Category Archives: Alumnni Education

Penn Alumni Travel: In the Wake of the Vikings

Author: David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor of English

Most of us arrived at Glasgow airport for our Penn Alumni Travel trip across what were once Viking lands. We were then taken by bus to the headquarters of Gohagan, our tour operator, which is based in Glasgow. The company is housed in a beautiful building in the heart of the city:

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Some of us chose to rest up in the lounge, and some decided to explore the city center. It was surprising to find a statue of the author Sir Walter Scott close by, since he is most famously associated with Edinburgh; a Glasgow pigeon expresses his opinion:

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The nearby Glasgow cathedral contains a chapel known as the Blacadder crypt, after Archbishop Blacadder (1483-1508); a roof boss seemed to cry out “bring out your dead!”

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We were transferred to our ship, Le Boréal, and were soon nosing out through evocative islands in beautiful weather:

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Le Boréal is the sister ship of L’Austral, on which some of us had travelled before, and accommodates some 400 people (passengers plus crew); it was captained by the handsome and youthful Erwan Le Rouzic, and included a French chef, a French pastry chef, and a French wine steward. The Penn group was quite big at sixteen, but we began getting to know one another at a dinner early in the trip. On 15 June we sailed into the Kyle of Lochalsh, viewing the bridge that now connects Skye to the mainland of Scotland:

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On Skye we visited Eilean Donan castle, a fortified castle since the thirteenth century and extensively rebuilt in the 1930s:

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The birdlife here is spectacular, and it got ever more interesting as the voyage continued. Some of us stalked this blue heron:

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A few hours later we were to see a quite different bird, at Armadale castle:

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The presence of this exotic peacock seemed entirely appropriate, since the gardens at Armadale castle were spectacularly lush:

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It seemed miraculous that such a far northern Atlantic island could support such lushness, but one of our local guides informed us that in earlier centuries ships had visited Skye filled with ballast of rich soil. Thus Skye was gradually able to produce gardens that might rival those of Florida.

Our next port of call, following another overnight voyage, was Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Penn alums John and Jean Donaldson had perhaps felt some special affinity for Skye, stronghold of the Clan Donald; on Lewis Eileen Dooling née MacLeod was able to visit an island where every second person seemed to share her maiden name. Eileen was in fact able to make contact with relatives, who recognized her as one of their own immediately, and while visiting the Callanish Standing Stones I received a phone call from the mother of my Penn colleague, Catriona MacLeod; we met for tea later, in Stornoway. The 3,000 year old stones are spectacular, and it was a pleasure to observe them close up rather than, as at Stonehenge, to be held back by a barrier. Here the Penn banner was unfurled for the first time, by Karen and Gary (Penn Trustee) Rose (left) and Charlton and Christa Carpenter (right):

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We then travelled to the Dun Carloway pictish broch, a residence for an extended family built circa 100 BCE.

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Jean Donaldson bravely decided to climb to the top of this ancient monument, from the inside:

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Following a visit to the Gearranan Blackhouse Village, where traditional crafts such as weaving and thatching were demonstrated, we boarded ship and set sail for the islands collectively known as Orkney. This afforded me the perfect opportunity to present my first lecture to the ship’s company, on Orkneyingasaga, an Old Norse account of the region. This is a strange text, since it contains the usual blood-letting, mayhem, and revenge killings that we might associate with Viking sagas, but halfway through we come across a young nobleman who refuses to fight in a sea battle: he simply lies down in the boat and reads his Psalms. He does become joint-ruler of the region, but is eventually betrayed and captured. Rather than allowing the cycle of violent rivalry to continue he takes the violence upon himself and is martyred; the man who kills and succeeds him, the saga says, was very popular, and a good ruler. Viking morals and mores thus remained mysterious to us as we approached the capital of Orkney, Kirkwall, and viewed its magnificent cathedral, built to honor St Magnus martyr:

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While in the cathedral I was looking for something that would support my claim, in the lecture, that Viking culture was able to support or carry over pagan or nature-worshipping motifs even after Christianization. Eventually I spotted a ‘green man’ at the top of a column in the aisle, spewing forth greenery without end:

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Our trip to Orkney also included a visit to the Highland Park distillery, the world’s northernmost whiskey makers, and Scapa Flow, home to the British fleet in both world wars and the site of a massive explosion that killed hundreds of young British sailors early in World War II. This explosion, amazingly, was heard by our local guide, as a young girl– she told extraordinary tales of how Italian POWs came to built stronger defences, and how they eventually crafted a beautiful chapel from spare parts and corrugated iron. It was at this point, approaching the chapel, that my camera lost its charge, but I had been able to take a picture of the San Giorgio (St George) erected by the Italians. Many of them have returned to review their handiwork over the years, and are good friends with the islanders.

