In Antarctica, Laurie LaPat-Polasko Explores Global Climate Sustainability & Leadership Challenges For Women In STEM

January 2024

Dr. Laurie LaPat-Polasko is one of the lucky few people who has been able to experience the trip of a lifetime – visiting Antarctica. Twice. Traveling to a place as remote as the frozen continent is not only magical to behold, but, according to Laurie, defies an adequate description. “Antarctica is incredibly magical and awe-inspiring and there are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe this unique environment,” Laurie said, after returning from a three-week journey to the continent as part of the Homeward Bound Program.

group of homeward bound participants in front of boat

The leadership program is focused on supporting women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine) to significantly improve their clarity, confidence, shared vision, and strategic capability to take up leadership roles globally, and to proactively contribute to a sustainable world, both individually and collectively. The goal of Homeward Bound is to increase the influence and impact of women leading with a STEMM background in making decisions that shape the future of our planet. By connecting influential women in STEMM and creating global collaboration, this will create a new way of leading that is better suited to the world we are now living in. This leadership program focused on the concept of a ‘global home’ – lead with integrity and develops teams that are results and motivation driven to collaborate towards the shared ambition. The Homeward Bound Leadership Program is unique – it focuses on the concept of Emergence, which is how to demonstrate strong leadership during crisis conditions.

snowy glaciers and ocean

“I am extremely grateful to Matrix New World Engineering for contributing to this amazing course and journey,” said Laurie.

For over three-decades, Matrix has prioritized supporting women in STEMM fields and has helped fund Laurie’s travels to Antarctica. On one of those trips earlier this year, Laurie and the team would walk the Antarctic coast, observing how climate change has affected the environment; they monitored the marine life and searched the landscape for microplastics. This time around, Laurie’s trip focused on the importance of environmental policy and leveraging one’s leadership platform to better impact a positive change for Antarctica, and the environment and climate overall.

laurie in front of iceberg

Throughout the discussions during the trip, the concept of allowing tourism in Antarctica came up repeatedly. The idea of “if you don’t see it, you will not value it” was something brought up in regard to conservation efforts. However, this can be a double-edged sword, as the more tourism that is allowed, the higher the risks are for negative impacts (pollution, invasive-species transfer, noise, etc.). Laurie recounts one morning on her trip: “During the first week on the ship, I realized just how fragile Antarctica is because, before we could land there, we needed to undertake a rigorous cleaning program of our boots so that we would not bring invasive species onto Antarctica. Likewise, we could not kneel, sit or laydown in Antarctica. … After taking in the majestic icebergs and surrounding mountains, I would close my eyes and take a deep breath of the frigid air through my nostrils. Yet, it was the peace and quiet that heightened my appreciation and passion for protecting Antarctica.”

whale in water, seal on ice, and penguin on ice

When she’s not traveling to Antarctica, Laurie refers to herself as “the bug lady” at Matrix. She is the Vice President and National Director of Remediation at the firm and her work focuses on in situ experiments of bioremediation solutions for polluted soil and groundwater (PFAS, etc.). Her work fits in well with Matrix’s goals to provide unconventional solutions for unconventional challenges within the natural environment. Matrix prioritizes their positive environmental impact and boasts a robust environmental consulting arm within the firm. Laurie’s cutting-edge work and research are integral to furthering the company’s mission.

snowy rocks and glaciers

“Laurie’s work is invaluable to us,” said Jayne Warne, President and Co-Founder of Matrix. “Her work is vital to the emerging issues we are facing globally within our climate, as is her role as a STEM leader at Matrix and within the industry at large.”

“Throughout the HB Ushuaia Voyage, I learned how amazing and fragile our planet is and that I need to listen, learn, and act in ways that will support a sustainable environment,” Laurie recounted of her trip. “As we travelled through the Drake Passage, which is one of the most dangerous passageways in the world because the currents at this latitude combined with strong winds can produce up to 50-foot high swells, I focused on keeping my feet under me as I would swing from one rail to the next. Nature is a powerful force, and we need to figure out how best to work with her to sustain our planet.”