RIVERSIDE, Calif. - In less than two weeks, Amanda Cobbs-Russell, a junior majoring in conservation biology at UC Riverside, will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, requiring her to push herself to her physical and mental limits.
She is one of only five people - two Americans and three Canadians - selected from applicants across North America who will get to hike, eat, and sleep among sweeping glaciers, polar ice and jagged granite mountains in the heart of Canada's Arctic.
The international organization impossible2Possible (i2P), which focuses on raising awareness among youth for various social and environmental issues, made the final selections and is sponsoring the three-week trek.
Led by a team of elite adventurers, Cobbs-Russell and the others selected will set out Sept. 1 from Ottawa, Canada (departure date subject to weather conditions), on the expedition across the Akshayuk Pass on Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada.
A challenging trek, the Akshayuk Pass was only traveled periodically by Inuit people. It has a rich and storied history, and has attracted attention recently due to the cultural and environmental significance of the Arctic in the face of climate change.
As a "Youth Ambassador" on the trek, Cobbs-Russell will have the opportunity to examine the history of the Inuit people, their survival techniques and adaptation to the land, and response to colonialism. She also will investigate the geology and climatology of the region, with an emphasis on the impact of climate change on the Canadian Arctic.
"I am very excited about going on the trek and am honored to be selected to participate," said Cobbs-Russell, 20, the only Californian selected for the expedition. "I know this experience will strongly impact my life. I look forward to working as a team member in this challenging project, and I look forward, too, to interacting with and learning from my teammates. This trek, I know, will broaden my understanding of the world and help me make the difference I would like to see in it. Already, being selected for this expedition has shown me that I can do what I set my mind to doing, no matter the obstacles along the way."
Cobbs-Russell, who does research work in the lab of James Sickman, an assistant professor of environmental sciences, has been training for eight weeks to prepare for the trek. Her training involves hiking, biking, and running in the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, Calif., as well as in the Eastern Sierra.
"Amanda is an outstanding student who was selected on the basis of her enthusiasm for adventure and openness to learning about new environments and cultures," Sickman said. "She is a generous team-oriented individual who I can see taking a leadership position among the students on the trip."
The Baffin Island trek is the first i2P expedition in which students will physically be part of the trekking team.
"What better way to teach young people about social and environmental issues then to let them experience them first hand," said i2P Executive Director Bob Cox. "These participants were chosen because they expressed an incredible desire to learn how to make a difference. They encompass an amazing mix of talent, work ethic and athletic ability - and their lives are truly inspiring."
Cobbs-Russell grew up in Murrieta, Calif., and attended Vista Murrieta High School. After she graduates from UCR, she plans to either attend a veterinary school or do graduate research in conservation biology.
The UCR program ORBITS (Obtain Resources, Become Informed, Target Success) helped her find opportunities such as the Baffin Island trek. The program, established in the fall of 2008 by the UCR Career Center, assists first generation, second year UCR college students in developing and exploring career and life skills. Cobbs-Russell took part in the inaugural ORBITS program. She applied in May 2009 to take part in the Baffin Island trek.
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment of about 17,000 is expected to grow to 21,000 students by 2020. The campus is planning a medical school and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Graduate Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. To learn more, visit www.ucr.edu or call (951) UCR-NEWS.