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In memoriam: Dana Isherwood

Denali Damsels standing at the highest point in North America
STPF alumna fellow Dana Isherwood was a member of the Denali Damsels, the first team of women to ever climb to the highest point in North America. | Arlene Blum

As a member of the famous Denali Damsels, STPF alum Dana Isherwood (1936-2021) was an ardent fan of adventure, skiing, and mountaineering all over the world, from Peru to Mount Chimborazo. The Damsels were the first all-female expedition to the summit of Denali, the highest peak in North America, back in 1970.  

“I believe that all journeys worth making are pilgrimages in that they have a purpose and add perspective to our lives,” she wrote in a 2000 blog about another daring trip – this time to the North Pole.  

Specializing in Arctic soils, Isherwood earned a geology doctorate from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Later, following nearly a decade at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) working on the geologic aspects of nuclear waste disposal, she applied for and became a 1985-86 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. She served her fellowship as a legislative aide for energy for former Senator Al Gore (D-TN). In addition to being the go-to person for science-related questions, she advised the senator on issues including nuclear waste and groundwater pollution. After her fellowship, Isherwood became head of the LLNL Office of Congressional Affairs. 

STPF fellowship classmate Heather Huyck (1985-86 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Historical Association) said, “Dana was an impressive role model, an awesome fellow, and a geophysicist whose life was full of amazing adventures: shipwrecked in the South China Sea, traveling to the Arctic, and even crossing Antarctica with other breast cancer survivors. She made our congressional fellowship so much richer and taught us so much.”  

“The search for wisdom is like a journey through the wilderness and I am grateful for being part of this journey,” Isherwood wrote. Her lifelong commitment to research and exploration bears clear witness to her deep drive for physical and intellectual achievement.  

Isherwood’s departure leaves a hole in the fabric of the fellowship family. We are grateful for her life and contributions as an accomplished scientist in the worlds of research, policy, and exploration.


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