Prospect Magazine: Cool Classes

Please Don’t Step on the Penguins

On a January Term excursion to study climate change in Antarctica, Elmhurst students explore global warming and encounter a scene of incomparable beauty.

You don’t exactly think of Antarctica as a tropical destination. But when two Elmhurst juniors joined an excursion to the continent during a recent January Term, they found temperatures that were well above the mercury back home in the Midwest. It was summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
 “Our teacher, who was from St. Paul, had his computer with him and checked the weather reports from Minnesota,” said Erin Hennessy, an elementary education major from Oswego, Illinois. “One day, we had an outside temperature of 46 degrees Fahrenheit. It was in the single digits in the Twin Cities.”

Hennessy and Joe Re, a jazz studies major from Elmhurst, were among 12 students enrolled in the J-Term course called Penguins, Icebergs and Tropical Jungles: Understanding Climate Change around the Globe. Their three-week voyage included stops in Argentina and Costa Rica. It was part of an international program administered by the Upper Midwest Association for Intercultural Education (UMAIE), a consortium of six college and universities, including Elmhurst. The course was taught by Professor Terry Flower, chair of the physics department at Saint Catherine University in St. Paul.

The students examined the air and water temperatures in Costa Rica and Antarctica. In both locations, they also charted ultraviolet rays from the sun and took readings of electromagnetic forces.

Their journey by ship from Argentina took them through the stormy Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. “We crossed the roughest seas in the world. We spent four days rocking back and forth,” Hennessy recalled. “Many people got sick. But it was all worth it when we saw Antarctica’s beauty. We saw more penguins than we could count. Most of the time, we could smell them and hear them before we could see them. This trip has given me a thirst for adventure.”

“We were surrounded by icebergs and icecovered mountains at all times,” said Re, “with penguins by the hundreds just hanging out close to the shore, with their funny wobbles. Whales would show themselves every day. We got to take little motor boats right next to lazy seals resting atop icebergs. When we went ashore, we had to be careful not to step on the penguins, there were so many of them. It was very easy to forget that we were taking a class in global warming, especially on the days when we went to lectures held outdoors in the hot tub on the top deck of the ship.”

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