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We also visited Skara Brae, home to successive waves of migrants over some 5,000 years. The Vikings came, adapted what they found, and then eventually left– like these Penn alums, trailing off into the mist by the edge of the Atlantic:

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Another night voyage brought us to the port of Lerwick and the Shetland islands, some fifty miles out from Orkney. In driving to the ancient archaeological site of Jarlshof, our driver made a stop at the top of a cliff road. From here we could observe sea birds wheeling in the currents. Most impressive of all were the fulmers, a miniature breed of albatross. They would hang in the breeze, apparently making no effort at all to stay aloft:

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Jarlshof, uncovered by a fierce storm during the winter of 1896/7, is an amazing site, with dwellings ranging from late neolithic to Viking longhouses. It also offers friendly refuge for Shetland ponies, and many of us were tempted into selfies:

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Later that day we were treated to some first class Shetland fiddling before we set sail for Bergen, Norway. The Penn alums gathered for a cocktail party before dinner, and many tales were exchanged. The most spectacular tale of all was told by Bill Pfeifer (M 68), who had recognized, in another alumni group, a long-lost buddy with whom he had served in a five-man MASH unit. Bill can be seen kneeling, far right. Penn alums have handy skills: Bill gave me the best advice on how to treat an ingrown toenail, and Pamella Dentler (immediately above the Penn crest, V 78) was great on cat care:

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In Bergen most of the group visited Troldhaugen, home to the composer Edvard Grieg for 22 years. There was plenty of time to walk the streets, admiring the handsome Hansa houses and contemplating the purchase of reindeer meat:

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The building at left in the background here, with the Gothic pointing, is home to Bergen’s new Starbucks. There was just time to take a nautically-framed picture of our handsome ship before heading back out to sea, for Denmark:

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It was only on this final leg of the voyage, en route to Copenhagen, that we experienced sea conditions that were anything like challenging. As we headed into the open water between Norway and Denmark, admiring the fjords, there was a swell of 10 metres. This sounds alarming, but the wine glasses in the restaurant did not move at all, even as the sea moved up and down past the window– the stabilizers on this modern ship did an amazing job. We did perhaps eat a little more lightly that night, but we all arrived in Copenhagen in good shape and fine spirits.

Lectures had been offered throughout our voyage, and as ever the attendance was amazingly high: lecturers like myself simply wish that we could bottle this spirit of active engagement, and then sprinkle it over our classrooms. For my final lecture I offered an illustrated review of and commentary on our voyage, and then ended it with a quiz. My threat was that the alums would not be allowed off ship unless they scored at least 60% (the mark set for my American citizenship exam last year). In fact, they collectively remembered everything, however obscure the detail. For example: why do farmers in Shetland use green plastic, rather than black, to wrap the bales of hay pushed out by their combined hravesters? Answer: because experiments have demonstrated that seagulls will attack black bags (associated with promising garbage) but not green ones.

Having scored 100%, then, the alums disembarked and went their separate ways in Copenhagen. Having travelled so far by sea, in favorable conditions, we left in greater awe than ever of the intrepid Vikings. I found this to be a terrific, highly varied groups of alums, and I hope that some of them might join me on another water-bound adventure: travelling down the Zambesi, in February 2015.

Penn Alumni Travel 2015 Full Tour Schedule

David Wallace, FMAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazon River Expedition

Author: Anthony DeCurtis, Distinguished Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program & Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone

I’m not a specialist on South America to any degree whatsoever, so I was surprised – and delighted! — to be invited to be a faculty host on a Penn Alumni cruise along the Peruvian Amazon. I’m a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at Penn and my writing for Rolling Stone (where I’m a contributing editor) over the years about the likes of the Rolling Stones, U2 and Billy Joel has made me no stranger to wild life, though not the sort I was likely to find in one of the world’s most remote jungles. The advantage of my non-expert status, however, was that I fully shared the sense of wonder and adventure that characterized the redoubtable Penn alums on board. As soon as everyone understood that such questions as “How deep is the Amazon in this inlet?” were better addressed to our fearless and profoundly knowledgeable guides, Robinson and Juan Carlos, than to me, we all settled in to our journey and had an unforgettable time.

So what exactly was I doing on the La Amatista, the beautifully appointed small expedition river vessel that was our home on the Amazon? February 2014, the month of our cruise, marked the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in the United States, so one of my lectures focused on that peerless band and the ongoing impact and significance of its music. A second lecture recounted the equally long and riotous career of the Beatles’ great rivals, the Rolling Stones. Of course, this being a Penn cruise, the alums aboard requested a third lecture about writing strategies, which I was happy to provide – and I got a few tips myself! On the evening after my Beatles talk in the afternoon, our guides and other crew members performed a selection of Beatles classics on the top deck to a wildly appreciative audience. Any footage or photos that might conceivably emerge of me singing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “From Me to You” while holding a glass of tequila have been fabricated, I swear!

But before all of that transpired, we first flew into Lima on a Friday and stayed at the Casa Andina Private Collection, a superb hotel. After breakfast there on Saturday morning, we toured Lima’s colonial section, including Casa Aliaga, which was built in 1535 by a family who came to Peru with the Spanish conquistador Pizarro. That setting prompted a discussion with our local guide about the complexities of honoring the country’s colonial past. The Convent and Museum of St. Francisco, meanwhile, included a stroll through the site’s catacombs, which are filled with the bones of tens of thousands of local residents.

The following day we flew to Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, which can only be reached by airplane or boat. Iquitos grew enormously during the rubber boom in Peru a century ago, and the downtown area features a two-story building that was used as a warehouse by Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, the rubber baron who is the subject of German director Werner Herzog’s gripping 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo. On Monday we visited the thriving Belen market, which, among its many herbs, foods and native wares included aphrodisiacs that tempted some of the more daring members of the Penn crowd. On the bus ride afterwards to Nauta, where we would board La Amatista, we stopped to visit a manatee rescue center, one of the many sites attempting to preserve the hugely important ecosystem of the Amazon. We were able to feed some of the manatees, which was fun and quite moving.

