22 Jan The 3rd Annual Matthew Henson Scholarship
The Joy Trip Project is excited to announce the 3rd recipient of the Matthew Henson Scholarship. In partnership with Polar Explorers, an Illinois-based guiding company, we are pleased to award Carla-Paz Moran Sanchez free tuition to attend a five-day winter travel training course in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area of Northern Minnesota. Carla-Paz will be joined by last year’s scholar awardee, Christine Meissner, to help guide and mentor her journey through the world of cold weather overland expeditions.
To honor the legacy of the innovator of Arctic exploration and winter adventure, Matthew Alexander Henson, this program aims to inspire people of color to embrace cold weather activities, and to build the necessary skill set to thrive (not just survive) during extreme low-temperature expeditions. In particular, the program focuses on emerging outdoor guides or people with current or future positions of leadership in the outdoor industry.
At the turn of the 20th century, Henson (1866-1955), a leading member of the 1909 Robert Peary Expedition, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, was the first person in history to stand on the North Pole. This remarkable accomplishment was ignored and even denied by many who refused to give credit to a Black American. To encourage a new generation of explorers to seek out and achieve uncommon endeavors of human fortitude and resilience, the Matthew Henson Scholarship provides the training and resources necessary for early-career guides and trip leaders.
“There’s no limit to the impact we can have by changing the landscape of the outdoor industry and inspiring a new generation of backcountry users to be as passionate as we all are about diversity and inclusion in the outdoors (and especially in cold weather recreation),” says Polar Explorers director Annie Aggens.
This year’s scholarship recipient is already an accomplished adventure guide, and is based in Chile. Carla-Paz was born and raised near the ocean and has been exploring nature and exotic places from a young age. She has lived in six different countries and has visited others in pursuit of adventure. She enjoys solo traveling and has committed to personal expeditions – from backpacking through India (age 19), traveling along the Amazon River from start to finish (age 20) and backpacking throughout South America on several occasions. She also finds that bicycling is one of the best ways to travel. Carla-Paz has ridden her bike more than 1000km across northern Patagonia in 50 days and also cycled solo from Vancouver, Canada, to San Francisco, California, in 30 days.
Working as a guide in Patagonia, and camps in Antarctica, has given her a love of remote and cold places. She thrives in rough environments with raw wilderness. She says it is in nature’s “uncomfortable comfort” where she feels most at home.
In her scholarship application, Carla-Paz described her desire to make outdoor experiences more accessible to people of color, who are seldom represented among the global community of professional guides and adventurers.
“As a POC and a woman from South America, with only my life experience to back my knowledge, it’s sometimes difficult to be taken seriously. Most of the time, the industry tends to underestimate my capacities and abilities due to their preconceived prejudices. More often than not, I have to prove my self-worth and abilities on the job by successfully exceeding their expectations,” she wrote. “I often found myself being the only POC, Latino-woman, in the settings I’m working, and even though the situation has improved in the last decade or so, diversity is still extremely elusive in the outdoor industry.”
In the spirit of what this scholarship aims to achieve, Carla-Paz said she looks forward to encouraging others like her to pursue careers in outdoor recreation as well.
“Having worked in the outdoor industry for more than a decade, I’ve made it a personal goal to inspire and bring nature to minorities, such as people of color, especially women of color, who are rarely seen guiding and even practicing activities outdoors,” she wrote. “I aim to be a part of the evolution of creating safe spaces in the mountains, rivers and nature for all people who historically have been marginalized, culturally and economically, from enjoying the great outdoors.”
The Matthew Henson Scholarship is part of the continuing mission of Polar Explorers and the Joy Trip Project to provide both training assistance and role models for aspiring outdoor professionals. As a two-year commitment, Carla-Paz will help mentor the next recipient of this award in 2025. In cooperation with several outdoor industry companies, we hope to create pathways toward worthwhile employment and career advancement opportunities. We are grateful to the many organizations that provide us with gear and clothing items to support the safety and comfort of our participants each year.