12 Iowa State Students Taking Winter Break Trip to Antarctica

December 20th, 2004

College students often spend their holiday breaks in search of warm weather. But a group of 12 Iowa State University students is doing the opposite - to the extreme. They're headed to Antarctica, leaving Dec. 25 and returning Jan. 8. Average temperatures on Antarctica's coast this time of year are just below freezing.

Students from the 1999 Antarctica trip on their journey."It's a beautiful place with an intriguing history," said Carol Vleck, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology (EEOB). "It's sort of the last frontier, and appeals to people looking for something different."

This will be Vleck's fourth trip to the world's fifth-largest continent. She traveled there twice to conduct penguin research, and led another ISU student group to Antarctica in 1999. Vleck and her husband, David Vleck, an associate scientist in the EEOB department, will co-lead the trip.

Shelley Taylor has never been to Antarctica, and isn't going on this trip. But as coordinator for the ISU College of Agriculture's study abroad program, she's been working on the trip's logistics for more than a year. It's one of several international travel programs offered through the biology department and coordinated by her office.

This trip to Antarctica means that, for the first time, students in the 2004-2005 academic year can work through Taylor's office to visit any of the world's seven continents.

Besides the winter-break trip to Antarctica, there are four trips to Africa, two to Asia, several to Europe, and one each to South America and Australia. Programs in Mexico and Canada place North America on the list.

Several of the 12 students on the Antarctica trip are enrolled in the agriculture college. Elicia Grace, Rockton, Ill., is majoring in genetics and microbiology. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Grace said. "There's a lot of breakthrough bacteria research being conducted in Antarctica and I'd like to get a feel for the ecology there."

Meghan Wymore is from Oskaloosa, majoring in animal science and genetics. "I have always been fascinated with polar environments," Wymore said. "I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to explore a continent few have the chance to visit."

Some of the students are enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Nathan Swanson, Lynn Center, Ill., is majoring in political science and international studies. He's wanted to visit Antarctica since he saw a documentary about it in the first grade.

"I plan to work in international relations or international law, so this trip will provide me with an exceptional international experience. The status of Antarctica is very unique and often even disputed under international treaties," Swanson said. "And discussions of environmental concerns center around this continent quite frequently."

The group first flies to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. They will spend three days there, touring natural areas and hiking to a glacier. From Ushuaia, they board a ship that accommodates 110 passengers. It will take two or three days to sail to Antarctica, depending on weather conditions.

Once anchored off the coast of Antarctica, the Iowa State group and others onboard will make day-trips in small rubber boats to the icy shoreline of the mainland and nearby islands. "We'll be looking at the penguins and other birds nesting there," Carol Vleck said. "We'll also see seals, whales, icebergs and glaciers, and visit an old whaling station that was abandoned because of volcanic activity."

The students attended a weekly seminar during the fall semester, hearing lectures and discussing biographies of early explorers. Each student is developing a presentation that will be given while in Antarctica, discussing such things as penguin behavior, research stations in the vicinity and the impact of global warming on the Antarctic ice sheet.

Taylor said more than one person has asked how agriculture fits into a trip to Antarctica, a place where no crops or livestock are grown. "If you think about agriculture in a larger sense, including environmental issues, land use issues and wildlife issues, it makes sense that we would be involved since the College of Agriculture offers a wide variety of majors in environmental and life sciences," she said.

Taylor said Iowa State's College of Agriculture is a national leader in the number of students it sends abroad, with about 250 agriculture students traveling to foreign countries each year. The college's study abroad office offers three types of international travel experiences. Besides an extensive list of travel courses, there are exchanges with 12 universities and internships in a host of countries.

A complete list of study abroad opportunities offered through the ISU College of Agriculture is online at http://www.agstudyabroad.iastate.edu/.
Students participating in the trip, with their hometown and majors, are:
Carlie Brue, Joice, Iowa, animal ecology
Levi Byers, Marshalltown, Iowa, Spanish and English
Jessica Daniels, Dallas Center, Iowa, biology
Stephen Duquette, Edina, Minn., biology
Elicia Grace, Rockton, Ill., genetics and microbiology
Sean Johnson, Chicago, Ill., environmental science
Brett Mommer, Dike, Iowa, biology
Abhijeet Shah, Andhra Pmdesh, India, biochemistry
Montray Smith, Jacksonville, Fla., public health
Nathan Swanson, Lynn Center, Ill, political science and international studies
Derek Widman, Wells, Minn., animal science
Meghan Wymore, Oskaloosa, Iowa, animal science

Contacts: 

Carol Vleck, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, (515) 294-8646, cvleck@iastate.edu
David Vleck, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, (515) 294-44243, dvleck@iastate.edu
Shelley Taylor, College of Agriculture Study Abroad, (515) 294-5393, sztaylor@iastate.edu
Susan Thompson, Communications Service, (515) 294-0705, sander@iastate.edu

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