Once we boarded La Amatista later that Monday, it seemed as if our journey had finally begun, despite all that we’d seen and done already. Each of the next four days we rose early and set out in two small skiffs that each held about twelve of us. Juan Carlos and Robinson were compelling guides – smart, funny, insightful and deeply appreciative of all the glories the Amazon contains. They spoke excellent English and shared personal stories of their upbringing with us in casual presentations during dinner on the ship – one of the absolute highlights of the trip. They taught us how to fish for red-bellied piranha – okay, they fished and aided us in the illusion that we were fishing, gently helping us to reel in our catch – and pointed out the endless appearances of squirrel monkeys, toucans, vultures and macaws. One lazy afternoon a group of pink river dolphins frolicked near our skiffs, and an ordinary day suddenly turned magical. Every sunrise and sunset was just breathtaking, the sky seeming the only possible sight that could draw your attention away from the magnificent river and trees.

The residents, called riberenos [Please note: tilde over the n], of the many villages we visited were uniformly friendly and welcoming. We would hike through the jungle and then sit with them to hear their stories and purchase their strikingly colorful goods. In one village a female shaman spoke to us about the mystical and medicinal qualities of many of the plants in the region. She then performed a cleansing ritual, which was riveting.

By the time we reversed our trip – back to Nauta, then Iquitos, on to Lima, and then, finally, home – we had received an invaluable education in one of our planet’s ecological treasures. As I’m sure you know, the Amazon is under siege by the demands of our modern world. Our last night on La Amatista was the occasion of a spirited discussion about the future of the rainforest and of the Earth itself. Problems abound, of course, but the conversation was inspiring, a vivid reminder that we are all custodians of the world’s treasures, whether we are at home in our houses and apartments or sailing on a river that runs deep into the very heart of our entire human history. The connections felt palpable, and still do.

 

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Congratulations to the Class of 2014

Author: Janell Wiseley

 

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Filed under Academics, Alumni Programming, Alumni Weekend, Alumnni Education, Campus Life, Commencement, Janell W., Leaving Penn, Locust Walk Talk, Memories of Penn, Reunions, Sweeten Alumni House, Traditions, Uncategorized, View from Sweeten

What’s a Hashtag?

Join Alumni Education and two members of the Class of 1984 during an Alumni Weekend workshop to find out!

Saturday, May 17: 9am-10am
Golkin Room, Houston Hall

#WHAT’S A HASHTAG?
Social Media in the 21st Century:  Find out what everyone’s talking about!

Social media has democratized the way in which everyone conducts business in the 21st century.  Find out how you can utilize social media in your business ventures, volunteer positions and your personal life.

This one-hour workshop will provide an entertaining introduction to the world of social media, explaining what social media is, how it used, the basic tools of social media and why it’s helpful to understand the basics.  Workshop basics include an overview of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google Plus.

Presenters:
Gwen Shields Hoover, ENG ’84
Vice President, Client Relations, Altitude Marketing

Gwen Shields Hoover, a 20-year PR veteran, joined Altitude Marketing in 2008 as a partner responsible for the firm’s public relations practice.  Today she is responsible for client relations and account management as well as public relations, social media and digital marketing operations. A valued leader of Team Altitude, Hoover manages the strategic and tactical aspects of corporate identity, marketing, advertising, digital marketing and media relations in the various industries in which her clients conduct their businesses.

Karen Glass, C’84, W’84
President, Glassworks Entertainment + Marketing

Karen Glass is a seasoned entertainment and media executive with over 20 years of experience in the distribution, marketing, development and production of films and television. Currently, Ms. Glass runs Glassworks Entertainment + Marketing, a full service film, television and marketing enterprise.  She is currently working as a marketing consultant to pluto.tv, a new curated digital video platform.  

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Penn Museum Lecture Series

Author: Emilie C. K. LaRosa

One of my favorite things about working for Penn is the access to world-renowned scholars. At Penn Alumni Travel, we find that that is also one of our travelers’ favorite things about touring with us: access to a Penn faculty host during the trip. With over 4,400 standing and associated faculty at the school, it’s difficult to narrow down our list of travel host prospects. Luckily, there are many ways to hear from and learn about a Professor’s work and research. The Penn Museum’s annual lecture series in one such way.

Every year, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology holds a thematic lecture series that takes place every first Wednesday of the month during the academic year. This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this lecture series (see my February 2013 post) and, over a year later, I’m still a fan. This year’s theme is “Great Voyages: Travels, Triumphs, and Tragedies.” (Last year’s theme was “Great Battles: Moments in Time that Changed History. I’m excited to find out what next year’s theme will be!)

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The lectures take place in beautiful Harrison Auditorium and span such topics as Ferdinand Magellan, the detours of Ibn Battuta, and Gilgamesh. They are an excellent opportunity to learn about something new and hear from some of our best Penn professors in the fields of archaeology, history, and classical studies.

At a Penn Museum lecture earlier this winter.

At a Penn Museum lecture earlier this winter.

