As a student at the Loudoun Academy of Science, Andrea Mares has mingled with residents of remote Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. She has traveled to Austria to work with a company that manufactures solar panels, and she has presented the results of a collaborative research project to judges in Singapore.
This month, the high school senior will add Chile to her list of educational travels, en route to her most far-flung destination yet: Antarctica.
Andrea, 17, is one of four students selected from across the country to participate in the 2016 Joint Antarctic School Expedition, a 10-day educational trip led by the Dartmouth College Institute of Arctic Studies and the Chilean government. The National Science Foundation is funding the trip, organizers said.
Group members will spend five days in Punta Arenas, Chile, where they will join a team of 18 Chilean students and educators for the trip to Antarctica. They will fly from Chile to King George Island in Antarctica, where they will stay at Escudero Base, a Chilean research center, said Lauren Culler, a Dartmouth environmental studies lecturer who is coordinating the trip for the U.S. participants.
The itinerary includes a variety of science activities, Culler said.
“We might be hiking to a glacier and observing vegetation at the margins of the glacier, doing studies of snow and ice, making observations of wildlife at some of the beaches on the island,” Culler said. “It’s very interdisciplinary, all different kinds of science.”
The group will also visit research stations on King George Island operated by several countries, Culler said. “Our plans are to visit [some of them] and learn from the scientists how the base operates and also the science that they’re doing,” she said.
While in Chile, the students will tour museums and learn about the nation’s culture, Culler said. They are encouraged to speak only Spanish while there.
That won’t be a problem for Andrea, whose first language was Spanish. She was born in Mexico City; the family moved to Sterling when she was 5, she said.
As the departure date gets closer — she will leave next weekend — Andrea said she is “really excited” but a little anxious.
“I already want it to happen,” she said. “I have a countdown on my phone, and I’m looking at pictures on the websites of the places we’re going to see.
“I’m not really sure what to expect, because it’s such a remote part of the world,” she said. One thing she does expect is cold weather, so she will bring warm clothing. When they arrive, the travelers will also be provided with extreme cold-weather gear, such as jackets and protective eyewear, Andrea said.
George Wolfe, the principal of the Academy of Science, said Andrea is the first Loudoun high school student to travel to Antarctica on a study program. Andrea’s fluency in Spanish and passion for environmental research made her a perfect candidate for the program, he said.
Andrea said that she plans to study environmental engineering and that she has applied to several colleges, including Dartmouth. Her research projects at the Academy of Science have focused on water reclamation.
She is also passionate about the need for international cooperation. “I think it’s important that, as a world, we come together,” she said. “We’re all humans, and we all have the same basic needs.”
Jennifer Flynn, a teacher of integrated science at the Academy of Science, described Andrea as “a really unique blend of international ambassador, but with a really good science background to back it up.”
On a recent field trip to Smith Island, Flynn was impressed by the ease with which Andrea interacted with local residents.
“She just portrays herself and our school so well,” Flynn said. “She’s one of those students who you have no problem sending wherever, because you know she’s going to represent you extraordinarily well.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.