Some like it cold: How to get your Sustainability degree from UW while living in Antarctica

The students working closely with Professor Tinjum to develop Solar Para Niños are part of the Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) program through Engineering Professional Development at UW-Madison. They’re pretty cool people – as are many of the students who have gone through the program. Take Blaise Kuo Tiong, for example: he worked in a range of climates, from Hawaii to the South Pole, before completing the program. This is his story:


Before completing an online master’s degree Sustainable Systems Engineering at UW-Madison, Blaise Kuo Tiong lived in some extreme climates throughout his career. And those climates are what led him to graduate school at UW-Madison.

Blaise spent the past three and a half years working at the Maunakea Observatories at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii on the Big Island of Hawaii. He worked on the software and programming of observatory operations for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and consistently experienced beautiful weather.

“You wake up and it’s 75 and you go to bed and it’s 75 pretty much year-round,” he said. “Everywhere you’re probably no more than 10 minutes away from the beach.”

Except if you’re on the top of a mountain.

“I worked on the summit of Maunakea, a mountain on our island that’s nearly 14,000 feet. At the summit, we actually get a lot of snow,” he explained. “When we’re up there, we’re in parkas. It’s funny because you live in Hawaii, but you work and then you wear gloves and boots to work every day.”

As polar opposite as that weather seems, Blaise was used to the change after working in the most extreme polar location of the world, Antarctica. He worked as a computer systems administrator at McMurdo Station then at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

“During the wintertime, it gets down to about negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It will get to maybe negative nine or so, that’s the warmest part of the summer–what we call summer.”

Through his work in Antarctica, Blaise learned about UW-Madison. After computer programming, he worked for a neutrino detector project called Ice Cube, which is managed by UW. Before going to work at the Ice Cube, he attended training on campus.

“That’s how I first heard of the Sustainable Systems program,” he said.

Click here to read the rest of Blaise’s story.

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