Just the Tip of the Iceberg

What an adventure! We just got back from our Arctic trip to Baffin Island and Greenland, where we had the pleasure of joining a group of alumni and Dartmouth Professor Ross Virginia on a truly memorable voyage.

Seeing the beauty of the Arctic first-hand was a remarkable experience, but not nearly as remarkable or inspiring as witnessing Ross’s outstanding research on the arctic ecosystem near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where he and his students are seeking to explain the impacts of climate warming on soils and greenhouse gas emissions and the causes of the widespread erosion and loss of vegetation that are evident on the landscape. We also learned of Professor Bob Hawley’s work with students in Illulissat on fluid dynamics and glacial flow, studying how groundwater lubricates and impacts the flow of glaciers into the sea and, in turn, the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet and future sea level rise.

Without a doubt, this trip highlighted something I’ve learned in hundreds of meetings with faculty I’ve had during my time as president, and that is just how impressive our Dartmouth faculty are. At every turn, they amaze me with path-breaking basic research and with applied research that touches every corner of this globe. Equally impressive are the ways in which they integrate students – from the earliest undergraduates through graduate and professional students – as they push the frontiers of knowledge.

There were approximately 50 passengers aboard the boat, including 30 or so from Dartmouth, the youngest a current student and the oldest a member of the Great Class of ’57. (Incidentally, it was the latter who owned the arctic plunge pool on deck…think “Polar Bear Swim” in Occom Pond, only three times as cold!) It’s safe to say that our Dartmouth contingent set the standard for the adventuresome spirit on board, unafraid to jump into our kayaks and brave the icy waters to get a closer look at the icebergs, and boy did it pay off. On our first day out, we befriended two humpback whales who seemingly took keen interest in us, circling our kayaks and treating us to an incredible display of their power and beauty from only about 15 yards away! It’s a moment I’ll never forget, mesmerizing to say the least.

While en route, I was happy to provide our Dartmouth cohort an update on the goings-on at the College, and while on board, we had the privilege of taking in three lectures by Ross. One was focused on climate change; another presented a historical look at famed Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who spent the latter part of his career at Dartmouth and whose extensive collection of papers, housed in Rauner, are among the most globally significant academic resources pertaining to Arctic exploration in existence; and the third centered on the ecology of the arctic, the specific focus of Ross’s most recent research. We also heard from several naturalists traveling with us, including a polar bear expert, all of whom were engaging, insightful and passionate about the Arctic region and eager to share their perspectives on the far-reaching effects of climate change.

With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, there is still so much to learn and so much at stake. Yet the biggest take-away for me was the urgency and delicacy with which the we must approach issues of energy, environment, global governance, security and healthcare in a region so crucial to the world and in the midst of such rapid climate change, and the role Dartmouth can play in helping to pave the responsible way forward for its people and the planet.  It is a grand aspiration, though one that I believe is well worth the commitment.

‘Round the Girdled Earth We Roam

I’m guessing you never thought I’d be the type to blog. Well, I wasn’t sure I was either. But I’ve heard from many of you that you’d like to hear more from me about my perspective on topics affecting Dartmouth and higher education more broadly. And I’m listening. So I’d like to use this forum to address some of the issues and happenings at the College, and those that affect the College. I want to share a little more of my thinking on these topics, many of which are complex, and almost all of which involve competing considerations.

In so doing, I hope my posts will get you thinking along with me. And since we all know that Dartmouth is fun, don’t be surprised if I occasionally post about things I see or hear on campus or in the course of my travels that make me proud, get me excited about where we’re headed, or remind me of why this place is so incredibly special.

I haven’t yet decided on a name for the blog, but when I do, I’ll reveal it here. How’s that for a little suspense?!

This month, Gail and I will be embarking on two exciting trips that showcase Dartmouth’s global reach and impact, both through our research and discovery and through the work of our talented alumni.

First, we’ll be joining Dartmouth Professor Ross Virginia, who will be leading a group of alumni on a sail above the Arctic Circle (we just got underway), ending with a trip to Greenland. I’m most excited about seeing Dartmouth’s research in action. We’re going to Greenland because, in my time at Dartmouth, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how much our work in the Arctic is distinguishing Dartmouth and making an impact in the world, not just in the field of scientific polar research, but across a diverse and interconnected set of disciplines. (I’ll expound upon this in my next post, which I hope will be from Greenland, technology and connectivity willing…In the meantime, check out last week’s Dartmouth News article on our long history of work in the Arctic.)

After that, Gail and I will be back on campus for a short time before heading south to Peru. While we’re there, I’ll be meeting with one of our newest Trustees, Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor, who is a graduate of Tuck, Class of ’88. I’m looking forward to spending time with Carlos. He’s a remarkable businessman and philanthropist who leads with creativity, foresight and a tremendous amount of good will. You can read about his incredible journey to becoming the head of one of Peru’s most successful companies, comprised of seemingly disparate businesses, in this Tuck Today article from last December. He’s deeply passionate about education, as well, having started a network of affordable, high-quality schools in Peru to empower the growing middle class….and he’s got a great sense of humor. So, I’m looking forward to trading insights with him and sharing a few good laughs over a chicha morada or, better yet, a cremolada or two.

As avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Gail and I are also excited to be extending this trip (on our own dime!) to include a tour of Machu Picchu. And I’m definitely bringing my selfie stick on both trips, so stay tuned for what I’m sure will be some fantastic photos….from the shores of Greenland and the mountains of Peru.

So, as I think about my summer at the near mid-point, it’s very much like the student experience at Dartmouth – a mixture of time spent here on campus, focused and looking inward…and time spent turning outward, experiencing the broader world. We all know what a powerful combination that is!

And as I tap into the adventuresome spirit that serves as a defining characteristic of the Dartmouth experience – not just in preparation for my travels, but in launching this blog, I hope you’ll come along for the ride. I aim to post a couple of times a month or when I’ve got something interesting to share, and I expect to invite occasional guest bloggers to the page, as well. I welcome you to share your thoughts about the blog at any time through e-mail at President’s.Office@Dartmouth.edu.

Thanks for following. Until next time…