Caitlin Dudzik descends an observation tube installed through sea ice and into the liquid ocean. Courtesy photos

Caitlin Dudzik descends an observation tube installed through sea ice and into the liquid ocean. Courtesy photos

WCC staff member embarks on icy research adventure in Antarctica

Adventure is nothing new for Caitlin Dudzik, clerical support staff member at Washtenaw Community College’s Counseling and Career Planning Center.

The 27-year-old currently resides in icy Antarctica, serving as air transportation specialist at McMurdo Station (a research center). Specifically, Dudzik works cargo logistics, ensuring that all researchers’ equipment is packaged correctly and arrives safe and sound at its destination.

After learning last October that she was one of the lucky few to be selected by Pacific Architects and Engineers, Inc. for the position, Dudzik had only seven days to prepare for the four-month-long journey.

“I’m nervous about the unknown, but more excited about being able to meet people and researchers from all over the world,” Dudzik said on the eve (Oct. 14) of boarding an airplane to the coldest, driest, windiest continent in the world. She is experiencing Antarctica’s summer season, which consists of 24 hours of sunlight. The temperature will range anywhere from -10 degrees on a typical day to 30 degrees on a “hot” day.

This isn’t the first time Dudzik has followed her adventurous side. Two years ago, she spent seven months volunteering with the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service on Johnston Atoll, an island located approximately 800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Dudzik / Photo by Lynn Monson

Dudzik / Photo by Lynn Monson

There, Dudzik lived in a tent without any electricity, so she relied on non-perishable foods and resorted to bathing and doing laundry in the ocean. Despite being chased out of the water by sharks on several occasions, the experience only fueled her sense of adventure.

“I lived with four other people and we were the only research team on the island. There were times when I jokingly said to them, ‘Guys, I can’t handle you right now’ and they understood because everyone needed their space,” Dudzik said. “At one point, I broke my toe and had to walk around on that because there was no doctor. There were definitely some crazy times, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

She noted that her remote living experience in Johnson Atoll helped her land the Antarctica gig. It also helped that Dudzik holds a bachelor’s in Aviation Flight Technology from Eastern Michigan University.

“After watching a Netflix documentary about Antarctica, I was in awe,” she explained. “Right then and there, I Googled, ‘Cool jobs in Antarctica,’ sifted through some sites, found a place that had positions I qualified for and applied right away.”

While working 60 hours a week there would leave some people too exhausted to do anything else, Dudzik is taking online classes at WCC and will even set aside some time to learn how to cross country ski. On top of that, she’s chronicled her Antarctica journey through a blog she appropriately named, “Antarctica Adventures.”

What’s an important take away from her trip? “Global warming is really big now and I’d like to find out what kind of research scientists are doing and what solutions they’re coming up with,” she said. “There’s also Mount Erebus, which is the southernmost active volcano on earth and the emissions are chewing up the ozone layers. Antarctica is an interesting environment, so there’s no limit to the amount of information I can learn, which is exciting.”

Dudzik returns to WCC in March, but for now, she’s taking advantage of everything Antarctica has to offer from meeting new people and making new friends to touring Cape Evans and competing in a 5k run. She even explored New Zealand a bit after her flight to Antarctica was delayed for two mornings in a row.

As for her next big adventure? “I don’t know exactly what’s in store for me after this, but I’m not ruling anything out,” she said. “When I was younger, I had the opportunity to live in India but I kept putting it off a decision until I eventually lost contact with the person who could have made it happen. So I never went and that’s something I live with every single day.

“From then on, I said, ‘Never again. I will do everything 100 percent and if I don’t get it, at least I know I did everything I could.’ And that’s just how I live my life now. I’m not closing any doors.”

To read more about Caitlin Dudzik’s Antarctica adventures, visit www.antarcticaadventures.wordpress.com.

By Princess Gabbara

Writer, Public Relations