Spring 2011


Not every kid gets to see whale bones: Jenny Kao-Kniffin with K.C. and the research team. Photo by Carsten Mueller

At age two and a half, K.C. Kniffin knows something you might not know about the Arctic Circle: The snow there is not good for packing snowballs. He also knows how much fun it is to breeze across the tundra on a snowmobile, or “snow-nobile,” as he prefers to call it.

Not many preschoolers from the Lower 48 get to become Arctic explorers, but K.C. got his chance courtesy of Moms on the Go, a CALS fund that covers some travel and childcare expenses for researchers out in the field. In K.C.’s case, the fund covered airfare for his father, Kevin Kniffin—the husband of microbiologist Jenny Kao-Kniffin—when she was doing postdoctoral research in Barrow, Alaska with CALS soil scientist Jim Bockheim.

Kniffin provided childcare for K.C., often playing with him in the snow just a few yards from where mom was doing research. The intent of the fund is to spare families the pain of extended separation and parents the usual load of worry and guilt about leaving their children behind. Instead, families get to flourish in each other’s company in exciting (if often challenging) new surroundings.

According to Jenny Kao-Kniffin, it’s a win-win for everyone. “My son helped us work longer hours with less stress,” she says. “Barrow is in a very remote location and resources are scarce. Having my son with me was the best form of entertainment for the entire research team. It’s amazing how everyone’s mood improved when my son was present.”

Kao-Kniffin, now an assistant professor at Cornell, puts Moms on the Go in the context of other progressive developments at CALS that support women in the workplace.  “The Microbial Sciences Building also has a lactation room and creative conversational areas. It was a great place to meet an amazing collection of women scientists that prove you don’t have to choose between your family and your career,” she says.

The UW Foundation maintains more than 6,000 gift funds that provide critical resources for the educational and research activities of the college. To help support Moms on the Go, visit

This article was posted in Next Steps, Spring 2011, Working Life and tagged , , , .