I first met Canadian Explorer and adventurer Geoff Green in 2003 at the Explorers Club in New York City. Geoff is the brainchild and visionary of the Students On Ice Foundation, a wonderful organization that takes young people to experience the beauty, people, history and wildlife of the Arctic and Antarctic. He is a world traveler, adventurer and teacher who believes exploration is the best education.

On a cold February night in New York City I found myself discussing even colder climates while attending a fundraising event for Students on Ice (SOI) at the Explorers Club. It was a marvelous evening of VIP guests including Canadian political figures, NYC movers and shakers, and, most importantly, student alumni. The current prime minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau and Mrs. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau are not only strong supporters of the foundation but also illustrious alumni of the 2005 expedition.

I was impressed by the spirit and camaraderie that flowed throughout the dinner, it was truly a testament to the work and merit of the organization, its team and leaders. Prince Albert of Monaco is the patron of Students On Ice, and he is very involved in the expeditions and student participation. They are a tight knit family working towards a common goal, which is to introduce young people from around the world to the wonders, history and beauty of the Poles. 

The talented team of women at the helm of SOI help implement all the programs and group leaders for every expedition in the Arctic and Antarctic. These ladies are all seasoned explorers and adventurers with incredible energy and enthusiasm for what they do.

As a polar explorer I understand the impact these regions can have on a person of any age, let alone our younger generations. The current state of affairs regarding climate change/global warming are evident to those of us who have experienced these areas first hand and can inarguably say we can’t deny it’s happening.

Students on Ice is a Canadian foundation that has global reach as far as its student demographic is concerned. The expeditions bring together an international community of young people from all corners of the world and from all socio-economic backgrounds. There are students who arrive having never seen snow! It is quite an adventure in team building.

I was privy to wonderful conversations during the fundraiser with SOI team members and some of the alumni of both the Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. I was most intrigued by their reasons for heading out at ages 16-18 to the top and bottom of the world!

I started my Q&A with Ashley Brasfield, the communications and media relations director.

Have you seen more interest from girls throughout the years?

“Yes — the number of female to male applicants over the years has typically been 2 to 1. We strive for balance when selecting participants and on average, roughly 60% of the participants are female.”

Are there differences between the boys and girls in how they handle being in the field? 

“No. Students who apply and are accepted into the SOI program have a keen interest in the Polar Regions and are eager to learn more. We select youth from a variety of backgrounds and interests to experience what we consider to the The Greatest Classrooms on Earth. The goal is to connect youth to the Polar Regions to support their continued growth and inspire and catalyze initiatives that contribute to global sustainability.

By bringing together students with varying interests and abilities and connecting them with a team of experts across the sciences, culture and the arts they have the opportunity to engage in a holistic understanding of the Polar Regions, explore solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges and the role they want to play in a sustainable future. This isn’t limited to science. We can each make a difference across industries and it is important that youth are given the opportunities and mentorship to discover how they can be a part of it.

Both girls and boys engage with the multidisciplinary workshops in their own way. Some female students are more interested in the sciences, some in the arts, some in public policy and so forth. Same as the male students.” 

Do you see any difficulty in getting young women interested in going to the Polar Regions?

“No. The students who apply are interested, want to learn and want to make a difference. Many apply because they are passionate about what the Polar Regions represent — windows into our planet and an unparalleled classroom for learning about the environmental, social and economic challenges facing the polar regions and our planet.”

Do you factor in the importance of mentors for young women in your programs and expeditions?

“Mentors are one of the best forms of education and are a key part of the SOI program. We offer all youth the opportunity to connect with mentors across disciplines to provide intergenerational and experiential education. We bring female experts across disciplines on all of our expeditions.”

In your opinion, what do you think will help involve younger generations of women to seek out the polar regions as an area of travel and study?

“More opportunities like Students on Ice for hands-on experiential learning as well as more awareness about the Polar Regions, the important role they play, issues and opportunities that they represent. More polar education within mainstream education is important and key to promoting greater understanding and appreciation for the Arctic and Antarctic.

It is important to educate youth about the diversity of challenges and opportunities represented in the Polar Regions across science, culture, sustainable development, and international relations. In order to understand all that the Arctic has to offer and contribute to its longterm sustainability, we must ensure that education around Arctic-related topics is grounded in an understanding, appreciation and collaboration with the people who call the Arctic home.”

Bravo Ashley! Education is key and a “hands on” experience is vital in establishing an emotional connection which will drive a person to pursue their interests and stay motivated. The polar regions are stunningly beautiful, yet stark and striking.

There are more than 40 different indigenous groups who live within the Arctic Circle. These include the Canadian Inuit, the Saami in Finland and Norway and the American Eskimo in Alaska. The majority of these groups were semi-nomadic as they had to adjust and sustain their lives by moving throughout the land to areas where they could hunt or fish. The spring/summer seasons allow for very prolific hunting by the ice flow edge which varies from year to year.

The Arctic is a magical place for me because I’ve spent 10+ years leading expeditions and making friends in the community of Resolute Bay. On my first visit I fell in love with the beauty, people and feeling of the High Arctic. Its rich history permeates the air!

I wondered if such feelings were shared with some of the students?

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with alumni, Stephanie Diaz, who as a 16-year-old high school student from NYC who never imagined herself traveling to the Arctic. Her parents moved here from Colombia to afford opportunities for their children which they would not have had otherwise. Stephanie is a fine example of a brilliant young woman who is daring, adventurous and on the road to making a difference in our world.  I asked Stephanie what part of the SOI experience made the most impact, and she said:

“There were so many strong women leading my expedition in so many different ways! Niki Trudeau, Shirley Mah, Pascal Otis, and Lee Narraway all led by example in their different roles on our expedition. They truly showed me that it is possible to do what you love and experience life to the fullest!

I felt so empowered as a young woman after my trip! For me to come back home knowing what I wanted to do with my future career gave me such a clear ambition as a seventeen year-old girl. I still feel so lucky that I was given the opportunity to discover my passion when I did since it really defined my college experience for me, instead of the other way around!”

Stephanie is excited to share more of her thoughts on women as role models.

“I think it’s so incredibly important to have role models to look up to in terms of real adventure and exploration. Life has so much adventure and excitement to offer a young woman, she just needs some examples to follow and some encouragement from a woman who has been in her shoes!” 

Stephanie is one of the many fabulous young women who have “graduated “ from a polar expedition. She embodies the strength and character I admire and have no doubt she on the path to great things which will enrich the lives of others. I look forward to seeing her when she returns from her study program in Europe this fall.

I am left inspired by how powerful a program this is for young students to see and learn from other women in the education, adventure and exploration fields. I applaud Geoff, Ashley and the team for their work; they are making a difference in many young people’s lives. I am honored to share and contribute to their vision.

Students On Ice is helping to create some of our world’s future leaders, one expedition at a time.