Magazine Feature / People

Graduate student is online in Antarctica

While penguins and seals call it home, there are no permanent human residents on Antarctica. However, anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside at the research stations scattered across the continent throughout the year.

This fall, DU master’s student Sarah Rush is one of them.

“Breathe, exhale. Breathe, exhale. WOW. This place is like nowhere else. Yes, it’s cold, frigid, harsh, and sometimes completely unbearable. Sometimes my first impulsive response is to burst into tears. I’ve never felt anything like it, in fact, I’m not sure there is a place to feel anything like this…” Rush writes on her blog.

The entry was one of the first that Rush, who is studying natural resource management in University College’s Applied Science in Environmental Policy and Management program, posted when she arrived in Antarctica this past September.

As a full-time project specialist with Raytheon Polar Services in Centennial, Colo., Rush is taking “studying abroad” to a whole new level by spending three months on the coldest and windiest continent on Earth to gain program management experience — and see a few penguins.

But she hasn’t put her plans for graduate school on ice.

“I am taking on-line classes through University College and plan to come back to Colorado in January to finish my degree in 2010,” she says. “Combining my degree program with on-the-job experience made sense for me because I hope to someday work internationally on project management teams focusing on natural resource conservation and scientific research. Going to Antarctica is part of the learning experience.”

This quarter, Rush is taking Global Environmental Policy & Law online. She notes that the time difference — nearly 24 hours — and Internet connectivity can sometimes be challenging, but taking online classes makes it easy to study from anywhere, even the South Pole.

Paula Demos, a senior manager of advising and enrollment for University College, says students like Rush are what University College is all about.

“Our students usually have unique circumstances that make traditional study difficult,” Demos says. “Our global online learning environment at University College means our students can be anywhere – from Iraq to Antarctica – while continuing their education.”

Rush notes the U.S. has a large presence in international scientific research in Antarctica. McMurdo Station, where Rush is stationed, is the biggest research station with about 1,200 residents. Raytheon Polar Services is contracted by the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation to conduct peaceful international research on the frozen continent.

“Supporting scientists doing groundbreaking environmental research on a continent where most everything is untouched and unexplored, where the atmosphere is the purest and thinnest, and so many questions can be answered about our Earth, climate change, global warming, polar animal behavior, space, and so much more is important to everyone,” Rush says. “Just a tiny bit of research about the science in Antarctica will give anyone the full spectrum of its importance.”

Rush says her family has been unconditionally supportive and encouraging about her three-month Antarctic experience.

“My Dad did ask me if it will be safe,” Rush says. “I told him, ‘weather permitting.’”

Sarah Rush’s blog is at For more information about Antarctic research programs,


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