There are two lectures left this year: “Searching for the Golden Fleece with Jason and the Argonauts” with Professor C. Brian Rose and “Darwin’s Beagle Voyage” with Professor Michael Weisberg. Both professors are also hosting Penn Alumni Travel trips this fall. Professor Rose is traveling with our group to Turkey and Professor Weisberg with our group to the Galapagos.

If you have some free time tonight or on June 4th, consider spending it at the Penn Museum. I think you’ll find it was worth the effort to come to campus and return home a little later than usual. And, at $5/person, these talks are a great deal.  Click here to register for either Penn Museum lecture.

 

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Destinations 2015

Destinations 2015 header

Penn Alumni Travel’s 2015 schedule is now available online.

This year Penn Alumni Travel is excited about Africa! We have three unique departures to Africa in 2015, and weexcited africa hope you will join us for one of them: Tunisia,Tanzania, and a cruise down the Zambezi River. As Tunisia continues to transition towards democracy, now is the time to discover its ancient past and learn about its hopeful future with a Penn Alumni faculty expert at your side. Ready for a dramatic safari adventure? Float down the Zambezi River by luxury river boat this spring or experience a classic Serengeti safari this fall.

Of course we continue to offer a range of tours throughout the world with faculty-led trips to France, Italy, Brazil, China, Scandinavia, and many more. In fact, Penn alumni and friends will visit nearly forty countries in 2015. On every voyage your Penn faculty host will provide exclusive lectures and tours as you visit ancient monuments, talk to native peoples, and soak up beautiful landscapes and wildlife. Click here to find which trip is right for you! (Our tours often fill fast. Email emiliek@upenn.edu or jwiseley@upenn.edu to be added to a priority reservation list for any of our 2015 trips.)

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Register Now for Free Webinars

Author: Alyssa D’Alconzo, GSE’03, GRD’11

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Join us for one of our
final Alumni Education, Alumni Travel, or Career Networking
 events of the academic year! 

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TODAY, Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative
 featuring Professor Mark Duggan
12:00p.m. ET Register Now!

This talk will provide an overview of the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative (PPI).  Launched in September 2012, PPI operates under the broad mandate of marshaling the University’s resources to foster better-informed policy making on issues that affect business and the economy.  To this end, the Initiative aims to get policy-relevant, nonpartisan research by Penn faculty more “in the mix” in DC; to encourage public service among students by creating new opportunities for them to explore public policy through course work, lecture events, and internships; and to engage alumni interested in public policy, especially in the DC area.
In addition to detailing the achievements and aspirations of the Penn Wharton PPI, the talk will delve more deeply into some of Professor Duggan’s current research exploring the effect of Medicare Advantage (MA) program.  The federal government contracts with private insurers through the MA program to coordinate and finance health care for approximately 15 million of the nation’s 51 million Medicare recipients (the remaining 36 million are in traditional free-for service Medicare).  Reimbursement to and regulation of these private MA plans is changing substantially as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Face Transplant Surgery and Identity Transfer: Decoding the Debates
 featuring Professor Sharonna Pearl
12:00 p.m. ET Register Now!

Why did the plastic surgery makeover show The Swan have a therapist on staff?  Does changing our appearance so drastically change who we are that it challenges our notions of self – and is this a reason not to do it?  I take this question one step further by exploring what happens when one person is given not just a new face, but the face of someone else entirely.  Drawing on film and literary explorations of the question of identity transfer, as well as the history of face transplant surgery, I ask: what makes us who we really are?

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Women Returning to Work – Two Part Series

  • PART 1. Tuesday, April 20, 2014 (11am ET – Noon ET)
    Webinar Co-Sponsored by Alumni Career Networking, Career Services and the Association of Alumnae
    Join us for a webinar with three experts who will address finding fit and branding, resume writing, and recruiting. Register Now!
  • PART 2. Tuesday, May 6, 2014 (1pm ET – 2pm ET)
    Penn Alumnae Network Roulette: Women Returning to Work
    Co-Sponsored by Alumni Career Networking, Career Services and Association of Alumnae
    Alumnae, Register Now! Would you benefit from expanding your professional network and advice on returning to work? Do you have experience transitioning back to work that you are willing to share with others? Take advantage of this unique opportunity to connect with other Penn alumnae who have or are looking to return to work. Join alumnae from around the world for a career transition focused networking session. Penn Alumni Network Roulette enables you to speed-network online from wherever you may be: home, office, or even on the road. Alumnae will be randomly matched for 9-minute text-based chats that provide an opportunity to ask questions, make new connections, and exchange contact information.  Join the webinar prior to the networking session.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014
Great Journey Through Europe
 featuring Professor Andre Dombrowski
12:00 p.m. ET Register Now!

Join Andre Dombrowski, Professor of History of Art, as he give a short lecture on the history and culture of the  Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  Professor Dombrowski will be hosting Penn Alumni Travel’s June 2014 trip to these countries.  We welcome all passengers of this trip and anyone interested in the places visited, to join us for this webinar.  A brief question and answer session will follow with Professor Dombrowski and representatives from our tour operator.

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Antarctica The Beautiful

Author: Irina Marinov, Assistant Professor, Earth and Environmental Science Dept.

