Online Graduate Student Uses Arctic Circle as Classroom


Most Purdue Online graduate engineering students complete their courses from the comfort of their homes. Purdue Online graduate student and professional engineer, Jessica Fleming, took a radically different approach and added a trip to the Arctic Circle focused on sustainability to her online graduate program. This summer, her classroom was the National Geographic Lindblad Explorer ship and the icy Polar desert.

Fleming traveled to the Arctic in June with a Leadership program offered by the 2041 Foundation, an organization founded by polar explorer and environmental leader Robert Swan that aligns its mission with the United Nations sustainable development goals and takes its name from the Antarctic Treaty—signed by 12 nations in 1961 and expiring in 2041—that establishes Antarctica as a scientific preserve. The foundation works with corporations to support sustainability initiatives that reduce environmental impact and nurture leaders in corporate sustainability innovation, policy and education reform.

Fleming was among 86 international participants on the Climate Force: Arctic 2019 Expedition, which included sessions on leadership development, climate change training and sustainability education. After meeting in Norway, the participants and team leaders boarded their floating classroom and journeyed to the top of the world — 79.55 north; 600 miles from the nautical north pole. Their days began with the booming voice of their expedition leader on the ship intercom, announcing “Team Inspire! Team Inspire! Team Inspire!” and included workshops, expeditions, speakers and group meetings.

“After working in industry for a while, I wanted to rekindle my innovative flame and vulcanize my skillset by actively seizing an opportunity to participate in an nontraditional experience to revolutionize me both professionally and personally. This Expedition has now changed my whole perspective of engineering and radicalized my thought process and has allowed me to maximize my educational development,” Fleming says.

As a professional engineer, Fleming works for Carrier Corp. in Indianapolis in Residential Cooling Product Development and Sustainability, and previously worked in the aerospace arena. She has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kentucky, and plans to combine her Purdue Online MSE in Aeronautics and Astronautics with her interest in the environment by crafting an independent study out of what she learned during her Arctic trip. She says the customized curriculum will benefit her professional quest to engineer differently and innovatively. She plans to incorporate her Arctic experience into her online graduate studies as an independent study within Environmental and Ecological Engineering.

“I am hoping that the independent study breeds a conducive environment for innovation, behaving as the conduit for marrying academic theory with pragmatic industry,” she says. “Sustainability is very versatile, and the independent course will allow me to stretch my imagination on how it can be accessorized and applied in real life.”

Carrier Corp. subscribes to the mercurial trends of regulation and industry principles and is embracing industry changes to foster environmental stewardship. Fleming is striving to integrate processes and design efficiencies learned on the trip with her work at Carrier to help reduce energy consumption in Carrier’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) business. She will also work with the company’s recently established “Carrier Green Team” to promote environmental awareness.

“Environmental awareness can be exercised with people, products and places and allow for engineering in an innovative modus. Given that I work in product development, I will look for opportunities to implement passive methods of sustainability,” Fleming says. “HVAC units use approximately 50 percent of the energy in an average home. If we can find ways to reduce that footprint, it’s cheaper for the homeowner, better for the environment, and we have a better, more efficient product, resulting in a triple win for the environment, consumers and Carrier.”

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Writer: Linda Carrick Thomas, Featured Word Inc.