Allison Fundis’ most recent expedition was a fitting one. The 38-year-old chief operating officer of Ocean Exploration Trust, a research nonprofit that leads deep sea explorations around the globe, upended gender norms in her own field while leading the search for traces of another barrier-breaker: Amelia Earhart. For three weeks this summer, Fundis and her team used cutting edge technology, including remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), to comb around the western Pacific island of Nikumaroro for remnants of the plane Earhart was flying when she disappeared in 1937.

The launch of the Hercules ROV. Photo by Erin Ranney

While they didn’t make a definitive discovery, Fundis is proud to have advanced the effort by scouring the area more thoroughly than ever before. And, as with all of her expeditions, she was proud to bring lots of women scientists along with her: part of a shared mission with her mentor and OET founder Robert Ballard, who is best known for discovering the remains of the Titanic. “Our ship is pretty unique in how many women are represented because it’s historically such a male-dominated field,” Fundis explains. “We have 40 to 60 percent women on any ship.” As a former high school biology and chemistry teacher, Fundis is also eager to introduce young women to the possibility of a career in deep sea exploration. For this, OET offers internships and fellowships at sea, where students can observe Fundis and her crew piloting ROVs. “Women are equal—and can sometimes be better—pilots,” she says, laughing. “It requires an incredible amount of multi-tasking.”


The Nautilus

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