Students on Ice alumni often say the expedition experience is life-changing. However, before participating in the 2011 Arctic expedition, Cassandra Elphinstone didn’t completely believe it. Years after the two-week voyage, she has come to realize how profound of an influence SOI has had on her life so far.
Cassandra has always been interested in using science to have a positive impact. While attending high school in her hometown of Nanaimo, BC, she worked as an assistant field biologist doing stream restoration. After learning about Students on Ice through her high school environmental club, she became determined to participate. She went on to earn a scholarship from the Leacross Foundation which would fully cover the expedition fee, and make her dream to join a Students on Ice Arctic expedition come true.
Cassandra returned from the expedition – which covered Iceland, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic – inspired by the people she interacted with on the ship. She mobilized her network of fellow SOI alumni, and founded a nonprofit called GAIAactivism. This organization aims to unite local communities, globally.
Cassandra was awarded the prestigious Schulich scholarship (valued at $60,000) in April 2012, and began her undergraduate degree in the Science One program at UBC in the fall. The scientists and explorers on her expedition solidified her interest in conducting research in remote areas. This drew her to a Costa Rican beach in 2013, where she discovered more about the dry tropical forest and urged the government to protect it.
“During this trip I also learned to see the natural world both from the perspective of a scientist and a local man who had lived off the land for ten years. Returning to UBC, I knew I wanted to study ecosystems but I had learned that science was not the only way of seeing nature.”
She spent the summers of 2014 and 2015 at the Alexandra Fiord on Ellesmere Island. First studying the effect of climate change on arctic plant life, then learning about high arctic scientific expeditions.
“I loved spending the whole summer outdoors surrounded by glaciers, tundra and mountains…During this trip, I had the opportunity to encounter a polar bear up very close while chasing it out of our camp and learned to recognize many high arctic plant species.”
Her Students on Ice experience also sparked a love of mountaineering. In 2011 she joined the Alpine Club of Canada, and then UBC’s Varsity Outdoors Club (VOC) in 2012. She quite literally climbed the ranks in the VOC, leading traverses across ice caps, and teaching backcountry skiing and navigation to countless club members.
Her vast resume does not end there. Having previously helped compose papers for the Rio +20 Summit and the Arctic Council, she was a natural fit for the Youth Arctic Council’s Co-Policy Director position. Since 2014 she has written two policy papers regarding indigenous rights. Now in her final year of her Honours Conservation Biology degree, she has her sights set on graduate school. Hoping to advance her studies on Arctic ecosystems, she will also continue to tirelessly raise awareness about the impact of climate change on the North.