Xavier professor treks to Antartica

Dr. Leon Chartrand scouts out a new site for the Xavier Expeditions program

By Clare McKinley, Staff Writer

On Dec. 26, Xavier professor Dr. Leon Chartrand embarked on a two-week journey visiting the Antarctic to test the waters before students are allowed to attend next year. 

The purpose of his trip was to travel to Antarctica and see how plausible it would be to bring students and faculty as part of the Xavier Expedition program. 

After arriving safely back on campus, Chartrand is one step closer to finalizing plans to take students.

“I (was) exploratory because the goal is, starting next year, for (Antarctica) to be a program for students to take core credits, and those credits will hopefully be absorbed in the spring semester load,” Chartrand said.

The Xavier Expeditions program already offers a unique opportunity for students to fulfill a core requirement in places like Yellowstone, Alaska, Greenland or Namibia and will soon be able to add Antarctica to the list. These programs are not limited to a specific major or program and offer a range of topics applicable to everyone. 

“The plan for Antarctica would be to offer two courses, and those two courses will be opened up to any faculty member who is willing and who can offer a course that is right for students of any major,” Chartrand said. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Leon Chartrand

Xavier professor Dr. Leon Chartrand recently visited Antarctica to look into adding it as a Xavier 
Expedition trip for faculty and students to visit in the coming years and earn course credits.

“(Students) would have the experience of Antarctica, they would have lessons, lectures and activities while on the ship. Where they learn about not just penguins and whales and stuff like that, but they also learn about geology and ice and climate change and so forth,” he added.  

In addition to learning about prevalent issues in an experiential way, students will have the opportunity to spend meaningful time in the wilderness and trod in different places around the continent. 

“Most universities have abroad programs, and they go to a lot of really great destinations. But, we go to these places because they’re hard to get to for a reason. Because when you go to these places, you cannot help but be changed,” Chartrand said.  

Photo courtesy of Dr. Leon Chartrand

Dr. Leon Chartrand is the director of the Xavier Expeditions program, which offers trips to students to travel around the world for credit.

Antarctica is one of the most dangerous destinations in the world. 

In order to get there, Chartrand had to make his way to the southern tip of South America. 

He then boarded a boat about roughly 90 feet long that fit 85 people. He was the only person from Xavier on board. 

“I actually started doing this because you get to know these people on the ship. Ninety feet is not a very big ship” he remarked. 

“It’s not beautiful inside. There’s wood paneling everywhere, lots of windows and there’s one deck above. So it’s not a cruise ship… This is a get-your-feet-wet, polar plunges in the Arctic kind of thing,” Chartrand continued.

He traveled in the boat for about a day or two through the Beagle Channel until he began crossing the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage is known as a turbulent body of water, but if prepared for properly, it can be manageable. After making it through the Drake Passage, he arrived in Antarctica. 

“It’s an amazing experience because you’re going across the passage, and you know you’re kind of home free because you start seeing those white cap mountains of the Shetlands in the distance and the horizon,” Chartrand said. 

Upon arrival, he witnessed thousands of penguins and seals waddling and flopping about on the ice, as well as whales leaping out of the freezing water. 

Chartrand  has been running these expeditions for many years now but says what inspires him most is not the impressive landscapes –– it’s the students. While he loves seeing all those things for himself, he also loves bringing others along to witness them for the first time, and that’s what he plans to do in Antarctica. 

“Seeing the students and watching their excitement, you know all that? That’s my mission, to put people in places that they can’t help but be changed in some way,” Chartrand said.

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