By Sadhbh Hendrick
A nanoscientist from NUI Galway’s School of Physics is fundraising for the Homeward Bound initiative, a ground-breaking leadership programme for women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Homeward Bound culminates in a research trip to the Antarctica this November and aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape the planet.
Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, originally from the United States, is a physicist specializing in nanomaterials and neuromorphic devices. In addition to research and teaching, Dr. Fairfield runs Bright Club in Ireland and appears regularly on Futureproof, the Newstalk science radio show. Dr. Fairfield says, “To solve societal challenges like climate change, we can’t ignore the talents of half the population, women, and especially at the leadership level. Research has shown that diverse groups produce better science, better business, and more creative solutions to problems. We don’t just need diversity of people – we need diversity of thought”.
This is the second major expedition Dr Fairfield will embark on. In June 2017, Jessamyn completed a two-week Arctic Circle residency programme on board a ship that brought together scientists and artists, who, together, looked at ways of highlighting the importance of the Arctic and how the changes there will impact upon humanity. During the trip, Dr Fairfield built a detector out of ice to capture energy from cosmic particles passing through.
The initiative is dedicated to supporting women in science to significantly improve their clarity, confidence, shared vision and strategic capability. It helps women to take up leadership roles globally and to proactively contribute to a sustainable world both individually and collectively. At the end of the programme this November, Dr Fairfield and her cohort will travel to Antarctica, an iconic and challenging landscape, currently experiencing some of the most severe consequences of climate change, with implications for the entire world.
Regions of Antarctica are showing the fastest responses to some of the global sustainability problems the world currently faces. Antarctica offers an unparalleled opportunity to observe, first-hand, the influence of human activities on the environment and provide critical insights into the global-scale change required. This iconic environment has captured the imagination of leaders in the past and the expedition experience of the Antarctic component of the Homeward Bound programme creates strong bonds between participants. Homeward Bound was founded 10 years ago by Australian leadership activist and consultant, Fabian Dattner, in collaboration with Antarctic marine scientist Jess-Melbourne Thomas. Together, they garnered the support of significant scientific bodies and women of influence, creating a strong leadership team and teaching faculty to get the project off the ground. In 2015, the project went viral and the first leadership programme and largest ever female–led Antarctic voyage took place in 2016.
Despite making up 45% of the global workforce, women are globally under–represented in leadership positions. This is despite women comprising 57% of recent college graduates. By providing these women with leadership and strategic skills, a sound understanding of the science, and a strong purposefully developed network to harness their skills, the Homeward Bound initiative hopes to enhance the impact women have on policy and decision-making for a sustainable future.
Dr Fairfield has opened a crowdfunding page to support this year’s programme and funds raised will go towards the Homeward Bound programme costs, which cover leadership coaching and tools, visibility and science instruction, and of course, the capstone voyage to Antarctica in November 2019 with 100 women in STEM from around the world. The programme is also funded in part by the Office of Equality and Diversity at NUI Galway.