The first thing you notice on an Antarctic expedition is that the Antarctic continent is very far away from everywhere else. For example, from Philadelphia you first take a 4+ hour flight south to Miami or somewhere like that, then you embark on a 10 hour flight to BuenosAires. Once in Buenos Aires, you need to get on another 4+ hour flight that takes you to Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost tip of Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia. In Ushuaia, you embark on your ship and spend almost two days at sea crossing the Drake Passage (sometimes a very bumpy ride) before finally seeing the Antarctic coast. And then, after you spend a few days along the Antarctic coastline you must follow the entire lengthy procedure again in reverse order to get back home. But the rewards are incredible. Even that first sighting of Antarctica is so spectacular, that it is well worth the 4-day trip to get there. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation (around 1900m or 1.2 mi) of all the continents, with spectacular glaciers and snow-covered mountains emerging straight out of water.

But let me start this blog from the beginning. Our expedition actually started with one great (though rainy) day visiting Buenos Aires, including a visit to the balcony where Evita (or was it Madonna?) sang her heart out to the world, the Plaza de Mayo and the colorful and happy La Boca neighborhood where historically Genovese immigrants have arrived to Argentina. We also had time to mingle for one evening with newly made Penn and non-Penn friends, and taste some amazing Argentinian steaks downtown. The next early morning we took a very early flight to Ushuaia, Patagonia, the Southernmost town of the world. On our arrival we were guided on a bus tour of the nearby National Park. We were secretly told by our very funny local guide that a nearby – but far less known – town in Chile actually is technically even further south than Ushuaia. However, as advised, we promptly forgot the name of the Chilean town and proceeded to take hundreds of pictures of the world’s southernmost National Park, southernmost continental post office, southernmost lake and town, the southern tip of the Route 3 (a road that crosses all the Americas from Alaska southward) and many other southernmost such treasures.

 

Street sign in Ushuaia, Argentina

Street sign in Ushuaia, Argentina

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, near Ushuaia, Argentina

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, near Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost town of the world, as seen from our Antarctic-bound ship “L’Austral”.

Ushuaia (Argentina), the Southernmost town of the world, as seen from our Antarctic-bound ship “L’Austral”.

I have a great distrust of tour guides. Or rather, after a few disastrous experiences in various parts of the world, I had completely sworn off tour guides and decided to travel to new places with a Lonely Planet guidebook companion instead. To my complete surprise, our local guides in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, and on the ship, were extremely knowledgeable, professional and thoroughly pleasant and fun. The naturalist crew on the ship was also top notch, and composed of 6-7 young naturalists with extensive real-life and scientific experience at sea in the Artic and Antarctic environments. I will have to credit Gohagen, our organizing tourist agency that specializes in educational alumni travel, for their choice of naturalists and guides and a flawless organization of the trip.

My first talk on the ship (on Southern Ocean oceanography) was scheduled on our first day at sea, as we were passing through the Drake channel, the opening that separates South America from the West Antarctic Peninsula. As an oceanographer, nothing compares to the thrills of talking oceanography while cruising through the Drake Passage. This place is particularly exciting for oceanographers because here we cruise through a series of steep temperature fronts (e.g., the Antarctic Convergence and the Polar Front), a series of large drops in temperature that each occur within 30-50 km and are all related to important sub-surface ocean currents. The presence of the Drake Passage makes this the only place in the world where the Ocean can circumnavigate the globe, allowing for the presence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or ACC, the strongest ocean current on Earth, which moves Eastward following the powerful Westerlies winds. Luckily for us, the two-day crossing of the Drake channel was wonderfully and unusually calm, hence we all enjoyed during this time great science talks by faculty and by our naturalists on penguins, whales, stars, how the Arctic is different from Antarctica, ice-ages, or Antarctic geology. Impressively, I can report back to Penn that the Penn alumni were there bravely through all the talks (ok, almost all the talks …) and asked the most intelligent questions, naturally much more intelligent than either the Duke or Harvard alumni questions.

Then came the first sighting of Antarctic small icebergs, the first sighting of the Antarctic continent (what a thrill!) and then the first landings. Once close to the West Antarctic Peninsula, we spent the next few days driving back and forth to the continent and the surrounding islands in Zodiac boats, disembarking on shore and doing a few daily walks and hikes.

First landing on the Antarctic continent. Feb 4th, 2014. Penguins and our ship, the gorgeous “L’Austral”.

First landing on the Antarctic continent. Feb 4th, 2014. Penguins and our ship, the gorgeous “L’Austral”.

Antarctica the Beautiful. Notice the bloom of grey (from up close pink)- colored algae living on the glacier surface.

Antarctica the Beautiful. Notice the bloom of grey (from up close pink)- colored algae living on the glacier surface.

 

Glaciers on land form from snow that accumulates for tens of thousands of years and slowly move toward the ocean. Icebergs are large pieces of freshwater ice that have broken off a glacier or an ice shelf and are floating freely in open seawater because of their lower density. Icebergs come in many incredible colors (white, light blue, aqua-green), and in many sizes (smaller icebergs are called bergy bits and growlers). Ice is full of air bubbles that scatter all color wavelengths, giving ice its white appearance. If the ice is highly compressed, the bubbles are squeezed out and the blue light is scattered much more than other colors – making the ice appear blue. Algae often grow on the bottom of sea ice and icebergs, producing green stripes that can be seen when the ice rolls over and exposes the previously underwater sections.

