Earthwatch super-mom Jennie-Jo White has been on 13 Earthwatch Expeditions – two with her daughter, Maude, and two with three of her grandchildren. In honor of Mother’s Day, I chatted with Jennie-Jo about the beginning of her Earthwatch journey and how her love for Earthwatch has transcended from her, to her daughter, to her grandchildren.
The Start of It All
Jennie-Jo’s Earthwatch journey started 26 years ago when her daughter, Maude was selected for an Earthwatch student fellowship. “When Maude was 17, she was picked out of hundreds of students to go on an Earthwatch Expedition to Alaska. She had the most fantastic time and learned so much. Since then, it had been ingrained in my brain that I just had to join one of these amazing trips.”
By a stroke of luck, Jennie-Jo just happened to bump into an Earthwatch team at a teaching conference and her passion to go on an expedition was reignited. “Before I retired, I was a high school science teacher, and was attending a teaching conference. Earthwatch just so happened to be there giving a presentation and after watching the presentation, I headed over to the Earthwatch booth and my energy for going on one of the expeditions was reinvigorated. I signed up to study Killer Whales in Washington State and I’ve been hooked ever since!” That was way back in 1999, and since then Jennie-Jo has taken two trips with her daughter and two more with her grandkids!
Like Mother Like Daughter
After Jennie-Jo’s expedition to study Killer Whales, she asked Maude if she would be interested in going on a trip together. “‘Of course!’ Maude said, she had wanted to go back on an Earthwatch Expedition ever since her first trip.” Jennie-Jo and Maude went on their first trip together to Easter Island to study and preserve the ancient culture there and a few years later headed to the Galapagos to help protect bird species there.
“I have been on two expeditions with my daughter, the first one was to Easter Island and the second one was to the Galapagos. The experiences are just absolutely incredible, and sharing them with my daughter is really special.” Jennie-Jo and Maude realized that they traveled really well together, “Maude is more organized, and I just go with the flow, we make a good team.”
Jennie-Jo’s favorite memory from the Galapagos expedition stems from a conversation she and Maude had with one of the scientists. “One of the scientists on the project was so well versed in the history of the island we couldn’t stop listening to him. Apparently, he knew of an island legend about the catalyst for Darwin’s theory of evolution.” Jennie-Jo further described how the scientist told them of a hundred year old story, “when Darwin was studying in the Galapagos, he was talking to one of the island officials who said ‘If you bring me a turtle shell from any of the Galapagos islands, I can tell you which island the shell came from.’” Jennie-Jo said that Darwin’s theory of evolution stemmed from that conversation, “the fact that turtles from each of the islands had distinct and specific shell differentiations and started the process in Darwin’s brain. His theory of evolution stemmed from this conversation!”
The connection really brought the experience full circle for Jennie-Jo, “the housing where the volunteers stay on the island is the original Black Bear where Darwin originally landed in the Galapagos! It was amazing that we were so close to that history.”
Jennie-Jo and Maude’s mutual passion for the planet meant busy days and fun nights. “We spent out days studying birds and building gardens and our nights making friends with our other volunteers.” And the pair’s hard work paid off. “The scientist on the project only expected us to get a quarter of the way through building this experiential garden,” Jennie-Jo said. “But because we all worked together so well, we were able to finish the entire garden during our two week expedition.” Aside from growing their own mother/daughter bond, Jennie-Jo and Maude built relationships with other volunteers too. “Maude and I always have the most fantastic time when we go on Earthwatch Expeditions and the people we meet become lifelong friends. We develop really great relationships.”
Planning to head to Trinidad this summer with two of her grandsons for the Leatherback Sea Turtles expedition, Jennie-Jo’s Earthwatch Expeditions are her most looked forward to trips. “For me, Earthwatch Expeditions are an opportunity for me to travel to exotic places. South America, Costa Rica, Italy. As a woman, it’s so reassuring to be able to safety travel by myself to these far off places. The scientists and staff on the expeditions are so well versed in the culture, I learn things I about the places I go that I would never learn just taking a trip there. I can’t tell you enough how much I look forward to my Earthwatch Expeditions year after year.”
Don’t you want Jennie-Jo to adopt you? Thank you to Jennie-Jo for sharing your great story with us and Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there – a big hug from Earthwatch!