward Bound 2016 is the first. It’s a lot of firsts. It’s the first of 10 planned Homeward Bound expeditions, leading to 1,000 women having participated and being out there influencing the world. It’s the largest women’s Antarctic expedition. For many of us, it’s our first trip to Antarctica.

Over the course of this journey and adventure, I’ll be writing about my experiences. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog from the ship in Antarctica, but if I can, I will. If I can’t, then I’ll be posting my blog entries soon as I get back to Ushuaia on December 21st.

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me through this nearly 2 year process to get to this point. It’s been a long haul, but the support and encouragement has been overwhelming and for that, I am truly grateful. In my experience, nothing of true value was ever easy to attain. It takes effort and commitment, courage and trust. Who knows what the next month will bring, but I’m ready for this adventure…




Arctic Expedition 2014: Visual Storytelling – the power of photography…

YEAP crowd funding_front_edited-1

My role on this Students On Ice arctic expedition is one of educator. All of us who will fill that role will also contribute to the success of the expedition in other ways, helping with many aspects of daily activities and logistics. But as educators, our primary role is to deliver outstanding educational workshops and activities for the students.

I will be teaching environmental communication. You’re probably thinking, what the heck is that?  Environmental communication uses tools such as photography and video to inform ands to connect with the general public on environmental issues. Our planet faces a number of significant environmental issues such as climate change, habitat loss, species extinction, pollution (including plastic pollution in our oceans), ocean acidification and the dying-off of coral reefs. These are just some of the major issues facing us today.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island.

Plastic garbage that has made its way into the world oceans is responsible for the death of albatross chicks in a colony on Midway Island. Image copyright Shelley L. Ball, 44th Parallel Photography

The problem is that if people don’t feel like their daily lives are affected by these issues, then they don’t believe they exist. It’s just the way the human brain works – it’s that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing. But no matter where in the world we live, our lives are affected by these things. It’s just that for some things, the impacts are less obvious for some of the world’s population, compared to others. Or we experience the indirect or trickle-down effects of these things rather than the direct impacts, at least for now. Or the impacts happen so far from us (geographically) that we don’t see them and so they don’t get our attention. A good example of this is the melting of the world’s glaciers and the impact this will have on global sea level and other aspects of our environment. If we don’t see it happening in our own neighbourhood, then we tend not to think about it.

This is where environmental communication comes in and specifically, photography and videography. You’ve heard the expression, ‘ a picture is worth a thousand words’?  As humans, we rely on vision to understand the world around us. This is why photographs can have such impact. When we see something with our own eyes, we are more likely to understand it, to believe it, to relate to it. And some images can even evoke strong emotional responses in us. Strong images can make us care.

It’s this emotional response that is important. Without it, people tune out. They forget about things. But have you ever seen a photo that made you cry? I bet the impact of that photo stayed with you for a few days, if not for months or years or even a lifetime. Images have the power to impact us in that way.

The cover of National Geographic's 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

The cover of National Geographic’s 125th anniversary edition. Their features on The Power Of Photography are a fabulous example of how photography can inform us, connect us, inspire us and motivate us to take action on environmental and social issues.

I believe that visual images can play a huge role in helping us to understand the impacts of our planet’s environmental issues and the urgent need to take action to halt these impacts. For over 125 years, National Geographic has been doing this – using photography to take us to parts of the globe we have never been before (or may never visit) . They inform us about environmental and social issues in places far from us. Their goal is to motivate us to care enough to do something about these issues. And now that we are in the digital age, National Geographic publishes their magazine digitally (for iPad). We no longer just ‘read’ NatGeo magazine, we experience it. This include video clips, 3D animations, and interactive tools to ‘read’ a story. You just need to look at the October 2013 digital edition of National Geographic magazine to understand the impact photography (and video) can have on informing people about global issues, getting them to care, and getting them to take action.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

Copyright France Rivet, Polar Horizons. Used with permission.

This is why I’m teaching environmental communication on this arctic expedition. I think photography and videography are tools that are critical to addressing the planet’s environmental issues. And who better to use these than the younger generation – the one that will spend the bulk of their lives dealing with the environmental issues that currently face our planet. I’ll be teaching them how to shoot photographs with impact. How to shoot and edit video and to produce their own short documentary-style videos. And I hope they will become ambassadors of the environment – visual storytellers for the environment – sharing their experiences and their messages about the arctic – its wildlife, its landscapes, its people and the rapid changes the arctic is experiencing as a result of global climate change. This is why I have named my program, the Youth Environmental Ambassadors Program. I hope that the students will share the stories of their first-hand experiences not just with their family, their friends and their peers. I hope they will share them with the world. I hope my program inspires them to take action on our planet’s environmental issues and that they inspire others to do the same.