Getting close to the icebergs in our little zodiacs can be scary, as some alumni observed whales a bit too close for comfort, while a few of us watched one day in amazement – and completely unexpectedly – an iceberg flipping over and wobbling for a long time, producing rows of waves that rocked our little boats. The flipping over started when pieces of ice from the top of the iceberg melted and destabilized the iceberg, which flipped over completely to find its new equilibrium, with the denser, smoother portion of under-water ice now on top. This flipping and wobbling creates deep striations that are visible on glaciers.

Here are some glorious glaciers of different colors and shapes that we saw on our trip.

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Below: assortment of icebergs next to the West Antarctic peninsula (photos by Irina Marinov and Dan Marks). Icebergs break off the continental shelf, and then float at sea and move with the currents, breaking into small pieces and melting as they move into warmer waters. Sliding on the continent before entering the ocean, followed by flipping and wobbling in water results in striations that we see on these icebergs.

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Other highlights of our week on the West Antarctic peninsula include mailing Antarctic postcards from Port Lockroy, a UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and British Antarctic Survey site currently inhabited year-round (population: two). This small base, established as part of a secret mission to report on enemy activities and provide weather reports during World War two, currently only reports penguin activities. Gentoo penguins and birdlife (blue-eyed shags and kelp gulls) like it here, as larger predators keep away from the occupied bases. We also passed a few Argentinian science bases, such as base Brown, and hiked in a beautiful harbor overlooking a large Antarctic “iceberg cemetery”.

Antarctic Treatytreaty2

British Base A, Port Lockroy, and penguins feeling at home at Port Lockroy. Below, Argentinian Base Brown, West Antarctic Peninsula. Can you imagine living here year-round? Note the grey dust on the ice to the left of Base Brown; natural weathering of rocks by wind and water on the Antarctic continent dissolves rock minerals in rocks; wind blows these around. Note a bloom of pink-colored algae on the ice to the right of Base Brown.

British Base A, Port Lockroy, and penguins feeling at home at Port Lockroy. Below, Argentinian Base Brown, West Antarctic Peninsula. Can you imagine living here year-round? Note the grey dust on the ice to the left of Base Brown; natural weathering of rocks by wind and water on the Antarctic continent dissolves rock minerals in rocks; wind blows these around. Note a bloom of pink-colored algae on the ice to the right of Base Brown.

“iceberg cemetery”.

“iceberg cemetery”.

Penn alumni Marsha and Mark Kozinn with me (pink hat).

Penn alumni Marsha and Mark Kozinn with me (pink hat).

 

On a few occasions we explored glaciers (soon to be icebergs) up close. Note the opening in the glacier in the picture above; this is how ocean waters penetrate below the glaciers, lubricating them from below. With climate warming, currents of warm waters will go beneath the glacier, melting the Antarctic glaciers from underneath, as recently measured by scientists in West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. This process can result in a global sea-level rise in the future, though projections of Antarctic contributions to sea level increase are very uncertain at this point.

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With Penn alumni and one of the naturalists (standing) in a Zodiac, preparing to disembark in Neko Harbor.

With Penn alumni and one of the naturalists (standing) in a Zodiac, preparing to disembark in Neko Harbor.

Happy Penn alumns and friends on the Antarctic continent (check out the penguins in the back).

Happy Penn alumns and friends on the Antarctic continent (check out the penguins in the back).

Happy hour on L’Austral with the Penn group.

Happy hour on L’Austral with the Penn group.

During the entire Antarctic trip we had a great time as a Penn group, had dinners all together and lunches in smaller groups, connected with each other and took many – sometimes awkward – pictures with the Penn banner. In the group picture # 2 below, I had to photoshop in the penguins behind us (just kidding, they really live there … J). My only disappointing moment was during the “swimming contest” in Neko Harbor, when no one from Penn dared to step up and go swimming (and mind you, it was a very warm day and the temperature of water was above zero! 0.7C, to be precise). I truly begged some of our alumni to jump in but got no response. So we deserve the shame: about ten Texas and Duke alumni jumped in, while (undisclosed) Penn alumni simply watched from the sides and took pictures. I have decided to not put these very cool pictures up here, to spare Penn alumni any further embarrassment…

re we are navigating the spectacular Lemaire channel in the evening (photo: Dan Marks)

Here we are navigating the spectacular Lemaire channel in the evening (photo: Dan Marks)

 

Somewhere on the Antarctic coast. Let’s hope at least we will get home safe, it looks like someone else did not …

Somewhere on the Antarctic coast. Let’s hope at least we will get home safe, it looks like someone else did not …

Usually ships try to stare clear of sea-ice, which can be quite dangerous. So imagine the thrill when instead, during our cruise in the Weddell Sea, we actually went searching for sea-ice! An absolute highlight of the trip for me, as an oceanographer, was (once the ship approached the sea-ice enough) getting in the zodiacs to see up close the sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, and disembarking on sea-ice. What a unique moment! This is particularly thrilling because most Antarctic sea-ice is not very thick as it is annual and seasonal, meaning that it forms each winter and then it melts each summer, in a continuous natural cycle. The Weddell Sea is the only place in the Southern Ocean where sea-ice can actually last through the summer, so the ice we are standing on here (see picture below) might be 2, even 3 years old. This is different from the Arctic sea-ice, which lasts through many consecutive summers. On average, sea-ice next to the Antarctic coast has been increasing on average over the past few decades (a consequence of the stronger Southern Annular Mode, a natural climate mode of variability). However, our climate models predict that sea-ice around Antarctica will decrease significantly over the next century as a consequence of global warming. This will have repercussions for and life (penguins and seals like to live on this sea-ice), ocean-atmosphere heat exchange and oceanic circulation.

