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By Alyssa Ritterstein, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Anne Christianson is one of the finalists of DC EcoWomen’s 2018 Photo Contest, which captured images of the incredible environmental work our members do each day. One of the categories that we put forward for this year’s photo contest was women providing career growth opportunities for other women, and Anne delivered.

Her photo takes us on a journey to Antarctica. The picture shows women teaching other women about Antarctic climate science with a beautiful snow-covered mountain in the distance. What a classroom! The Antarctic expedition was the culmination of 18 months of training and is part of a 10-year, all-female scientist leadership initiative.

Anne is a woman with a clear passion for environmental issues. During her PhD at the University of Minnesota evaluating international climate change adaptation policies and programs for ecological and social benefits, she interned at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and was a policy fellow at the Committee on Natural Resources. Prior to those positions, she managed the legislative portfolio for Rep. Ellison (D-Minn.) on international and domestic natural resources, energy and environment, agriculture, and Native American issues. She also worked as a lobbyist for Ocean Conservancy for their marine debris and ocean planning programs.

We recently spoke with Anne to hear more about the photo and the story behind it.

DC EcoWomen: Congratulations on being a finalist for this year’s photo contest! Let’s talk about the photo you submitted. What’s its backstory?

Anne Christianson: I was in Antarctica with 75 other female scientists from around the world. This was our final landing on the Antarctic Peninsula, at an historic British base. It was amazing being in Antarctica with these accomplished women! We had botanists, geologists, wildlife biologists, atmospheric scientists, and marine ecologists. Every time someone found a cool rock, saw an interesting penguin interaction, or the weather changed, we had an expert right there. We also learned from each other what it takes to be a successful woman and leader in STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematical and medical] fields. Although we were all different ages, from different continents, and in different disciplines, we all had experienced the same challenges as women in science. The solidarity and support we gave each other was a crucial aspect of the leadership initiative.

DCEW: I see that you have a lot of experience working on environmental issues for the White House, on Capitol Hill and at a Washington-based environmental advocacy nonprofit. How did you get from D.C. to Port Lockroy, Antarctica?

AC: I think it is because I had D.C. experience that I was chosen to go! Many scientists struggle to communicate their findings and passion to the policy-makers that ultimately act as gatekeepers – whether that be for appropriations for important scientific institutions, or the decisions made in D.C. that could strengthen or destroy entire fields of study. Being an environmental scientist with direct policy experience has been incredibly useful for my career, and I was able to add insight to the science communication discussions we had on the ship.

DCEW: Let’s switch gears and talk about the future. Where do you envision your environmental work taking you in the future?

AC: I am planning on returning to D.C. soon, but this time around I want to move beyond national policy circles and become more involved in international conservation work. I think some of the most interesting and relevant dialogues about the planet are happening on the international stage. I’ve spent the last year traveling around the world for my PhD research, having conversations with scientists and policy-makers, and I’ve been energized by the hopefulness and determination of these international communities. 

DCEW: You’ve been a member of DC EcoWomen for some time now. What kept bringing you back to the organization, and any advice for those interested in submitting a photo for next year’s contest?

AC: The community of support that DC EcoWomen gives keeps me coming back. The only way that women will see gains in the professional world – in terms of salary, leadership roles, and preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace – is if we support each other, believe each other, and have each other’s back. DC EcoWomen provides this – a group of women who have similar passions and experiences, and can be there to help each other succeed, rather than be in competition. I found that incredibly refreshing, and it was instrumental to my early professional success. It’s amazing to see all the growth that has happened with the organization since I moved to Minnesota, and I’m excited to take part in all of the new ideas that future boards and members will have!

Anne Christianson is an environmental scientist at the University of Minnesota, where her research examines the social and ecological implications of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation.