Polar bears, hippos and more: Hall of Famer traveled to the North Pole and beyond


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

There are plenty of jokes about lawyers and sharks.

Not so many about lawyers and polar bears.

But as Sue Carter will tell you, when a polar bear is after your group, you don’t have to be the fastest to escape – just don’t be the slowest.
So how did this attorney, also a professor in the School of Journalism at Michigan State University, get so familiar with Ursus Maritimus?

In early 2001, Carter, director of the nonprofit WomenQuest Foundation, led the WomenQuest Polar Trek 2001 expedition, spearheading an international team of 12 women, several of them in their 40s, with a variety of backgrounds:  corporate finance, aviation, anthropology, psychology, journalism, teaching, science, accounting, and documentary filmmaking.

The team, supporting the mission of WomenQuest to challenge women physically, intellectually, and emotionally, traveled on skis, in sub-zero conditions, to the top of the planet at True North.

The trek marked the first time an all-women group reached the North Pole from a Russian-based departure.
“We travelled under 100 miles from our designated drop-off to get to the North Pole,” Carter says. “A wise decision as it turned out for there were substantial breaks in the ice that year.”

Carter’s team was met by a group from NASA, led by Dr. Kathryn Clark, chief NASA scientist for Human Exploration and Development Sciences, and together they conducted the first student-directed live web cast from the top of the world.

During the trek, several of the women communicated regularly with students in classrooms in the United States and Canada, providing real-time participation for the school children. The team also field-tested clothing, navigation, shelter, arctic gear, and satellite telephones provided by the U.S. Navy, an exceptional opportunity to test the phones under extreme Arctic conditions.

Every step of the expedition was documented on tape, and became the inspirational TV documentary, “Women at the Top”
When her fingers thawed out, Carter wrote a book about her adventures at the polar ice cap in “Ordinary Women, An Arctic Journey,” published by Michigan State University Press in 2005.

Carter, never one to let the grass – or ice – grow under her feet, then headed to the opposite climate extreme, visiting sub-Saharan Africa, to make a documentary, “Michigan State University in Malawi: The Blantyre Malaria Project,” documenting the decades-long effort by MSU Distinguished Professor Terrie Taylor and her team and students to understand childhood malaria.

After successfully avoiding polar bears at the North Pole, now Carter worried about the appetites of the local hippos in The Shire River and Lake Malawi, and how fast she could run from them.

An Episcopalian priest – and currently studying for a Doctor of Ministry – Carter enjoyed leading a church service in Malawi; following the English service came one in the local language, Chichewa.

In 1991, Carter joined the faculty of MSU – where as a Sparty student she had earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities – after a 17-year career as a news broadcaster and talk show host at radio and television stations in Michigan, Connecticut, and across the border in Ontario. She had worked as an anchor/reporter for radio stations WWJ and WHND in Detroit, WVIC in East Lansing and as news director for WABX in Detroit, and as reporter, anchor and talk show host for WXYZ-TV in Detroit. Her journalism expertise served conferences sponsored by the Poynter Institute, International Radio-Television Society, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and Historical Society of Michigan.

Before returning to MSU, Carter taught journalism at Wayne State University, where she earlier earned a master’s degree in history, and her law degree.

Recognized in Michigan and around the country for her broadcasting, in 1990 Carter was named UPI Sports Broadcaster of the Year for reporting on The Detroit Free Press International Marathon – while pounding the pavement as one of the runners.

In 2006, Carter won a Michigan Chapter Emmy award as executive producer of “The Great Experiment: MSU, the Pioneer Land Grant University,” a documentary on the history of the first land-grant college in America that coincided with her 2005 work as special consultant to the president and sesquicentennial director of MSU.

Carter, who was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2007, teaches media law, constitutional law, sports media, religion reporting, and journalism history at MSU. Her current research centers on end-of-life communication.

She also serves as a civil mediator, volunteering at 54-B district Court in East Lansing.
“It’s rewarding to help folks get to a point of agreement,” she says.

Carter is hugely popular with her MSU students, who launched a “Sue Carter Fan Club” page on Facebook. It’s tough to tell truth from fiction. In addition to referencing her North Pole and Detroit Marathon achievements, the page claims she spent 6 years as a child in France; is a power and sail plane pilot; scuba dives; was nominated for two Emmys; and survived a motorcycle crash.

“That accident – it was skydiving, not motorcycle,” she says. “Fortunately, I’ve never done more than dropped a motorcycle. Not fun, but little harm.”

The Fan Club page also claims Carter saw a UFO; can bend steel with her bare hands; was Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996; can tie a cherry stem into a knot using just her tongue; had a 3-year affair with singer/songwriter John Denver; openly aspires to become a Supreme Court precedent; has a bullet lodged in her ribcage; broke up Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey; and is a frickin’ awesome professor.

Amen to that.