Sea ice affects the movement of ocean water; in the freezing process of sea ice during fall and winter, most salt is left behind. The resulting very dense waters known as Antarctic Bottom waters sink to the bottom of the ocean and then along the ocean floor towards the equator feeding all ocean basins as part of the global “conveyor belt” circulation. The Weddell Sea is the main place where Antarctic Bottom Water is formed during winter. Current research (from work we have done with close collaborators at McGill) shows that future climate warming here will decrease this important pathway of global ocean circulation, with global consequences.

Standing on sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, with our ship “L’Austral” in the background.

Standing on sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, with our ship “L’Austral” in the background.

Sea-ice in the Weddell Sea, penguins and seals on sea-ice or going for a dip…. Penguins must swim quite far from the continent to get here. Sea ice is dynamic, is formed during fall and winter, melts in the summer, but also moves and is deformed by the winds. Blooms of pink ice-algae were sometimes visible. Photos courtesy of Dan Marks.

Sea ice 2 Sea ice 1 Penguin2 penguin1 seal1

Navigating out of the Weddell Sea we saw an enormous tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf, at least a few km long and around 100 m above water. While we know that about 90% of the iceberg volume is usually under water, the shape of the underwater portion is impossible to guess, which is what makes glaciers dangerous for navigation (think the Titanic). The breaking of icebergs from the continent is a natural phenomenon, with pieces of ice from the Antarctic shelf breaking and entering the ocean, and moving with the ocean currents. Climate warming can increase the disintegration of the Antarctic ice shelf. For example, while the rest of Antarctica hasn’t changed much its temperature, the West Antarctic Peninsula has been warming over the past few decades, and the sea ice surrounding it has been steadily retreating. This is where the famous Lars Shelf-B collapsed a few years ago; this shelf disintegrated into many icebergs, which followed the ACC current eastward breaking into smaller and smaller pieces.

Tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. Some of these icebergs originate from the recent, climate-warming induced disintegration of the West Antarctic peninsula.

Tabular iceberg calved from the Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. Some of these icebergs originate from the recent, climate-warming induced disintegration of the West Antarctic peninsula.

One other highlight of this trip was a spectacular hike on the Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands archipelago. The island is the caldera of an active volcano that has erupted at irregular intervals (the last few times in ’67, ’69 and ’70). What is visible now is the top of a much larger active volcano that collapsed below sea level in prehistoric times and is mostly submerged now. Once in the vicinity of the island, we got on our Zodiacs and managed to land under rather strong waves on Baily Head, a black sand volcanic beach, where we observed several hundred penguins marching to and from the sea. We then started up the mountain in a rather long, and very cold and windy hike, which felt like a true Antarctic adventure. The hike went up and down the caldera, through one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs of penguins). The penguins live in families, make a lot of noise, and are only mildly interested in people (a few times I had to watch not to step on them, they are truly unafraid of us). We braved the strong winds and hiked up and down the mountain, took in spectacular views of the ocean at Neptune’s Bellows, and finally arrive onto the black sand beaches at Whaler’s Bay, where we got picked up again by our ship.

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Above: A very windy hike through a huge colony of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs) at Baily Head, on the volcanic Deception Island.

Above: A very windy hike through a huge colony of chinstrap penguins (about 200,000 pairs) at Baily Head, on the volcanic Deception Island.

On our way back, the crossing of the Drake passage was extremely turbulent, with huge waves for about 24 hours (ok, the captain was not impressed, but the rest of us were …). As an oceanographer, it is very embarrassing to be sea-sick, and I did my best to hide it from the far braver Penn alumni, but was finally forced by circumstances to move my science talk by one day. Luckily, Prof. Abbott from the Smithsonian stepped in and gave an engaging talk, all while holding onto a moving desk, and pointing to a moving screen, with half of us in the auditorium fascinated but barely alive … Later on in the day, tons of people were either hiding in their rooms or spending all their time in the restaurant on the lowest level, were the swell felt more manageable. By the next day the sea was much calmer, people were suddenly more joyful and present and my talk on “Climate change and the Southern tip of the world” went well. At least I think it went well, based on the many questions and conversations I had after the talk and the following day, including a few interesting ones from climate skeptics (whom I hope to bring to the climate-science discussion table). Iceberg sightings, bird watching, whale watching, chatting with our naturalists, science talks and talking to very interesting alumni kept us all very busy during this crossing, and made the sea-sickness more manageable.

