The waves rolled a bit, but overall the waters were calm and the voyage was smooth. Even if the seas had been rough, Hilary McManus, Ph.D., would not have minded. The views were spectacular. From her perch aboard a large passenger ship known as The Ushuaia, McManus assessed the remote, wild landscape before her characterized by mountains, volcanoes and ice shelves. She spied penguins, fur seals, and humpback, orca and minke whales and, once the vessel pulled closer to the ice-covered land, snow algae distinguished by its soft pink hue. It was a sight to behold for anyone, but for McManus, an associate professor of biological sciences, it was especially meaningful. What she was witnessing was an opportunity to become part of a global movement to better care for the planet.
McManus recently returned from a three-week journey to Antarctica as part of Homeward Bound, a groundbreaking leadership and science initiative whose aim over the next decade
is to equip 1,000 women with science backgrounds to lead, influence and contribute to policy and decision-making as it informs the future of the planet. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold approximately 47 percent of the nation’s jobs, but just 24 percent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly known as STEM. Homeward Bound is dedicated to preparing more women to have a voice in caring for the earth. Following three days of training in Ushuaia, Argentina, McManus and her colleagues, including veterinarians, chemists and a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist, spent three weeks aboard a ship in the Southern Ocean and on Antarctica, taking part in a cutting-edge environmental science education program.
“This journey absolutely exceeded all of my expectations on all fronts,” said McManus, who teaches courses in botany, evolution and environmental issues. “We networked and developed strategies to lead, to increase our visibility, and to act on issues that align with our individual values, and we did all of this in the spectacular setting of Antarctica.”
There are a number of reasons that Antarctica was selected as the site of the expedition. The land has captured the imagination of countless explorers, including Sir Edmund Hillary, and since the passage of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 it has been dedicated to peaceful research. What’s more regions of the continent – which holds 70 percent of the world’s fresh water – are showing some of the fastest responses to climate change anywhere on the planet. Finally, Homeward Bound’s founders believe that the study of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean will provide researchers with critical insights into the impact of human activity on the environment.
The scientists, who came to Homeward Bound from 18 different countries, spent the first few days of their journey learning more about each other and setting ground rules for the excursion, namely to be open, curious and present. Then they identified their aims for the trip and reflected upon how those goals aligned with their values, individually and collectively. For McManus that aim is to expand her work as an environmental educator off campus so that she can share the importance of protecting the air, land and water with a broader, nonacademic audience.
“Every woman has a voice and deserves to be heard,” she said. “Global issues cannot be fully addressed with everyone’s interests in mind f only half the population is represented in the decision-making process. We can all have an impact by creating safe spaces to have the difficult conversations necessary to address the environmental issues we face, and by having these conversations with family members, friends, and our political representatives. By listening and creating space for these conversations, we approach these issues by finding common ground and acting together toward shared goals.”
While aboard The Ushuaia, McManus and her peers attended symposia on water scarcity and health; gender bias and the sciences; climate change and pollution; energy transition; and climate change communication. However, it was when they stepped onto the ice that they truly came to appreciate what is widely regarded as the coldest, windiest and iciest place on Earth. The scientists visited five international research stations where researchers are engaged in a wide variety of projects, including studying the terrestrial ecology of Antarctica, the impact of increased rain fall, and glacial retreat, as well as the diversity of organisms that live under the sea ice and their physiology.
McManus’ colleagues are both proud of her work and eager for her to be able to share what she has learned with her students.
“I think her invitation to Homeward Bound is a testament to Dr. McManus’ academic accomplishments to date, as well as her promise as a leader in her field,” said Kate Costello-Sullivan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This has been an incredible experience for her; I am sure that she will not only bring back disciplinary knowledge that she can cite and incorporate in her teaching and research, but also intellectual frameworks that she will be able to pass on to her students.”
Now that McManus and her colleagues have returned home, the process of putting what they have learned into practice begins. They have established a strong, supportive network and from their home nations they are collaborating with one another virtually to implement the plans they developed aboard the ship. Their work primarily focuses on addressing areas of scientific concern, including climate change, water scarcity and renewable energy, and cultivating new female leaders in STEM. The participants are also using the skills and knowledge they acquired in Antarctica in their individual areas of expertise. For McManus that means incorporating current research on the state and functioning of the planet into her class, Poisoning of the Planet, which addresses environmental issues such as resource depletion, pollution, overpopulation, and the nuclear winter, and generally bringing more visibility to environmental issues.
“Homeward Bound elevates participants’ leadership capabilities, educates them on the science of what is happening to the planet, and helps them refine their skills to design and create plans to protect the ecology for future generations,” McManus said. “Ultimately what I walked away with was a renewed sense of self, purpose, and a growing global network of women in STEM with shared goals.”
Biological Sciences at Le Moyne