Homeward Bound #5: Send Anna to Antarctica for Women in STEMM

By Anna Madlener

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The Cause

My dedication to studying underwater robotics at university keeps growing immensely knowing that we need to explore remote places to better understand and protect our world. One of the most unexplored places on our planet is Antarctica. As part of a year-long leadership program for women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Medicine) called Homeward Bound, I have the unique opportunity to go to Antarctica in November 2020, working for women's representation in leadership positions and raising awareness for climate change. I am accepted as one of currently 75 women to be part of the 2020 cohort. To help me in increasing the visibility of women in STEMM and partake in the program, I would like to ask for your support and invite you on this travel with me.

The Short and Sharp Basics: why a woman needs to go to Antarctica

The program

Started in 2016 by two phenomenal female leaders in Australia, the program aims to guide one cohort annually through the leadership program, creating a global network of strong women with STEMM backgrounds. As HB describes it, „each graduating cohort of participants becomes part of a global network […] that will influence outcomes for men and women towards a healthier planet and a sustainable future for us all.“

Me: roboticist, ocean lover, artist

I have graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University in Berlin in 2017 and am currently pursuing my Master's degree in Robotics at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. Originally from Germany, I have spent a large part of my life growing up on a small Tuscan island, nurturing a never-ending desire to be in the sea and eventually up to 40m under its surface. Driven by this innate passion for the ocean, I am focussing my graduate studies on underwater robotics. I strive to shape a technological future that is more aware of its impact on society and the planet, and I am involved in projects that tell the (mostly unknown) story of our oceans through the universal language of art and music (links to which can be found further down).

Antarctica and climate

Why do we need to go to Antarctica if we want to fight climate change? In many ways, it metaphorically stands for the core values of Homeward Bound. Antarctic expeditions are one of the many research environments that have for a long time been only thought of as „suitable for men“ and are still lacking appropriate representation of female scientists. Governed solely by international cooperation, it is incredibly inaccessible and serves mostly as a location for scientific research. Going to Antarctica will mean facing lots of challenges. We will not only travel through the Antarctic scenery: we will continuously work on leadership and teamwork exercises and visit international research stations. As both a community and individuals we will carry home insights and accelerate climate research visibility, collaborating on projects and hopefully inspiring action. Last but not least, the so-called 7th continent is amongst the most indicative of yet endangered places through climate change (read more on this and HB’s importance here on TIME: "Breaking the Ice Ceiling: The Women Working in Antarctica Today").

Women in STEMM

Our society actually suffers from a lack of representation of women in diverse ways. It is crucial that we accelerate change in this regard: not only by encouraging other young women to enter STEMM fields but by creating structures for them to remain in STEMM careers. Women have a recognized ability to work collaboratively and inclusively and to think with a long-term mindset. It is crucial that women have a seat at the table when decisions about our planet’s future are made. After completing Homeward Bound, we will apply the skills and knowledge fostered through this program to tackle these global issues.

The third HB cohort’s onboard faculty, as an example, included no other than former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, major leader for adopting the Paris Agreement at COP21 as well as many other, incredibly talented, influential women. You can read more about the faculty and the cohorts’ members on the HB website.

Fundraising and sponsoring

Fundraising and finding sponsors for participating in the program is one of HB’s most daunting and challenging aspects. The overall program cost per participant is around US$33,000, but roughly 50% are covered by four main sponsors (Acciona, Kathmandu, Dattner Grant, Human Synergistics). As I am still in university until shortly before the voyage I am fundraising the rest of the program and additional costs such as flying, equipment, and carbon offsetting. It is an opportunity for you and other sponsors to support these challenges that are facing our planet: climate change, lack of women in STEMM, and lack of women in leadership positions. One way to partake in the fundraising is by choosing one of the perks on the right, or to donate without a perk, as well as donate offline (feel free to contact me regarding this). Another way is for companies and institutions to sponsor me in return for advertising a product or service that is aligned with the program's values.

I will make all my received funds and costs transparent to all donors and if I exceed my actual costs I will donate the entire surplus to either the scholarship program of HB or other climate initiatives.

Before and throughout the voyage, you are invited to follow me via @hb5annatoantarctica on Facebook or Instagram or join an email list after donating. Below follows a more detailed description of my projects and at the bottom of this page you may find links to them as well as some interesting articles about Homeward Bound!

