This past month, Girls On Ice Canada was granted $25,000 through the PromoScience Program of the Natural Resource and Engineering Research Council of Canada in order to continue their inspirational and educational science program in 2019. In the summer of 2018, the organization took their first group of 10 women aged 16-17 on a free trip through Canada’s Glacier National Park.
Girls On Ice Canada is run by Inspiring Girls Expeditions, an organization that began with an expedition in 1999 to the South Cascade Glacier in Washington with a group of five girls and two instructors. Since then, it has expanded to offer a variety of programs that provide young women opportunities to explore science and nature on glaciers, water, rocks, and fjords.
With women remaining an underrepresented group in the sciences, Girls On Ice provides an environment for young women to explore their scientific interests. As Erin Pettit, founder of Girls On Ice and Inspiring Girls Expeditions, told Smithsonian, girls are socialized to avoid showing their interest or intelligence in science. “But I want to provide a space without that pressure—where the girls can show their interest, their intelligence, their strength,” she said.
Girls On Ice Canada, the newest addition to the programs offered by Inspiring Girls Expeditions, was founded by Alison Criscitiello and three others. “The idea is to serve a different population, mainly First Nations youth in Canada,” Criscitiello told GlacierHub. The Canada-based program, she explained, was a response to the number of Canadian girls applying to the US expeditions.
The new Canadian program is in high demand. A press release from the University of Alberta, which houses Girls on Ice Canada, notes that over 600 girls applied to ten spots in this year’s expedition.
Criscitiello told GlacierHub that the group is aiming to expand, eventually offering two or three expeditions a year. As part of the effort to make Canada’s program accessible to as many young women as possible, this year’s expedition will involve a live session through National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom program, during which participants will have the opportunity to answer their peers’ questions from their expedition campground.
Girls On Ice isn’t only encouraging women to pursue the sciences. According to the group’s philosophy, regardless of whether participants continue with careers in the sciences, the program seeks to enable young women to “challenge themselves and gain self-confidence in their physical, intellectual, and social abilities.”
Girls On Ice Canada’s first expedition, which occurred last year, had a positive effect on Alyana Lalani. Writing in Scouting Life, she said the program “helped me change my mindset because, moving onwards in life, I know that I will get through whatever difficulty I am facing if I keep going forward.”
According to Inspiring Girls Expeditions, its expeditions are “the science version of a language immersion experience—where we connect science with all aspects of daily life with the goal of creating lifelong advocates for Earth science, specifically, and the scientific process as a whole.”
Criscitiello hopes to make the group’s 2019 expedition even more immersive. Last summer, during the group’s first expedition in Canada, the group spent the first several days of the program at a campground near the glacier due to a lack of available space, she said. “This year,” she said, “we’re heading almost immediately straight into the backcountry and cutting some of that time out in an attempt to really spend the bulk of the time with the girls in a remote location where there’s no interaction with other people and you’re really out there.”
Environmental awareness is a crucial part of this immersion. Alyana said, “During our entire expedition, my instructors stressed the Leave No Trace principles—minimum-impact outdoor activity and taking care of the environment.”
Girls On Ice Canada aims to empower young women to find confidence while pursuing research and learning to appreciate British Columbia’s glacial landscapes. It also plays a role in raising awareness about the conservation of glaciers. As Alyana said, “no matter what our goals were, protecting and respecting our environment came first.”
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