Antarctica - Meet Scientist Krissa Skogen: She Aims to Empower Women and Save the Planet…and it’s Working

Conservation scientist Dr. Krissa Skogen specializes in the pollination biology of evening primrose flowers that grow in the American West. But in December her work took her to a starkly different location: she was among the largest-ever all-women delegation to Antarctica.

She was among the largest-ever all-women delegation to Antarctica, traveling with 99 other women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medical) fields to the frozen continent as part of a program called Homeward Bound meant to build women’s leadership in the fight for a more sustainable planet. Skogen, PhD, who works at the Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action at the Chicago Botanic Garden and is an adjunct assistant professor at Northwestern University, is also passionate about empowering young women and girls to become scientists.

What was it like to be in Antarctica, and how did it impact your view of the natural world and our impact on it?

The scale and simplicity provide such a striking contrast to everyday life. You’re looking at water, sky, ice and snow, and maybe some rocks and mountains poking out. I found it to be very calming, and also really humbling: so vast, so simple, so beautiful.

You feel so small and so insignificant, and realize how little you matter in the context of everything else. Right now there are still penguins there, icebergs are still moving, I’m not there to see it but it is still happening. Despite feeling small and insignificant, I realize that the things I and others do every single day can have a huge impact both for better or for worse, on people and places including this magical place that is so far away. We can make changes in our day-to-day lives that can slow climate change, we can work with organizations to create a better future for ourselves and others. We have agency and we can make a difference – I returned from Antarctica with a renewed sense of purpose and a perspective that I wouldn’t have without having gone.

What did you think of the recent news about record high temperatures in Antarctica — reaching 70 degrees?

You see these headlines and you feel totally helpless, this wave of panic. I felt this deep heartache, that there’s this place that changed me and terrible things are happening to it, yet I’m far away and it feels out of my control. It almost feels like when you hear about a tragedy happening to someone you care for deeply or who had an important impact on your life, like a mentor or teacher who provided you with transformational guidance. There’s this feeling of loss, knowing without that person you wouldn’t be who you are.

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