Mike Jensen is no stranger to the Arctic, or SOI for that matter. In fact, after heading to the Arctic with SOI five consecutive times, it’s hard to imagine an expedition without Mike. This summer, he’s returning for round six of inspiring students and making sure everything runs smoothly and all students are accounted for.
How did you get involved with SOI?
I first got involved in Students On Ice when a number of their staff, including Geoff Green, embarked on a national program called Polar Perspectives in 2008. This speaker series and youth forum was a great initiative that engaged northern and southern youth, as well as the public, about Arctic issues. The program was hosted at museums and science centres across Canada, including The Manitoba Museum, where I work as a science programs developer. I was involved in organizing the event and had a chance to see what this great organization is all about, as well as some of the issues facing our polar regions.
The following year, the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada sponsored five staff from member museums to go on the 2009 Arctic Expedition. I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go as an educator. That expedition was an eye-opener for me. Not only did I get a further opportunity to see what Students On Ice did, but I also got to experience and see the Arctic first-hand, and witness the effects of change on that region and its amazing peoples.
From that point on, I was hooked. I asked to go on the 2010 expedition the following year, and was again fortunate enough to be a part of that. I’ve been able to go every summer since. This year, the 2014 Arctic Expedition will be my sixth one with Students On Ice.
How does your background tie in with the themes of the expedition?
I have a background in science education and interpretation for almost 20 years. The Manitoba Museum, where I work, is our provincial museum. Many people don’t realize that Manitoba is a polar province, with a vast Arctic and Subarctic region – both of which are covered in exquisite detail in our Galleries. We have a polar coastline, with Churchill as one of the most vital northern ports in our country. The natural science and history of the Arctic is immensely important to us, and a large part of our school and public programs. It connects our visitors to the natural world of Manitoba and helps them learn about the Arctic environment and the northern indigenous cultures – two key components of SOI’s themes. As a science educator, I feel I can bridge a connection between the students and the amazing scientists and experts that join the SOI team each year.
I also have experience in journalism and media, which allows me to tie in to other SOI themes, including exploring solutions to our global challenges and inspiring participants to make a difference. Today’s media is a complicated environment, filled with biases and misconceptions. Helping students to navigate through that and start making real change and finding viable solutions is something I feel I can bring to each expedition.
What is your favourite expedition memory?
Just one?!? Come on, get real! I can’t even pick out a favorite memory from just one expedition, let alone five! But… if I had to give a top five…
1. Watching a northern Canadian student meet extended family members in Greenland that he had never heard of or met before… and bond with them in just a few short hours;
2. Bobbing up and down on a zodiac watching a polar bear devour a seal on sea ice just metres away from us;
3. Swimming in the Blue Lagoon geothermal mineral spa in Iceland during a howling, frigid windstorm that forced the lifeguards to wear haz-mat suits… and feeling incredibly warm and relaxed the entire time;
4. Every single community and person that we met and who welcomed SOI into their homes and lives for the short time we visited them;
5. Each and every student on all the expeditions that I have ever been a part of. Without a doubt, it is them that keep me coming back every year.
What do you hope students will take away from the expedition and how do you try to help them have a positive experience?
I hope that students take away a realization that they are truly part of a global community, that their actions have consequences that can affect so many things and people across the planet. The polar regions are the world’s greatest classrooms, and I hope students will forever remember and be impacted by what they experience in them. And I hope that students take away a sense of camaraderie and family that comes with being a part of a Students On Ice expedition – it truly is an experience like no other they get to be a part of that. How awesome is that?!
For me, my goal while on expedition is to help keep the students safe and healthy so that their experience can be 100% positive. That means the little things like doing roll calls and checklists, conducting the dreaded curfew and bed checks, and checking in on everyone to make sure that no one is feeling overwhelmed. Of course, if I can provide a bit of good old education, and have a few “aha!” moments, that’s just icing on the cake. But for me, I see my role as someone the students can talk to, provide a different perspective on what it is that they are experiencing, and most of all, to share in the adventure with and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it. But get some sleep!!
Was there a time on expedition when something didn’t go according to plan but it ended up being for the better, and something amazing resulted?
Are you kidding? Was there ever a time on expedition where things DID go as planned? Flexibility is the key, and I’m continually amazed at how the expedition adapts to whatever is thrown at it. But two experiences come to mind. One was a change of route due to ice in 2009 that forced us to stay south of Baffin Island instead of heading farther north. Not only did we have a chance to visit the incredibly warm community of Kimmirut, but the more southerly route meant we actually had some dark skies during the short Arctic summer nights. One night, a beautiful display of Northern Lights exploded over the ship as we sailed across the Hudson Strait. I have a special love of astronomy, and naturally, I wanted to share the aurora show with EVERYONE on board. The impromptu education program on the deck of the ship under one of the most spectacular auroral outbursts I have ever seen made this educator’s day, if not his entire year! That’s why I bring my green laser pointer with me every year…
The second experience was just last year during the 2013 expedition. Once again, thick sea ice had forced us to turn south as we crossed the Davis Strait from Greenland to Baffin Island. Instead of travelling the Northwest Passage to Resolute, we headed to Pangnirtung – a community that I had been fortunate enough to visit twice before on previous expeditions. Not only did I have yet another chance to be welcomed into this incredible community, but I also was lucky enough to connect with some former students from previous expeditions. Two of them were in Pang as part of a summer Inuktitut language and culture program. Our visit in Pang was sadly brief, but as we headed north from Pang towards Auyuittuq National Park, lo and behold those two alumni had commandeered a boat and managed to get on board our ship and spend the following day with us hiking in the park. Reconnecting with these two “stowaways” is just further proof of the long-standing bond that will forever exist between these young adults, Students On Ice, and the Arctic.
What makes the Arctic so incredible?
The Arctic, as I said, is the world’s greatest classroom (along with the Antarctic). It has a vibrant ecosystem and biodiversity, a rich history of exploration and discovery, and an indigenous peoples with an ancient and unique culture that has so much to share and learn from. As an educator, I see a learning opportunity in every moment I spend in the Arctic; a chance to interpret its vast and incredible wealth of knowledge with every step I take; and a privilege to experience it myself and soak in whatever the land and its peoples are willing to share with me. There is no other place like it.
Follow the 2014 Arctic Expedition!
The 14th Annual Students on Ice Arctic Expedition will take place July 9-24, 2014. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.