In the evening of Feb 11th we returned to Ushuaia and slept on the boat, preparing for our flights back to Buenos Aires the next day. On our way back, some alumni opted to go on an extension to the impressive Iguazu falls, a beautiful tropical destination and Unesco heritage site at the border between Argentina and Brazil. Some stayed on to explore further South America. I ended up spending 3 days in nearby Uruguay on my way back to the US, crossing – during an awful 2 hour cruise that turned out to be far worse than crossing the Drake passage – the Rio de la Plata river separating Argentina and Uruguay, and exploring the towns of Colonia and Montevideo. I then flew back to Philadelphia via Miami, and had to report on the same day to my department. Full of excitement from my trip, I talked to students in my “Ocean-Atmosphere dynamics” class for hours about the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. While Antarctica is our least explored continent, the Southern Ocean is the least understood region of the world ocean because of its remoteness, sparcity of observations and our incomplete understanding of high latitude processes such as sea ice and glacier dynamics. I hope that some of my Penn students will grow up to be scientists and help preserve and understand our beautiful oceans. I hope that they will be all environmentally educated world citizens, who will get to travel in turn and appreciate our amazing natural world.

Expedition Map.

Expedition Map.

In conclusion: a thrilling adventure to a continent of unparalleled silence and beauty in great, great company! An expedition to remember a lifetime.

 

 

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Filed under Alumni Programming, Alumnni Education, Faculty perspective, Janell W., Penn Alumni Travel, Travel

And The Winners Are…

Author: Janell Wiseley

The fourth annual Penn Alumni Travel photo contest has come to a close. The votes are in and the winners have been notified!

The contest was open to all participants who have taken a Penn Alumni Travel trip. Photos were judged on creativity and quality, as well as relevance to the specific category.  All photos were judged by Alumni Relations staff, Penn Alumni Travel faculty hosts, and our 2013 passengers.

You can view all photo contest submissions here.

Penn Alumni would like to congratulate the following winners

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

Grand Prize Winner &1st Place in the Culture Category: Women Dying Alpaca Wool, Sacred Valley, Peru by Barbara Holland, L’86

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place People Category: Two Gentlemen of Trinidad, Cuba by Barry Keller, C’60

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Places Category: Machu Picchu just before Close by Margaux Viola

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

1st Place Nature Category: Zebras in Tanzania by Sydnee Alenier, Penn Spouse

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Q&A with Mark Alan Hughes, Penn Design Professor and Coursera Instructor

Author: Lauren Owens, Associate Director Open Learning

Mark Alan Hughes and Leslie Billhymer have created“Sustainability in Practice,” a massive open online course (MOOC) that begins on September 15th. I sat down with Mark Alan Hughes to learn about the course development process from the instructor’s perspective.

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Lauren Owens: Let’s begin with the basics. What made you want to teach a MOOC?

Mark Alan Hughes: It was a number of factors. First, I wasn’t in the first mover generation. I knew who was doing it before I knew what it was, and that indicated how cool and timely the Coursera thing was. Second, it was clear the university was committed to engaging with faculty from as many schools as possible, so when Dean Taylor enthusiastically proposed it to the Design faculty, that was another signal. And third, after learning more about the platform, it was abundantly clear it was the next big thing, and experimentation [on the platform] was not only allowed but encouraged.

I think a lot of that encouragement reflects Penn’s Open Learning Initiative at least as much as Coursera. Every time we would lob an idea about a different kind of content or video, you were always so encouraging and enthusiastic it led us to invent as much as we could.

LO: That’s great to hear. Please share a little bit about your course – what makes it different?

MH: There are many courses that talk about sustainability, what is it, where does it come from, but Leslie and I call our course “Sustainability in Practice” because we’re fascinated by the traction sustainability clearly has in the real world of government and private enterprise as an organizing device for decision making and management. We use practice and practitioners to present a series of ideas about sustainability, rather than vice versa.

LO: What kinds of surprises did you encounter while creating the course?

MH: The production and the post-production have taken more time than I expected. Partly that is because we are trying to use some presentation technology that hadn’t been used before by Penn, and it’s a labor-intensive approach.  A more pleasant surprise has been the ease of recruiting guests for panel discussions. There’s a lot of buzz off-campus about online learning as well. Thirdly, I’m surprised how much I miss students in front of me, and it makes me realize just how conversational and Socratic my teaching style has become over the years. The Coursera experience has made me eager to be in the classroom with my Penn students.

LO: Do you have any tips for instructors who are considering teaching on Coursera?

MH: Coursera forces an instructor to think about the preparation and interests and circumstances of students in a way that students registering for your class on campus need not happen. So for the first time in decades I was thinking about who my students were going to be, because they weren’t going to be Penn students. That makes you rethink the level of the teaching. It reminds me of writing my weekly opinion column for the Philadelphia Daily News, which I did for about six years. Writing a weekly column for a major metropolitan tabloid newspaper was, for me, like holding the world’s largest Urban Studies seminar each week. It reminds me a little bit of that. Coursera is more organized and pedagogical, but at the same time it has that open enrollment that makes it more like reading a newspaper than taking a traditional course.

LO: We receive a lot of questions about recording videos, do you have any advice for those who might be camera shy?

MH: It seems to work best precisely when you are the same as you are in your classroom. So for people who spend a fair amount of time conveying material in the classroom, in lecture, the transition should actually be pretty easy. If it’s not working you probably want to modify your content more than your style. Then the trick becomes remembering that there are students on the other side of the camera. If you can do that, you’re going to be okay.

LO: Last but not least, how did you get Mayor Nutter to make a cameo in your promo video?

MH: I called him up. I was his Chief Policy Adviser and Director of Sustainability. He was happy to do it.

To see the promo video and learn more about Sustainability in Practice on Coursera, click here. For more information on Penn’s Open Learning Initiative, please see our website.

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