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UAB in Antarctica

There is spectacular ice arch not far from station that I will talk about in more detail in my next entry. As a teaser though, check out the image to the right. The break in the arch at the top got me musing about Antarctica’s version of the ‘glass ceiling’. The glass ceiling is a barrier that women have to break through to reveal their full potential. I want to introduce you to some women who have broken barriers to working on the ‘ice’, which is slang for Antarctica – thus breaking the ice ceiling.

I have had the privilege of working with many women down here who have broken into prominent and responsible roles. The first female scientist to winter in the Antarctic was my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Mary Alice McWhinnie. She wintered with one other woman and a McMurdo Station filled with Navy support males in 1974.

After a few years, Dr. McWhinnie’s research program relocated to Palmer Station and as I mentioned in a previous entry, the Bio Labs here are named in her honor. I also stated that I cannot help but be reminded of her and how she influenced my career as I walk many times a day by a plaque (see image at right) honoring her memory.

Women have continued to break the ice ceiling in Antarctica. Jamee Johnson has worked for many years aboard R/V LAURENCE M. GOULD as a member of the science support staff hired by Raytheon Polar Services Services (the logistic company contracted by the NSF). This year she was promoted to Marine Projects Coordinator, the senior most support position on the ship. She deals directly with Captain Marty on varied matters such as assisting with customs clearance in port, cargo operations, and oversees all onboard oceanographic and science operations.

Jamee’s already oft-physically demanding role includes the soft touch of a diplomatic intermediary between onboard scientists/passengers and the crew. I missed seeing her friendly, cheerful countenance the last time the ship was here (to deliver Philip and take Jim north) but am happy the she is now enjoying a much deserved break with her husband in their Alaskan home. Jamee will be back aboard in late June when Craig, Alan and I sail up to Punta Arenas.

Another major break in the ceiling occurred this past February when Rebecca Shoop was promoted to Palmer Area Manager. With a fine arts degree from Colorado State in hand, Rebecca responded to an ad in the Denver Post for data entry clerk with Raytheon. She has methodically and competently worked her way up the ranks to what is now effectively the chief and commander of Palmer Station for much of the year.

Rebecca’s vast responsibilities, quietly accomplished with blend of warmth and professionalism, include hosting tourist ships with as many as 1500 visitors to Palmer during the early summer, interfacing the regular calls the R/V LAURENCE M. GOULD makes to station to station to deliver personnel and cargo, and keeping the smiles on her staff of least 20 as seen in the IPY photo Chuck posted a while ago. Rebecca is currently sailing home and after a few months in Colorado she will return to Palmer for another 4 months of directing and coordinating station operations.

Rebecca’s right hand in station operations is also an ice-breaking wonder woman. Zenobia Evans, or Zee, is the Senior Facilities Engineer. Her career as a Navy aircrew member piqued her desire to come to Antarctica. Ten years ago she read an ad in her Minnesota home newspaper seeking applicants for “Antarctic Maintenance”. With her extensive mechanical background Zee was a quick hire (two days after her interview) – and so began her dream adventure – which she readily admits still continues.

At Palmer Zee oversees a facilities crew typically consisting of a carpenter, electrician, maintenance specialist (primarily plumber/water works) and a general helper (often painter, jack or jill of any trade). Like Rebecca, Zee and her crew are on their way home. Like Rebecca, Zee knows she will return next year. The members of her facilities crew though have no guarantee of rehire yet each admitted they would relish the opportunity to return to Palmer next year and work again with Zee.

Clearly, there is no longer a barrier to women working in very visible positions, making very important decisions and bearing great responsibility in the Antarctic. Unfortunately, the beautiful ice arch that I promise to detail in my next post is likely to collapse soon. But fortunately, the ice ceiling has already has.