Two new Polaris Project Alumni have been named John Schade Memorial Scholarship recipients. The fund, established in the memory of Dr. John Schade, who founded Polaris and was integral to its success, is dedicated to supporting the higher education goals of students that reflect Dr. Schade’s values of mentorship, education, leadership, equity, and the advancement of Arctic science.
Mandala Pham studies geophysics and history at the University of Texas at Austin. As an undergraduate researcher, she has explored the caves of central Texas, studied marine geophysics in Corpus Christi Bay, and peered back in time to past climates through geology. Her experience in different lab groups spurred her interest in field work, driving her to pursue graduate opportunities to continue getting up close with geology.
During her Polaris experience, however, Pham’s research focused less on geology and more on ecology. Inspired by her father’s affinity for beautiful, rare, and sometimes poisonous mushrooms, Pham studied the response of Arctic mushroom species to wildfire, comparing biodiversity between burned and unburned areas of land.
As part of Polaris, Pham saw a glacier in person for the first time, which reinforced her commitment to dedicate her career to studying and fighting climate change.
“From childhood anxieties to professional aspirations, I’ve taken tackling climate change as my personal direction in life,” says Pham. “I want to be part of the solution rather than spending my time ruminating on the worst-case scenarios.”
She hopes to get her Ph.D. in geophysics, studying glaciology. After that she has aspirations for either full time research or a career in the National Parks Services. Pham is also interested in screenwriting, pig farming, and perhaps one day, becoming a lighthouse keeper.
Aaron MacDonald’s passion for ecology began during his childhood spent on long family camping trips. Through his studies at University of Toronto, MacDonald has gained experience in oceanography and fisheries science through the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Inclusive Fisheries Internship. His field experience bolstered his confidence to pursue a scientific career.
With Polaris, MacDonald studied the role of willow ptarmigan, a common Arctic ground bird, as drivers of ecosystem dynamics on the tundra. For his career, he hopes to pursue a graduate degree and get involved with mentorship programs like Polaris. MacDonald firmly believes everyone should have the opportunity to study science, and is grateful for the support he received that has allowed him to pursue this career.
“Everyone who wants to is capable of scientific research and everyone has a place in STEM,” says MacDonald. “I have questioned many times if there is a place for me in STEM, but with the support of those around me I am determined to make it.”
In his spare time, MacDonald enjoys running and video games with friends.
Both recipients will receive funding to continue their education and pursuit of science, mentorship, and equity, encouraging a new generation of Arctic scientists working to change the world.