Shaler Area Elementary School teacher Michael Penn was recently awarded a medal for his service two-and-a-half years after he traveled to Antarctica to participate in a research expedition.
Mr. Penn received the Antarctica Service Medal from the U.S. Department of Defense in recognition for serving as a member of a United States Expedition to Antarctica. The medal hangs from a ribbon of black, blue and white stripes and features an explorer dressed in cold weather gear. On the back of the medal are the words “courage,” “sacrifice,” and “devotion.”
“I can't find the words to express how profoundly honored I am to have been recognized by the Department of Defense with the Antarctica Service Medal for my contributions to our scientific expedition,” Mr. Penn said. “Being awarded this medal makes the entire experience even more personally and professionally meaningful.”
From November to December 2018, Mr. Penn spent six weeks in Antarctica as part of PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating), an educational research experience that partners middle and high school science teachers with academic researchers actively involved in polar science research. Mr. Penn was one of five teachers who traveled to Antarctica.
PolarTREC is funded by the National Science Foundation and provides science teachers (grades 6-12) with the opportunity to participate in polar research and work closely with scientists as a pathway to improving science education. Mr. Penn worked as part of a research team from the University of Wisconsin to install and maintain remote automatic weather stations all over the continent of Antarctica. Mr. Penn and the research team were based in both McMurdo Station and South Pole Station, Antarctica. The automatic weather stations collect information about weather conditions and measurements that are used by meteorologists and climate scientists all over the world.
In addition to being a full member of the research team in Antarctica, Mr. Penn’s responsibilities also included outreach to students and the public about his experiences in order to foster an interest in math and science and general knowledge about the Antarctic. Since his return to Pennsylvania, Mr. Penn has continued his mission to share his experiences with students and the community and help advance awareness of polar science.
Most recently, Mr. Penn provided the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium with information, photos, and lesson plans related to his experience for its newly redeveloped penguin exhibit.
He continues to work with the University of Wisconsin research team to make the data they collected more accessible to K-12 students and teachers. He also continues to be available to talk about his experiences and has a variety of presentations prepared to accommodate time limitations and curricular focus.
“So few people ever get to go to the Geographic South Pole in Antarctica, live and work in the harsh and unpredictable climate, conduct cutting-edge science and do all of the amazing things that I had the privilege to do through this experience,” Mr. Penn said. “I want people to know that I am available to visit classrooms or groups either in person or remotely. I am always overwhelmed at how interested students and adults are to hear about the continent of Antarctica, living and conducting science is such a dangerous and inhospitable place and my experiences there!”