Interview with UNBC Professor Patrick Maher on Teaching in Antarctica

Pat Maher

Dr. Patrick Maher is the Associate Professor of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management at the University of Northern British Columbia. He is joining the upcoming Students on Ice Antarctic Expedition as one of 17 educators and specialists across a number of fields including science, art, history and politics.

As we prepare for the 2013 Antarctic Expedition, Students on Ice interviewed Dr. Maher about the university course he is teaching on expedition, the importance of experiential learning and what he hopes students will take away from the experience…


Q: Can you tell me a bit about the course you are teaching on expedition?

Within the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management program at UNBC ORTM 433 is an advanced field experience. It is about getting students out into the real world to further examine how ideas they learn about in text books and journal articles ‘really work’.  Specific to the Antarctic, ORTM 433 in 2013 is a practical examination of the impacts and management of Antarctic tourism. It will examine Antarctic tourism in terms of its impacts (positive and negative) across economic, social and environmental realms. This will be expanded upon with an evaluation of the management of such tourism today, as well critiques of what options might be best for the future. The course is co-taught with Dr. Hans Gelter’s offering from Luleå University of Technology and that creates some excellent synergies.

Q: How is the Antarctic environment incorporated into the learning experience?

The Antarctic environment is critical to the learning experience of the course.  There’s really no substitute to experiencing tourists crowding Ushuaia versus just reading about the socio-economic effects on Antarctic gateway communities; or realizing that thousands of penguins struggle to breed in the same small areas tourists visit when grappling with the environmental sustainability of the activity.

Q: What do you hope students will take away from your course?

I really hope they’ll take away some wonder and awe of the Antarctic, but have that tempered with background insight that allows them to make critical choices and act in the future. Antarctica is under new and varied pressure, like anywhere with exceptional resources to develop in a fragile landscape (i.e. Canada’s Arctic).  Tourism plays a roll as a commercial enterprise, but also as an educative tool.

Q:  As you have been on expedition before, what impacts have you witnessed in youth who participate on expedition.

I’ve seen all of my students (6 in the course in 2009) amazed by the Antarctic landscape and its history, wildlife, explorations, etc.; that really goes without question.  However, I’ve also seen all of my students continue to engage with Antarctica or similar places in a meaningful way.  Of the students in my 2009 course, four have completed or are enrolled in related graduate degrees.  One has become an advocate through her film making in the Arctic; another is critiquing the role adventure integrates into climate conservation, and a third is looking specifically at environmental management of tourism from Western Australia.  A further student has become actively engaged in tourism management in Northern BC, and while the landscape is different the way she questions the situation, uses research input to drive the ‘on the ground’ conditions reflects on what she learned in the Antarctic.

Q: How did you connect with Students on Ice? And what is it that interests you about an SOI expedition?

I first heard of SOI back in 2000 when I had returned from my own undergraduate trip to the Antarctic.  I considered applying to be a chaperone on one of their trips, but then plans changed and I flew off to New Zealand to start my own Antarctic research work. Then during the recent International Polar Year I connected with colleagues at the University of Ottawa and the University of Alberta and became involved in the initial conversations about that first expedition in 2009.

Q: What is your favourite expedition experience so far?

Just spending time with such a diverse groups of students and staff is a highlight.  However, I feel as though my own view of the Antarctic may have become jaded with numerous trips south, but it is the sheer joy of the students’ first experiences that keeps me returning. The light in their eyes, the endless chattering, the countless photographs and the huge smiles.

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Learn more about the 2013 Antarctic Expedition and follow the journey every day between December 26 and January 10 for the latest expedition blogs, photos and videos! 

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