Ovid youth picked for adventure in Antarctica
By Paulette Likoudis / Finger Lakes Times
Monday, November 24, 2008 11:06 AM CST
OVID — Seth Peng knows how snowy and icy winter can be around here. But, before long, the South Seneca High School junior will have a whole new perspective on cold.
Peng learned Thursday that he’s among 10 students selected from thousands of North American applicants for a fully funded trip to Antarctica, valued at $12,500.
“When I saw him in the hallway, he was so excited he was holding his arms to keep from shaking,” said Peng’s Environmental Science teacher Chad Eastman, who learned about the Students on Ice opportunity shortly before last month’s application deadline and was convinced Peng was a perfect candidate.
So, Peng, 16, scrambled to complete the paperwork, including letters of recommendation, and faxed it all to Students on Ice the day before it was due. Last Thursday, one of its directors called Peng to tell him he’d been selected for the opportunity to learn more about the polar ice cap and global warming’s impact, first-hand.
“I’ve always been told I live in the coldest part of the United States,” said Peng, who may not have as big an adjustment to make as those from warmer climates.
His adventure will be begin Dec. 15, when he flies from Toronto to Miami to Argentina. From South America, he’ll go by boat through the Drake Passage toward the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
If Peng wants a first-hand account of what the trip will be like, he might want to get in touch with Parker Foster of Geneva, who was 13 when he went on the same trip two years ago.
Students on Ice is a Quebec-based organization that offers learning expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic.
Its mission statement explains “Our mandate is to provide students from around the world with inspiring educational opportunities at the ends of our Earth, and in doing so, help them foster a new understanding and respect for the planet.”
Peng already has a head start.
Last summer he received a partial scholarship to Brown Environmental Leadership Lab (BELL), a month-long session sponsored by Brown University in the Narragansett Bay area, off Rhode Island. There, he worked with students from all over the world, including Switzerland, China, Singapore and Pakistan.
“I’ve always been very ambitious about going to college, and I found out about the BELL program when I was looking at Brown’s Web site,” said Peng, who’s leaning toward the study of environmental engineering.
“In about sixth grade, I started learning about climate change and that issue hit me really hard,” recalled Peng, who was also influenced by “An Inconvenient Truth,” the film narrated by former vice president Al Gore, and another film, “The Day After Tomorrow.” He began to read books about climate change and environmental preservation.
Eastman said that when Peng got back from Brown, he rallied teachers and his fellow students to take a greater interest in recycling and the reduction of energy consumption. Peng hopes to put South Seneca on track toward composting food scraps from the school cafeteria, but that’s still in the works.
“Seth has fully shown an interest in the environment. He’s a really bright student,” said Eastman, who wrote a letter of recommendation, as did Principal Robert Waller and high school art instructor Fran Copp.
Peng’s main scholastic interests are science, math and chemistry. He is president of his class and the art and library clubs; secretary of the National Honor Society chapter; and vice president of the Envirothon club and Student Government. Peng is a member of Seneca County’s United Way youth board and helps as a “techy” during school theater productions.
When he was younger, Peng wanted to become a filmmaker. In what little free time he has, he reads, listens to all kinds of music, jogs and watches movies — especially those he can analyze.
“I still kind of wonder about being a filmmaker,” Peng mused.
When he returns from Antarctica, Peng’s supporters at South Seneca will be expecting him to give a full report of his two-week adventure, with lots of photos.
“I was told I should expect to give multiple presentations,” Peng said. He’s not sure what he’ll encounter in the land of glaciers and icebergs, but Peng is mainly looking forward to seeing the wildlife there.
“I’m a little sad I won’t get to see polar bears,” Peng noted. He’s likely to see his share of penguins and seals, though, while learning about the region’s history, geography, plant life and environmental issues.
Seth has been to Canada but has never flown out of the country.
“I’m so excited. My dad is very nervous. My mother is very excited,” Peng summed up. His dad, Wei-min Peng, was born in Taiwan, and his mom is Lori Peng.
They live in Ovid, but it sounds like they’ll have to get used to watching their son explore the world, given his interest in travel and other cultures. Alaska, Tanzania and Australia are just some of the spots he’d like to see. Peng is also looking into programs offered by United World Colleges, 12 prestigious schools located all over the world.
“I’m always looking for my next adventure,” he said.