by Brian Wright for Seward City News-
Immersed in jagged fjords with glacial monoliths sloughing into frigid seas, one group has found the perfect place to cultivate tomorrow’s leaders. Inspiring Girls Expeditions has been nurturing the minds of young women since 1999 by bringing them into the wild places of the world and inspiring them with the beauty and science of nature. One of the four teams in the 2017 program lineup, “Girls in Icy Fjords,” has come to the Seward area to study glaciology and oceanography in Resurrection Bay.
Founded by Erin Pettit, who has a Ph.D. in geophysics and glaciology from the University of Washington, Inspiring Girls began as a single expedition of five girls and two instructors pursuing the Cascade River into Washington’s towering Cascade Range to its source at the South Cascade Glacier.
The program is tuition free and relies on the generous support and donations from outside sources to make it possible. According to their website, inspiringgirls.org, their mission is to “bring out your natural curiosity, inspire your interest in science, connect the arts and sciences, free you from gender roles, provide a less competitive atmosphere, and encourage trust in your physical abilities.”
The participants in this year’s Girls in Icy Fjords expedition will be taken to Bear Glacier via water taxi after a couple days of orientation to safety, team cooperation, and scientific methodology. There they will spend a week exploring the glacier and performing numerous scientific experiments. At the conclusion of this stimulating adventure, they will paddle back to Seward, camping at South Beach along the way. The expedition culminates with a night at the Alaska SeaLife Center where they will give a public presentation of their studies on Monday the 21st at 5:15 pm.
The program focuses not just on science but viewing nature through the lens of an artist. One of the instructors on the Icy Fjords expedition is Maria Coryell-Martin, an artist who first became an instructor with Inspiring Girls in 2007. Coryell-Martin graduated in 2004 from Carleton College and has since traveled the world in pursuit of her project entitled, “Ties to the Land, Exploring Remote Regions through Art.”
The goal of the Inspiring Girls program is to “give girls a feeling for the processes that create the natural world and provide an environment that fosters the critical thinking necessary to all scientific inquiry.” Instructors reminisce fondly of watching participants blossom with self-confidence during the course of the expedition. “Near the Gulkana Glacier there is a hanging bridge that the girls have to cross,” McNett explained. “Every year they are scared to cross the first time, but on the return they get excited and just run across the bridge.”
McNett also described the criteria for selecting members for the expeditions. “We seek unique individuals that are poised to have a life-changing breakthrough by joining our team. We build teams of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, personal interests, and hometowns. Our expeditions are not rewards for past academic achievement – they inspire future leadership, curiosity, confidence and success.” For girls interested in applying to be a part of the program in the future, a full list of eligibility guidelines and preferences is available on their website.
Although the team noted that Seward is an ideal location for an expedition, when asked if they would be returning McNett was quick to point out that as a tuition-free program, funding for the future was not secure but dependent on the support of outside sources. The organization is always seeking contributions, support and volunteers to ensure the long-term survival of the program.
For more information about the Inspiring Girls organization, to view their impressive line-up of 2017 expeditions or donate to keep the organization afloat for future years, visit their website at www.inspiringgirls.org.