Program introduces girls to science expeditions in wilderness

The decades-old science and outdoors program takes high school girls all over the wild

Inspiring Girls Expeditions, an all-female program that takes high school girls on 12 day expeditions in some of the roughest terrain in North America, is accepting applications for its summer 2020 expeditions.

“We empower young women to lead through science, art and wilderness expeditions,” Sarah Clement, the program coordinator, said in a phone interview Friday. “One of the primary goals is to increase the participation and diversity of young women in science.”

Founded in 1998 at the University of Washington by Erin Pettit, who has a Ph.D. in glaciology, the program has been hosted at University of Alaska Fairbanks since about 10 years ago, Clement said. Now part of the International Arctic Research Center, the program has expeditions from Alaska to Colorado to Switzerland, Clement said.

“Even though we were from different parts of the world, it was very powerful to have an experience to share with each other,” said Livana Hill, who went on an expedition with the program to the fjords near Seward in 2017 and now works as an outreach assistant with Inspiring Girls Expeditions. “Some of us had never kayaked, seen a glacier, camped or even hiked, so we were out of our comfort zones and got a lot of learning out of it.”

The expeditions are 12 days long, have nine girls, and have three or four instructors, all women, to oversee and help teams in the wilderness. The expedition will spend a day or two on the front and back end leaving town and returning and cleaning up their gear, Clement said, but most of the time is in the wilderness conducting science.

“They hike into a remote base camp and set up camp for eight days. They learn how to explore the wildness. They design and conduct experiments,” Clement said. “When they come back to town, they compile all their data and make a public presentation. One of the goals is to give the girl a feel for what an authentic field expedition looks like.”

Girls work with instructors to design and conduct experiments while living with each other out in the wild.

Candidates for the program need to apply by Jan. 31 of this year, Clement said. Girls must be 16 or 17 on June 1. The program covers all food, equipment and tuition, though they do ask that candidates pay for their own travel. If that’s difficult for a candidate, the program will work with them to help raise the money, Clement said.

Two expeditions will be taking place in Alaska this year: Girls on Ice, heading to the Gulkana Glacier, and Girls on Water, headed to Kachemak Bay near Homer, Clement said.


If you’re a girl who will be 16 or 17 on June 1, 2020, and you’re interested, you can apply at the website Applications must be started by Jan. 31.

“We’re looking for applicants that are passionate about something. They don’t have to have the best grades or best sports or most extracurricular activities,” Clement said. “We’re just looking for folks who are passionate about something.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or