The Long and Lengthy Background: from an Island in Italy via Berlin, Porto, Rio, and Stockholm to Antarctica

Robots, oceans, art, and music

As a passionate roboticist, ocean lover and artist, I have found a unique triangle of interests that shape my future: while working with underwater robotics to scientifically advance climate studies once I finish my graduate studies, I strive to use art and music to engage our society in ocean protection and education. While this might seem like an odd combination at first, I would welcome you to read further into articles or watch some videos from various projects I have been lucky to be involved in.

First and foremost, I had the opportunity to research at the Underwater Systems and Technology Laboratory in Porto, Portugal, as part of my Bachelor thesis, which ignited in me the dream to study Robotics and thereby explore the deep sea.

After my undergraduate degree, I was a Visiting Research Fellow at The Institute of Technology and Society in Rio de Janeiro in the spring of 2018, researching the potential of digital technologies to advance ocean literacy. You can read a summary of my work and experience here.

Some months into my Master's degree, I was invited as an Ocean Discovery Fellow (ODF) at the MIT Media Lab’s All Hand On Deck conference. This conference was the annual ocean exploration forum organized conjunctly with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). It focused for the first time on how to bring together not only marine science and maritime engineering but also artists, musicians, filmmakers, sociologists, and politicians to work towards a more sustainable ocean world. As one of 40 people from around the world, I was given the opportunity to attend this event and I continued to be involved in monthly talks and future projects with the ODFs.

I felt vindicated to seriously marry my passion for ocean robotics to music and arts with the goal of bringing the ocean, and therefore an incredibly relevant part of the climate’s equilibrium system, closer to society. I played an immersive audiovisual ocean performance with my friend and oceanographer Megan Lubetkin in Berlin at a festival: Synergist Volumes in Berlin. I visited Øceanic Sound Art on the shores of Galicia, a residency program for artists, musicians and scientists to promote the protection of the oceanic area and support the local community. 

Thanks to these projects I was invited to speak at this year’s Ocean Week conference at NTNU Trondheim that inaugurated a panel „Other Voices, Other Stories“ devoted to artistic and storytelling aspects of the ocean world: Synergetic ocean immersions: music, art, and robots.

Therefore, one important message I will send is that I believe that we not only need ocean literacy, but also a global climate literacy. Additionally, we need more women in STEMM, we need more women leaders. I am one of four women in a program of sixty students studying Robotics. During the last year, I have experienced how differently men and women approach not only studies, tasks and goals, but more importantly how we deal with failure and mental health. Ultimately, I wish for a future that protects our oceans and ecosystems and fights climate change thanks to passionate decision-makers that are both men and women.

Why was I selected for this program?

Because I am three things: a robotics engineer (in my head), an artist and ocean lover (at heart) and a cohesive decision-maker (with my voice). But I am also not only those three things. I am, beyond all, a complex, interested, passionate, curious woman. I am both creative and rational, and I can think both analytically and emotionally. Hence, I am not only going to be a roboticist: within HB5, I will develop my skills, knowledge, and confidence to be an effective leader thanks to training my leadership, science, visibility, strategy, and wellbeing skills. I strive to be involved in the decision-making process of my community, workplace, and hopefully one day nation. I want to protect the planet and influence decision-making professionally and internationally in relation to climate change and technological developments. We, the (future) engineers, cannot do our work without reflecting on how our results affect the world and without changing the way we communicate our ideas. Vice versa, in order to fight climate change, smart technologies will be essential. We need synergistic forces in between who must include women.

In September 2019, the World Economic Forum has published an article about precisely this goal of Homeward Bound: we can fight climate change if we include women. "Just increasing the participation of women in the labor force will sufficiently increase the world's GDP for financing sustainable development. [...] Gender equality is a prerequisite, and the new world order must include women leading the way, capitalizing on their caregiving, educating and nurturing selves."

Why Will This Help Me And You?

I will be an essential part of Homeward Bound to represent and translate the role of robotics technology. In the future, I hope to represent this powerful group of women among leading technologists. I would like to encourage you to see this as an opportunity to invest in value-driven leadership development to pick up on the global quest for more climate protection. Women have been traditionally not „deemed fit“ to travel and research in Antarctica. Our past leaders have not managed to steer our global economy to a sufficiently green path. As part of HB5, I hope to become part of future female leaders who will work ardently together with the rest of our societies to achieve greater climate protection.

What does the media say?

Short links to my projects


#HomewardBound #TeamHB5 #HomewardBound16 #HBstories #women #womeninSTEMM #change #ActOnClimate #ourclimateourhealth #leadership #visibility #ACCIONA #Circumplex #womeninleadership #womeninscience #changemakers #ClimateCrisis #strategy #science #HumanSynergistics #DattnerGrant

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Team Members

Anna Madlener

Mechthilde Madlener