Wings WorldQuest Honors Women in Science; Reaches Out To Students
How did the 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow get himself into The Explorers Club recently? He was certainly there, having presciently anticipated the spirit of the women who were given awards for their fieldwork on behalf of Wings WorldQuest (WWQ). As Longfellow wrote, “We have not wings we cannot soar; but, we have feet to scale and climb by slow degrees, by more and more, the cloudy summits of our time.” The awardees that evening—women explorers, conservators, discoverers—had soared and dived deep into seas to report and photograph on their WWQ Flag Expedition projects from around the globe. And most of all, to inspire young people everywhere to dream and to follow their dreams.
The fascinating slide-show presentations that night included brief informational talks by: Anne Doubilet, photographer and writer, who showed beautiful, contrasting images of vanishing corals and melting icebergs; Susan Shaw, founder and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute and a doctor of public health, who gave sobering testimony on the increasing danger of contaminants to animal systems (including our own); Hadley Jensen, WWQ Office Director, who reported on fieldwork in Spain with Dr. Ana Pinto, on the Sopena Archaeological Project, unearthing findings that went back 65,000 years; Sveva Gallman, ethnobotanist and a 2006 WWQ Awardee, who spoke about her Four Generations project to preserve cultural traditions in Kenya, Romania and Guatemala; Rena Bass Forman, a photographer and conservationist, who gave an impassioned talk on her recent trip to Norway and the International Arctic Environmental Research and Monitoring Base; and photographer and project director of “No Water No Life” Alison Jones, who documents watersheds, rivers, wetlands.
As Executive Director Milbry Polk points out, the mission of the nonprofit WWQ is to serve “as the leading resource and advocate for women explorers worldwide” by way of identifying, supporting, preserving, honoring and publicizing the “little known contributions of pioneering women explorers.” That “little known” part, however, is destined to change with a soon-to-be implemented educational initiative and outreach program that will bring the work of these pioneering women and others like them into classrooms and alternative learning sites throughout the country. Central in this effort will be a dramatically expanded interactive website that will enable users to access text and pictures, network with WWQ fellows and use WWQ archives to engage in their own research.
The timing could not be more critical, says Susan Colacello, Education Director and website organizer. An attractive promotional video, “No Limits,” made by Ms. Colacello—with wonderfully upbeat, boppy music—features five women in the WWQ Flag Program rapturously talking about their diverse work. The idea at the heart of the education initiative, now in pilot mode, is to provide girls—and boys—in public, private and charter middle schools in a handful of states with role models. The goal is not to augment curricular content but to inspire and awaken a love of scientific curiosity. Hardly shying away from the difficulties of what they do, the Flag Program fellows show and tell in such a way as to convey the necessity of discipline and problem-solving and organizational skills. The website will present their stories and logs and show them commenting on the inner rewards of personal sacrifice. These are women who want to make a difference in the world, not just publish papers, says Ms. Colacello. And soon students will be able to ask them questions online.
Working closely with principals, teachers and particularly guidance counselors, Ms. Colacello says she hopes the program will raise awareness in youngsters about scientific challenges that have humanitarian goals. Engaging in online dialogue with women explorers can go a long way to building character, confidence and self-esteem, she notes. “Everyone is an explorer.” And, of course, there’s always the benefit of improved basic skills, the quantifiable aspect of the WWQ program, as it is measured in reading comprehension, writing and cognitive thinking skills. Nonetheless, she stresses WWQ’s main motive, so important at this time of economic and political uncertainty in the world. The message of WWQ is positive: do your small piece, it can matter, problems can have solutions.
The evening also included tributes to the 2009 Women of Discovery: acoustical geophysicist, Maya Tolstoy (U.S.), botanist & wildlife scientist Aparajita Datta (India), volcanologist Rosaly Lopes (Brazil), paleontologist Bolortsetseg Minjin (Mongolia) and wildlife biologist Leela Hazzah (Egypt). There were also announcements of WWQ’s 2009 Fellows: biologist & canopy ecologist Margaret Lowman, biospherian Jane Poynter, ancient Egypt/pyramid-engineering expert Maureen Clemmons, deep-sea oceanographer Cindy Lee Van Dover and environmental toxicologist Susan Shaw.