Inspirational Antarctica

9 September 2015 | Education
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The 2041 International Antarctic Expedition featured 81 participants from 26 countries (Photo: Phil Wickens)

Last semester, NUS students Tan Chee Wee and Prerna Shah travelled more than 22,000 km for a personal encounter with one of Earth's great wilderness, the Antarctica. The students from the Master of Science (Environmental Management) (MEM) are believed to be the first from the University to make this expedition.

They were among 81 participants from 26 countries who joined the 2041 International Antarctic Expedition, which aims to create ambassadors who will protect the Antarctica, act on climate change and promote renewable energy. The Expedition is a global youth leadership programme that seeks to inspire potential change-makers through a unique experience in the Antarctica, which is protected by the Antarctic Treaty that expires in 2041. The entire trip spanned 13 days in March.

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Prerna (left) and Chee Wee are believed to be the first from NUS to embark on a journey to the Antarctica (Photo: Tan Chee Wee)

"I think this was a fruitful expedition which has further advanced the knowledge obtained by the students from the MEM programme by providing them with first-hand evidence of many of the aspects covered on the programme such as climate change and loss of biodiversity, said MEM programme Director Professor George Ofori.

Chee Wee, a part-time student who is currently a Manager at Ernst & Young's Climate Change and Sustainability Services, was fully funded by MEM corporate sponsor Global Green Economic Consulting Pte Ltd (GGEC). The company heard of the programme from an MEM alumna and had offered to sponsor an MEM student to participate in the expedition.

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Participants engaged in lessons on leadership, climate change, mammals, birds, history, exploration and photography led by knowledge experts on board a ship (Photo: Tan Chee Wee)

The first stage of the selection process required MEM students to submit short essays on a given topic. Then, shortlisted candidates had to write in-depth papers on the Antarctica and expedition. Those who made it to the last stage were interviewed by a panel comprising representatives from the GGEC-organised Global Green Economic Forum and the MEM Programme Management Committee. GGEC will be sponsoring at least one MEM student each year on the same or an equivalent international trip for the next three years.

"I believe relating my Antarctica experience to young people and future leaders could inspire them to find their unique conviction for the same cause. It is vital to engage them effectively right now, so that they could propel meaningful changes in the future, said Chee Wee.

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The expedition required the MEM students to travel more than 22,000 km to reach their destination (Photo: Phil Wickens)

The other participant, Prerna, raised the $32, 270 (US$22,000) that was needed for the expedition; two-thirds were from corporate contacts in India while the rest were from friends, relatives and personal resources. The former bank executive resigned from her job to join the programme because she had personally experienced the effects of climate change in the Himalayas, where she had spent her childhood.

The Antarctic expedition was a journey of many firsts for Prerna. From witnessing an iceberg the size of 20 football fields breaking off from the Antarctic ice shelf ' a reminder of the threat sea-level rise poses to the shorelines of island nations like Singapore ' to experiencing the innocent wildlife of the Antarctica.

"The Antarctic expedition copiously added to my MEM experience. The interdisciplinary course sensitises young, potential leaders to the current environmental challenges so they can make informed decisions in policy, businesses and future technologies, she said of the programme, which is mounted jointly by nine NUS schools.

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Wildlife in this untouched land mass still trust humans enough to check them out (Photo: Oli Wheeldon)