As part of the President’s Internationalization Initiative (PII), a group of 10 Rollins faculty, representing nine academic disciplines, traveled to Antarctica this past December to spark their intellectual curiosities and further the College’s internationalization efforts.
The two-week Antarctic expedition was led by Associate Professor of Art Rachel Simmons. Simmons had previously traveled to the Antarctic in December 2008 as part of a McKean Grant she received from the College. The extraordinary encounters she experienced during her solo trip led Simmons think about the multitude of interdisciplinary learning opportunities she could develop with the help of her Rollins colleagues.
As part of the interdisciplinary preparation for the trip, Simmons directed a 12-week series of academic seminars where each member of the expedition researched an Antarctic issue related to their area of scholarship or teaching.
“The seminars touched on many diverse aspects of the 'white continent' such as a feminist critique of Ernest Shackleton’s legendary leadership, the geo-politics of the Antarctic Treaty System, the Antarctic ozone hole and climate change, and the art of the polar regions,” said Simmons.
Unlike ordinary travel experiences, the PII program challenges participants to develop deeper intellectual insights into the history, geography, ecological, social and political systems of the global locations they explore. It is from these encounters—and the interdisciplinary exchanges that take place—that provide faculty with transformative opportunities to enhance their teaching in innovative ways as well as develop new scholarly interests and research.
“This Initiative allows Rollins faculty and staff to develop lasting intra-departmental relationships that make a positive difference in many campus activities from curriculum reform to faculty searches," said Simmons. "When you have survived crossing the Drake Passage and experienced the splendors of the Antarctic landscape with your colleagues, normal day-to-day work activities become much more collaborative, cooperative and just plain enjoyable. It's the ultimate team-building experience.”
Simmons’ sentiments are echoed by Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Queen. “Antarctica and the fall seminar were such amazing experiences. Not only did I get the chance to get to know my colleagues better but I now have an enhanced understanding of their disciplines and each individual’s area of expertise. This experience certainly makes me a better colleague as I serve on college committees,” said Queen.
“Additionally, my own teaching cannot help but be enriched by the expanded knowledge of the topics that were presented during the seminar and the discussions we all had over meals on the trip.” Queen added, “Because of this experience, I have altered my classes on decision making within my Cognitive Psychology course to discuss attitude, knowledge, and behavioral disparity with regards to climate change.”
The President's Internationalization program is making a lasting impact at Rollins. Since its inception, more than 75 percent of the eligible faculty and teaching staff have used the $3,500 grants to conduct individual research projects or to travel internationally with faculty-led groups.
Simmons credits the development of her body of work in large part to Rollins’ commitment to the internationalization of its faculty. Her work in recent years has explored a broad range of issues related to the declining health of global and marine environments witnessed first-hand on Rollins sponsored trips to the Pacific Islands of Galapagos and Hawaii.
"Since my journey to the shores of the Antarctic peninsula, I have focused my work on two specific issues: the costs and benefits of ecotourism and the effects of climate change on the polar landscapes,” said Simmons. “During the expedition, the exhilaration of being in the most pristine wilderness on earth made my senses sharp; each day of the journey I became more aware of the complex intricacies of my icy environment which is reflected in my work.”
Because of her experiences, Simmons plans to continue to push her body of work towards a more focused discussion of Antarctic tourism. “There is a movement to curb the growing ecotourism industry as it comes in conflict with our urgent need to protect the Antarctic environment. Through my recent exhibitions, public lectures, courses, and community workshops it is my hope that my work will continue to raise public awareness about the stresses on polar environments.”
Expedition participants included: Jennifer Ailles, visiting assistant professor of English; Mike Gunter, associate professor of political science; Madeline Kovarik, assistant professor of education; Julie Carrington, associate professor of mathematics; Scott Rubarth, George D. and Harriet W. Cornell professor of classical studies; Larry Eng-Wilmot, professor of chemistry; Kathryn Patterson Sutherland, assistant professor of biology; Jennifer Queen, associate professor of psychology; and Wendy Brandon, associate professor of education.
To read more about the President's Internationalization Initiative click here.
To learn more about the Antarctica 2009: Faculty Seminar and expedition and to view a gallery of Rachel Simmons’ work click here.