Ann Bancroft returns to The O'Shaughnessy stage

Ann Bancroft returns to The O'Shaughnessy stage

Ann Bancroft discussed global and personal challenges with students, faculty and guests during a two-day residency with her Access Water expedition team. Photo credit: By Rebecca Studios, Rebecca Zenefski '10.

Ann Bancroft and her Access Water Team took the St. Catherine campus community on a journey — both inward and outward — during the 2016 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Distinguished Visiting Scholars residency.

World explorers Ann Bancroft, Liv Arnesen and the Access Water International Team — eight women in all — discussed global and personal challenges with students, faculty and guests during their two-day residency that included classroom visits, lunchtime discussions and the 2016 Bonnie Jean Kelly and Joan Kelly Distinguished Visiting Scholars lecture.

Before an audience of more than 800 in The O’Shaughnessy Monday evening, Bancroft recalled standing on that stage in 1986 — the only female member of Will Steger’s team of eight explorers — who would attempt to recreate Robert Peary’s 1909 expedition to reach the North Pole by dogsled. She became the first woman to reach the North Pole by ski and dogsled and “came home transformed.” She would return to St. Kate's in 1987 to receive the St. Catherine Alexandrine Medal for her achievement. Ms. Magazine would also name her their "Woman of the Year" the same year.

“The teacher that I was then couldn’t have conceived of what’s happening in my life today,” she says. “I came back and all of a sudden, I had a new platform. People were listening to what I had to say. I thought I had better use that.”

Bancroft has used her subsequent expeditions to engage students around the world in the adventures she shares with her partner, Norwegian educator and adventurer, Liv Arnesen, another ground-breaking adventurer who was the first woman to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole in 1994.

“Our partnership began on the frozen water of Antarctica and 17 years later, we find ourselves with a remarkable team of international women, all helping to engage people through education designed to think about and manage our precious finite resource — water.” says Bancroft. “We have seen extraordinary places and it has shaped how we do our work.”

Access Water Team

L to R: EVP/Provost Colleen Hegranes, Ann Bancroft, Kim Smith, Marcia Gutierrez, Olfat Haider, Krushnaa Patil, Lisa Te Heuheu, Liv Arnesen, Jiaojiao Hu, Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair in the Humanities Colleen Carpenter, and KARE-11 Meteorologist Belinda Jensen. Photo: By Rebecca Studios.

Each member of the Access Water Expedition Team represents a continent facing a significant water supply challenge. Their first expedition in 2015 traced the length of India's Ganges River from near its source on the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas, down the river’s entire length to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.

“We did a tremendous amount of visiting and witnessing the efforts of people along the river to finish [pollution control] projects that had been started but never finished,” says Bancroft. “We saw the ability of individuals to affect their own environments.”

Sharing their adventures with over 250 St. Catherine students in more than 12 classes and events, the explorers' message to students and faculty across campus was to embrace uncertainty.

"I found out about the expedition when I was at university doing my master's. I was nervous about moving — I was so out of my comfort zone," said Kim Smith, a team member from Capetown, South Africa. "Being part of this team for six years has been a journey of self-discovery. I wasn't an adventurer when I started, but I can call myself one now!"

"I have learned that it's important to do something bigger than our own dreams," said Bancroft. "Access Water is our passion but when we're out there, the bigger purpose — education — anchors us and helps us dialogue through the stress and strain."

Arnesen earned a round of applause from students for her "bumper sticker" moment when she quipped drily: "Life is an expedition."

More about the Access Water Team


The Access Water Expedition Team includes:

  • Ann Bancroft – USA
  • Liv Arnesen – Norway
  • Marcia Gutierrez – Chile
  • Olfat Haider – Israel
  • Jiaojiao Hu – China
  • Krushnaa Patil – India
  • Kim Smith – South Africa
  • Lisa Te Heuheu – New Zealand

You can read more about the explorers and the expedition at Bancroft's Your Expedition site.

The 2016 Kelly Scholar Lecture and residency is part of the Women of Substance Festival 

Since 1996, The Women of Substance series showcases women’s ideas, amplifies their voices and honors their place on life’s stage. These artists, thinkers and change makers challenge the status quo, make us look at the world in new ways, drive us toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and spur our own sense of purpose and action.

The O’Shaughnessy’s acclaimed Women of Substance series celebrates 20 years next season. As a prelude to that milestone, St. Catherine University presents “Charting a Course: Women’s Journeys,” the first Women of Substance Festival (WoS Fest). The festival runs through April 24. Learn more at The O'Shaughnessy website.

By Julie Michener