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Mother Nature Needs Her Daughters: Sylvia Struck’s Antarctic Expedition

Laurel Dault
January 17th, 2018
Article by: Laurel Dault

When THNKer Sylvia Struck was a child, her favourite toy was a microscope.

 

“I would go and explore my environment and bring back pond water and look at it under the microscope... and it was just an incredible, beautiful world. It intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about it and how the world works and how things fit together.”

 

Sylvia’s early interest in science is not surprising given that her father worked for NASA during the great space race, working on systems from Apollo to the Space Shuttle. Growing up on a planetarium-topped mountain, Sylvia seemed destined for a career in the sciences. The greatest obstacle to achieving her dream turned out to be her gender.

 

On her first day of university, however, Sylvia recognized the first of many instances of gender bias in her field. “One of the things I noticed when I stepped into the engineering building was that there were male restrooms on every single floor of the building, while female restrooms were only on every other floor. It struck me that they had not anticipated women going into what was then – and still is – a male-dominated field.”

 

Sylvia realized that she was stepping into a world unprepared for female engineers and scientists – and with that, she stepped into a world that she would change.

Bound for Antarctica

Today, Sylvia is both an engineer and a scientist, with a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and a PhD in Public Health. While progress has been made since she commenced her studies, Sylvia recognizes that there is still a tremendous amount of bias against women in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Despite the uptick in women attending university, with even more women graduating than men in some countries, only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM programs are female. The gender disparity is even greater in the workplace, and greater still when it comes to female leadership in STEM.

As part of her mission to raise the visibility of female scientists, Sylvia has joined Homeward Bound, a twelve-month program culminating in a 22-day expedition to Antarctica. A groundbreaking initiative, Homeward Bound’s vision for the next decade is to equip 1,000 women in science with the skills they need to shape and lead the policy determining the future of our planet.

Antarctica is an area of the planet which has shown the fastest response to climate change, making it an ideal setting for the women of Homeward Bound to learn more about global environmental issues including climate change. “Antarctica was chosen for a reason. It has a very harsh and formidable climate. It’s a place that builds resilience and it also promotes teamwork and leadership.”

What if achieving gender balance at the leadership table was one of the most effective ways to increase environment sustainability and decrease human impact on the planet? #THNKer Sylvia Struck joins @HomewardBound16 Click To Tweet

Homeward Bound is a social enterprise: the program and content delivery is donated by highly specialised volunteers from around the world. Each participant is asked to contribute $16,000 USD for their berth on the expedition. Sylvia has been fundraising for months and is now just ​ $5,170 USD ​ shy of meeting her goal. “I want people who also believe in the vision to invest in this program so that we can increase leadership capacity in STEM– for not only in this generation but also build a very strong collaboration and network to help support women in STEM in future generations.”

Sylvia believes there could be significant implications to getting more female scientists leading the research and conversation around climate change. “What if achieving gender balance at the leadership table was one of the most effective ways to increase environment sustainability and decrease human impact on the planet?”

Making Ripples

Sylvia knows from experience that exploring different perspectives is the key to finding unexpected solutions. As Manager of the Safe Drinking Water Program for First Nations people in British Columbia, Canada, Sylvia constantly considers the challenge from a user perspective, exploring how to build on the cultural and local knowledge that already exist within First Nations communities to identify lasting safe drinking water solutions.

The tools she picked up during the Executive Leadership Program have been instrumental in helping Sylvia find new viewpoints. “I still have the THNK toolkit on my desk. When I need to think about how to look at something differently, I’ll go flip through and there’s always something that’ll spur me to shake things up.” She says that the people in the THNK Community are also exceptional at challenging her to think differently.

 

Mother Nature Needs Her Daughters: Sylvia Struck is Homeward Bound to Antarctica 2
The THNK Executive Leadership Program provides tools and a network that pushes you to question your assumptions and discover new perspectives Click To Tweet

Every year Sylvia travels to the annual THNK FSTVL to reconnect and get fresh ideas from her fellow THNKers. One conversation in particular resonated with Sylvia at this year’s gathering; Together the THNKers talked about ripples, and how small actions, when seen and magnified by an active network, can lead to change-making waves.

“I recognize that by doing the Homeward Bound program in Antarctica, I’m taking a step in the right direction for female leadership in science, even though it’s not going to change overnight. But, as we build this larger network, we will be making progress that ripples out. Someday, it will be inconceivable that there was once gender bias in STEM.” 

Visit Sylvia’s GoFundMe campaign to invest in her expedition with Homeward Bound and to help her make ripples that lead to widespread change for gender equality in the sciences

Sylvia is one of the inspiring leaders who took part in the THNK Executive Leadership Program.

To discover the power of new perspectives and to join the upcoming program, find out if you qualify or download the program brochure on the program page.

Sylvia Struck
 Manager & Adjunct Professor
First Nations Health Authority
"I still have the THNK toolkit on my desk. When I need to think about how to look at something differently, I’ll go flip through and there’s always something that’ll spur me to shake things up."