New Polar Expedition Scholarship for People of Color

PolarExplorers is seeking applicants for its newly minted Matthew Henson expedition scholarship for people of color. The U.S.-based expeditionary organization targets applicants that aspire to become polar guides or outdoor leaders.

“There is a massive lack of diversity and equity in the outdoor industry. This is particularly true in the high-adventure/expedition corner of the industry,” said PolarExplorers director Annie Aggens.

Matthew Henson’s legacy for people of color

Matthew Henson and four Inuit explorers near the North Pole, c. 1906. Photo: Creative Commons

Matthew Henson and four Inuit explorers, circa 1906. Photo: Creative Commons


The Matthew Henson Scholarship is named after the Black polar explorer who lived from 1866-1955. With the scholarship, the PolarExplorer’s committee aims to provide people of color with the confidence and preparedness necessary to flourish as cold-weather expedition leaders.

“Henson…embodied the traits and characteristics that define the world’s most successful adventurers…With his wide-ranging knowledge and passion for learning, he developed a vast skill set that led to the success of many expeditions,” said the PolarExplorers committee.

“Because he was African American, he did not receive the recognition he was due until well after he died. His legacy lives on in the countless people who have been inspired by his life.”

Polar expedition scholarship information

Two successful bidders will receive the Matthew Henson Scholarship, which fully subsidizes PolarExplorers’ Polar Shakedown Training. Held in northern Minnesota in early February 2022 (exact dates TBD), the Polar Shakedown Training seminar provides one-on-one, hands-on expedition training by polar guides. The scholarship will cover the core costs of the course, including the following:

  • Guides and permits
  • Group equipment
  • Ski systems
  • Sleeping system
  • Sleds
  • Communication and safety equipment
  • Lodging and meals

All people of color with aspirations to work in polar expedition are encouraged to apply. Qualified applicants will come to the program with the following:

  • Prior experience in backcountry camping
  • Physical fitness to endure long and laborious days
  • Keen interest in the training program’s “steep learning curve”

PolarExplorers does not provide travel to and from Polar Shakedown Training. Recipients must provide apparel and personal equipment for the seminar, but the organizers will assist participants in sourcing some of the required equipment when necessary. It requires both scholarship recipients to complete additional paperwork and provide proof of COVID vaccination before official enrollment in the training program.

Applications are due December 1, 2021, and scholarship winners will receive notification by December 15, 2021.

Learn more and apply for the Matthew Henson scholarship at

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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6 months ago

This is concerning. I am from a minority background – but this seems blatantly racist?

Ash Routen
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

If it was me I would have opened this up to people of all ethnic minority backgrounds to maximise inclusivity. But I feel like it’s a good start. In the UK at least people of minority ethnicity have less opportunity and means to engage in adventurous activities, so there is need to create specific opportunities to level the playing field (it’s the difference between equity and equality). Where it does become tricky is that the constraints to access may well be in part related to deprivation and location, rather than solely specific factors related to ethnicity (e.g. culture, religion etc.).… Read more »

Nota Personofcolor
Nota Personofcolor
6 months ago

Yeah… these seems like another “solution” to a non-existent problem. If people want to be polar explorers, what the hell does it matter what the color of their skin is?