It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and Dr. Jennifer Copeland expects to bring back with her to the University of Lethbridge much more than snapshots and memories.
A kinesiology professor and associate dean with the Faculty of Arts & Science, Copeland will be among more than 100 women from around the world who set sail aboard The Island Sky for Antarctica. The 19-night voyage departing from Argentina Nov.12 is a global leadership initiative for women with a background in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
Past participants in the Homeward Bound experience have called it “transformative,” she notes.
“The opportunity to work with like-minded women from around the world is something I’m very excited about,” says Copeland. “Anytime you have the opportunity to gain diverse perspectives on the world and the challenges facing the world, and bring that back with you, it makes all of us better.”
The larger goal of Homeward Bound is to provide 10,000 women with the capability to lead with impact and influence and bring about positive, sustainable outcomes for the planet.
Copeland notes that women make up more than half of all university graduates, but less than 20 per cent of senior decision-making roles across industries and sectors are held by women.
“The program really emphasizes there’s a need to change the current leadership model, which is clearly not working all that well for the planet,” she says.
Copeland applied to Homeward Bound in the spring of 2020 and learned in the fall she’d been accepted to the program, with her cohort planning a voyage for 2021. Those plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was finally notified this spring it would proceed. The delay provided participants a much longer online leadership component than usual, which should allow for enhanced programming once onboard.
Antarctica is an intriguing destination for many reasons, says Copeland. Not only are the realities of climate change particularly evident there, the remoteness of the environment lends itself to opportunities for leadership and collaboration. There’s also the “idealistically wonderful” premise of Antarctica, and a treaty signed in 1959 to commit the continent be used exclusively for the sharing of scientific knowledge that is freely available to everyone.
The founders of the Australia-based Homeward Bound believe scientific endeavour plays a critical part in resolving many of the world’s problems. While there will be climate scientists and conservation biologists on board, those challenges will require multiple perspectives to solve.
“Kinesiology, at first glance, might seem like it doesn’t have a connection, but I'm a health researcher and climate change and environmental degradation is a public health threat,” says Copeland.
The scope of the trip is not lost on the participants, given Homeward Bound’s emphasis on sustainability. Copeland’s cohort will adopt a project that will allow for a 100 per cent carbon offset of the trip.
As one of just four Canadians in her Homeward Bound cohort, Copeland appreciates the opportunity presented to her.
“It is not lost on me the privileged position I am in to have a career that allows me to take an administrative leave to participate in something like this. I’m very grateful to have such a supportive employer in the University of Lethbridge,” she says.