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### Unforgettable Antarctic Adventure: Students Embark on Once-in-a-Lifetime Study Abroad Journey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In a groundbreaking initiative, Penn State students had the unique opportunity to explore the wonders of Antarctica through an immersive course titled “Antarctica: Human Impacts on a Fragile Environment,” which was offered for the first time last fall.

Leading the course was Tammy Shannon, an academic advising coordinator within the program, who expressed how the expedition to Antarctica was not only transformative but also deeply impactful, leaving a lasting impression on all participants.

The ERM program collaborated with [ppp1] to develop this extraordinary course, which was made possible through the efforts of Tammy Shannon and Robert Shannon, the ERM program coordinator. They worked closely with American Universities International Programs, along with colleagues from the State University of New York-Brockport and Virginia Tech, both of which had previously offered similar courses.

Prior to the field excursion, students engaged in a preparatory course during the fall of 2023. This involved attending weekly lectures by experts from the University of Canterbury’s Gateway Antarctica: Centre for Antarctic Studies, writing essays, completing projects, and compiling an annotated bibliography of field course readings.

The course aimed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of Antarctica’s rich human and natural history, focusing on its physical and ecological systems, regional human activities, sustainable tourism practices, and the conservation of its delicate polar resources.

Maria Giarrusso, an ERM major with a minor in [ppp2], shared her childhood fascination with documentaries about Antarctica, highlighting her long-standing interest in the unique wildlife adaptations in polar regions. Another participant, Emma Chaplin, a Schreyer Honors Scholar majoring in ERM and minoring in [ppp3], expressed her initial disbelief at the opportunity to visit Antarctica, underscoring how this experience solidified her choice of major.

In addition to the academic component, students were encouraged to join the college’s [ppp4], which promotes sustainable practices during study abroad programs by aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The two-week field excursion during winter break took the students on a remarkable journey by plane and ship, allowing them to explore diverse sites such as the Beagle Channel, known for its abundant wildlife including albatrosses, penguins, skuas, seagulls, and ducks. Encounters with penguins, seals, whales, and orcas further enriched their experience.

Giarrusso fondly recalled the tranquility of kayaking in the Lemaire Channel, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and close interactions with penguins. Chaplin shared a memorable encounter with humpback whales, emphasizing the awe-inspiring moments spent observing these magnificent creatures.

Continuing their voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula, students marveled at the majestic icebergs and diverse landscapes, including coves, inlets, islands, and bays. The journey around Cape Horn provided a unique geographical perspective, marking the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the Drake Passage.

Despite the awe-inspiring experiences, challenges such as adjusting to the continuous daylight posed difficulties in maintaining a regular sleep schedule, as noted by Giarrusso.

Ketja Lingenfelter, assistant director for student global engagement, praised the visionary leadership of Tammy Shannon and Robert Shannon, highlighting the course’s multidisciplinary approach encompassing ecotourism, glaciology, geology, and environmental management. The immersive learning experience aimed to equip students with essential skills to address environmental challenges in their future endeavors.

Reflecting on her journey, Chaplin emphasized the fragility of Antarctica’s ecosystems, reinforcing her commitment to advocating for wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

Antarctica, with its pristine beauty and delicate ecosystems, served as a profound educational backdrop, inspiring students to become stewards of the environment and champions for sustainability.