Christine Hedge, August 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Location: Chukchi Sea, north of the arctic circle
Date: August 12, 2009

Science Profile 

Scientist Georgette Holmes at her work station
Scientist Georgette Holmes at her work station

Most of us have never even heard of the many careers that exist today in science and technology.  I find it fascinating to learn about the career paths people take.  Georgette Holmes is a physical scientist with the National Ice Center (NIC).  Just how does a young lady from Belzoni, Mississippi end up in the Arctic analyzing ice on a Coast Guard vessel?  Georgette dreamed of becoming an architect as a child.  When the other kids were watching cartoons, she was watching “Hometime”.  In high school, Georgette says she was good at science and art and okay in math.   She attended Jackson State University, which unfortunately did not offer a major in architecture.  This meant that Georgette had to come up with a new major.  Growing up in a region prone to tornadoes, Georgette had what she called an “obsession with severe weather”. She was glued to the television when hurricanes were approaching or tornado warnings were posted. So why not put this fascination to good use and major in meteorology.  Note to Students: Discover your passions, your interests, even your fears.

We had lunch at the school’s restaurant. You can see both English and Inupiaq written above
We had lunch at the school’s restaurant. You can see both English and Inupiaq written above

Once she found her major, Georgette immediately began taking advantage of internships. Most students wait until their last 3 semesters to “try on” their careers but Georgette began interning during her sophomore year.  One of her internships was with NOAA.  Through this internship she was able to visit many different facilities and decide which type of work she would like best. Note to students: internships and “real world experience” are important. She gained lots of experience before even finishing college. In addition to interning, Georgette went to conferences and networked with people who worked in her field – another great way to learn about careers.

Georgette started her first job as a Sea Ice Analyst one week after graduating from college. She is currently finishing up a two-year internship with the National Naval Ice Center (NIC), an agency that supports the operations of the Navy, Coast Guard, and NOAA.  On the Healy, Georgette works with satellite imagery to help the crew and scientists know where the ice is and what type of ice is out there. Georgette credits her quick ascent through the internship program at the NIC to her questioning nature. Asking questions is the best way to learn new skills and gain information.  Note to students: ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS. Anyone involved in science and technology needs to be a life-long learner.  Georgette is no exception.  She is currently working on her Masters in Earth Systems Science at George Mason University with a concentration in Remote Sensing and Geospatial Information Systems.  In fact, she is missing her first few classes while working in the Arctic.  But, knowing her, she will ask lots of questions and catch up fast! Georgette was my roommate on the Healy until a few days ago when she boarded a helicopter and flew to the Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent. Once again, Georgette will be gaining new skills as she works along side a trained Canadian Ice Observer helping our two countries map the sea floor of the Arctic Ocean.

Personal Log 

One of the school district's school buses
One of the school district’s school buses

I haven’t written much about my days in Barrow and in honor of the first day of school at Carmel Middle School (August 11), I’d like to share a little about this town and education. Barrow, Alaska is located 300 miles above the Arctic Circle (latitude 660, 34’). The native people of Barrow and the NORTH SLOPE are known as the Inupiat. Their language is Inupiaq. Inupiaq language and culture classes have

been part of the school curriculum since 1972.  This complicated language is written all over town and commonly heard spoken in everyday life. We ate at the local community college, Ilisagvik College, and each sign on every building was in both English and Inupiaq. There is also a beautiful Inupiat Heritage Center which helps perpetuate the Inupiat culture, history and language.

The history of how kids went to school in Barrow is a great tale of a community reclaiming its’ culture.  In the 1890’s missionaries established the first schools. In their efforts to teach English, some teachers punished their students for speaking Inupiaq. As is often the case when native cultures meet western influences, students were encouraged to adopt western ways and to abandon their culture.

Barrow High School was built in 1983. One of the strangest sights in town is the bright blue football field. The story of how Barrow obtained this field will have to wait for another day.
Barrow High School was built in 1983. One of the strangest sights in town is the bright blue football field. The story of how Barrow obtained this field will have to wait for another day.

During the 1950’s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs funded schools on the NORTH SLOPE and the Alaska state government operated them.  Until 1969, if a student wanted to continue their education past the 8th grade, they had to leave home and travel to boarding schools thousands of miles away.  In 1975, the NORTH SLOPE BOROUGH assumed the operation of the schools and built new schools in every village. Today, classes are offered from pre-school through 12th grade in every village. Technology has helped the high school to offer a variety of classes in every village. With interactive video distance learning technology – the teachers at Barrow High School can see and be seen by students all over the NORTH SLOPE. With the help of electronic tablets, computers, and fax machines – school can happen anywhere!

Quyanaqpak! (Thank you very much) 

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