Girls on Ice Alaska

group walking on a glacier

The Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center (AK CASC) recently met with Joanna Young, co-director and co-instructor for the Girls on Ice Alaska (GOI Alaska) program. Since GOI Alaska began in 2012, the AK CASC has been the primary supporter of the program and is looking forward to helping make another year of this innovative science outreach program possible.

Girls on Ice Alaska is a tuition-free science, mountaineering, camping, and art instruction program for high school girls. The program is modeled after the successful GOI program in Washington, but it takes place on Alaska’s Gulkana Glacier—one of two USGS benchmark glaciers in Alaska. The program provides a unique educational wilderness adventure to girls who may not otherwise have such an opportunity.

Who participates in Girls on Ice expeditions?

Girls from across Alaska, Washington state, and Canada’s Yukon Territory with a wide range of science, outdoor, and life experiences, and the program is designed around that fact—enabling the girls to develop leadership skills through a variety of program activities. Joanna described how, “Some [of the girls] have never experienced hills or mountains, let alone hiking on a glacier, but they all work to bolster each other.”

What have the instructors learned as they developed the program?

Joanna explained, “[The] program is in constant evolution.” For example, in 2013, the program was extended by one day. By doing this, Joanna and the other program leaders were able to offer a softer introduction to hiking and camping by spending one night camping in Fairbanks and one night at the base of the glacier. Then, the girls were able to spend 8 days on the glacier and had more time to conduct their student-led research projects. Finally, the team spent two days at UAF at the end of the program, to give the girls an opportunity to see what university life is like and to wrap up their individual science projects. Joanna described how the logistical aspects of the program continue to improve and how the curriculum is refined as they learn more about the Gulkana Glacier and the surrounding area.

What do the girls think about their experience with Girls on Ice?

In an effort to continue growing and improving, GOI Alaska has a formal evaluation process. Student quotes gathered from post-program surveys help to illustrate some of the benefits of the experience. 

“Before Girls on Ice, mountains were just mountains. Valleys were just valleys. Now when I see them they’re full of questions and stories. Girls on Ice encouraged a new kind of curiosity in me about things I would have thought boring before. Now I’m considering to pursue Geology after high school. Girls on Ice opened a door to new thoughts and interests for me to consider for my future.”  

Chloe Smith, Tatitlek, 2012

“Mountain travel is pure fun! I love that you can pack up all you find necessary, put it on your back and explore more. Putting on your pack seems so outrageous at first, but that’s the first step to new adventures.”

Chanel Simon, Fairbanks, 2013

“I am inspired to do anything! In the van ride back I was looking out the window at the amazing scenery and the bright blue sky and I felt so great and excited for life. I think a difficult, fun, crazy experience makes you feel like you can do anything.”

Tziporah Lax, Anchorage, 2013

How has running and teaching the program affected the instructors?

In 2012 and 2013, the program was co-led and co-instructed by University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate students, Joanna Young, Marijke Habermann, and Barbara Trüssel. Joanna described how she “had a wonderful sense that the program was going to be really rewarding for the girls, and they would walk away from it feeling stronger and having more confidence in their science and critical decision-making skills…”, but she didn’t count on how much it would benefit her and the other instructors.

The women coordinated all aspects of the first two years of GOI Alaska, and it has given them many valuable experiences. They developed curriculum and learned a lot about communicating science. They have also written proposals, coordinated dozens of volunteers, and organized the expedition logistics.

Joanna describes how these experiences have “been really helpful, because they are the same skills you need to design, fund, and run a safe field expedition for scientific studies.” In this way, she believes her time with GOI Alaska has provided her with not only a fun and rewarding side project to complement her graduate work, but also an incredible professional development opportunity.