The Antarctic Institute of Canada (AIC) is a non-profit Canadian charity organization founded in 1985 by former Antarctic researcher, Dr. Austin Mardon. The organization originally aimed to lobby Canada’s Federal government to increase Canadian research in Antarctica. However, AIC slowly diversified and initiated programs for students to publish Antarctic research in newspapers and academic journals.
These days, the AIC supports academic writing, research, and multimedia in many fields, expanding far beyond the organization’s original focus on Antarctica. While the AIC runs many different programs, such as Riipen and Venture for Canada, this writing and research is primarily facilitated through a summer program funded by Canada Summer Jobs. This summer program empowers individuals under 30 to build up their resume with publications and experience.
Dr. Austin Mardon
Austin Mardon, PhD, CM, FRSC, graduated with a major in geography from the University of Lethbridge in 1985. The following year, at age 24, he was investigating meteorite impacts 170 km from the South Pole as a junior field member on an Antarctic meteorite recovery expedition sponsored by NASA and the National Science Federation. He received the U.S. Antarctic Service Medal for his work. However, the extreme hardships of the expedition affected him mentally and physically. While he went on to earn master’s degrees in science (South Dakota State University) and education (Texas A&M University) and published a number of articles and books, his health issues persisted. At the age of 30 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Although some of his abilities are compromised by the disease, Austin earned a PhD in geography from Greenwich University, Australia; continued his remarkable publication record, including articles in both Science and Nature; was elected an International Fellow and Corresponding Fellow of the Explorers Club of New York; and was inducted into the International Academy of Astronautics. In 2014 he was elected into the Royal Society of Canada, the pre-eminent academic society of Canada.
Equally impressive has been his work on behalf of the mentally ill. In addition to giving countless interviews to the media on the topic of mental illness, Austin has published articles about faith and schizophrenia, homelessness, medication, and income support. He has provided leadership as a member of the board of directors of both the Edmonton and Alberta chapters of the Schizophrenia Society, and for a number of years he was coordinator of the Alberta Mental Health Self-Help Network. “I hope to soon see the day when schizophrenia is treated like any other disease and is finally detached from the stigma that makes a difficult burden to bear even worse,” added Austin.
Austin has received a number of awards, including the Order of Canada (2007). Others include: the Flag of Hope Award (2001) and the Bill Jefferies Family Award (2007) of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada; the Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Lethbridge (2002); the Presidents Award of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2002); the C.M. Hincks Award from the national division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2007); and the Medal of Honour of the Alberta Medical Association (2010).
A popular member of the Speakers’ Bureau of Alberta, Austin has publicly assisted the medical profession by supporting development of policy positions that have helped medical providers treat those with mental illness.
Austin is currently Assistant Adjunct Professor with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, and was recently appointed as an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Psychiatry – the first time someone with schizophrenia has been appointed to such a position.
Learn More About Dr.Austin Mardon
Catherine Mardon is a social activist, writer, and lawyer born in Oklahoma; however, she currently resides in Alberta.
She has numerous academic achievements, including a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Oklahoma State University, Bachelor of Art from Newman University, a Master’s in Theological Studies from Newman Theological College, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma.
Catherine’s professional resume is just as diverse as her academic background. After being admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in 1988, Catherine specialized in archdiocesan tribunal work, death penalty appeals, and a variety of low-income concerns, such as bankruptcy claims. Further, Catherine worked as a mediation trainer responsible for the recruitment, training, supervision, and evaluation of over 180 volunteers. Throughout these experiences, Catherine became passionate about helping underserved groups, such as the homeless, people struggling with AIDS, and individuals with physical and mental illness.
“I have helped people with that most other ordinary people didn’t want to be in the same room with,” Catherine relates.
In 1991, Catherine was gravely injured in a retaliatory attack for testifying against the leader of a white supremacist group. Consequently, Catherine has suffered physical injuries, a traumatic brain injury, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No longer being able to practise law, Catherine immersed herself into advocacy for the physically and mentally disabled.
“When I got hurt and couldn’t practise law anymore, I didn’t just sit on a bench or curl up in a corner somewhere,” said Catherine. “I started taking care of people. Because that was something I could do.”
Catherine has earned various awards and honours, such as the Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, the True Grit Award in 2016, and the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers in 2018. She also spent much of her time as the former president for the Catholic Women’s League and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary.
With the Antarctic Institute of Canada (AIC), Catherine’s contributions are wide-ranging and essential for day-to-day operations. However, she also has written many books with the organization, including Curveballs, which has gone on to sell over 10,000 copies, as well as the Gandy children’s series, which has been published in 18 languages. Ultimately, Catherine’s diverse, multi-disciplinary background gives her insights that are invaluable to the AIC and, in turn, the many students that have attended AIC programs.