Nite Ize has been a proud sponsor of the AWE Summit Scholarship since its inception three years ago. We are passionate about providing women in underserved communities access to outdoor experiences, and the opportunity to live lifelong dreams. Applications for the 2022 Summit Scholarship are open through the end of January, and this year, AWExpeditions is offering 7 different scholarships for backpacking trips, mountaineering courses, and high-altitude expeditions for women of all walks of life. We talked with founder Sunny Stroeer about everything from how the scholarship was born, to what the future holds.
1. What inspired to you launch AWExpeditions aka AWE (short for AWE-Inspiring Women’s Endeavors)?
I was inspired to launch AWE because I got to observe a radical gap in the perception of female ability in the mountains. What I mean by that: a few years ago I climbed Aconcagua, a 22,383ft in Argentina, solo and unsupported. That’s not unusual - plenty of people do. Yet I got lots and lots of funny looks and commentary. Why? Because I am a woman, and in contemporary mountaineering circles it’s still considered unusual to see women do hard things without a male partner or guide. After coming down from my successful summit, I was only more motivated to push hard in the mountains (and set a few speed records on Aconcagua and other mountains shortly thereafter) - and I founded AWE so I could help to actively address the gender gap in the big mountain realm.
2. How did the idea of the AWE Summit Scholarship Foundation take shape?
It all started with a wild idea in the winter of 2018/2019. I know first-hand what transformative potential the mountains hold, and I also know how forbiddingly expensive big expeditions can be. As such, the very same people who might experience the most life-changing moments in the mountains are also typically the ones who are shut out of mountaineering because they can’t afford it. I thought that creating women’s mountaineering & adventure scholarships could be a powerful way to have a positive impact on a scholarship recipient’s life while simultaneously massively increasing the visibility of women’s adventures in the mountains. Back in 2018/2019 that was just a pipe dream that I didn’t think would come to fruition for many years — until Nite Ize stepped in and said “Let’s do it: we’ll fund the program.” Thank you Nite Ize!!
3. What does the 2022 Summit Scholarship provide, and who would be your ideal candidate?
The 2022 Summit Scholarship Program is the most extensive program yet - this year we are able to provide seven different scholarships for expeditions and adventures on Mount Shasta, Aconcagua, Ishinca & Tocllaraju, and along the Paria River Canyon. Nite Ize is providing funding for a 2 week high altitude mountaineering trip to Ishinca & Tocllaraju in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru, and the Nite Ize scholarship covers the full expedition fee, top-notch mountaineering footwear from LOWA, and a $500 flight stipend.
The ideal candidate for the Summit Scholarship program is a woman who loves the outdoors and would like to get into mountaineering. The vast majority of our scholarships are aimed at first-timers: you don’t have to have any prior experience. Each individual scholarship has slightly different application requirements (some are geared at younger women, one is reserved for a woman from the African continent, and one requires prior mountaineering experience), but there is something for everyone! You can find all the details here: www.summitscholarship.org/apply
4. What is the application process and timeline for the 2022 scholarship?
It’s really straight forward: simply fill out the common application which consists of basic demographics and two short essay questions; let us know which trips/scholarships you’d like to be considered for, and make sure to submit your application before the deadline on January 31 2022. Once applications are closed, the steering committee will need ~4-6 weeks for deliberations and we’ll announce the scholarship recipients in early March!
5. What have you learned about yourself through guiding the scholarship recipients over the years?
I have learned that I love the mountains not because of their beauty and physical magnificence, but because of the process of discovery and growth that they trigger — in myself, and in others. Mountaineering (and really any big adventure) for me is not about the physical performance or about checking off bucket list items; it’s about the psychology behind voluntarily immersing yourself in something so entirely beyond the daily comfort zone.
6. What moment made the biggest impact on you about working with a summit scholarship recipient from a previous trip?
By now there are a lot of moments that I have shared with Summit Scholarship recipients that are incredibly meaningful to me. I remember sharing a moment with Marisa, the recipient of our 2021 Mt Shasta Summit Scholarship, at sunrise high up on the Hotlum glacier of Mount Shasta. As the sun crested the horizon, Marisa took a moment to take it all in and, without hyperbole, quietly said “this is the best thing I have ever seen.” I knew she meant it. There’s Viviana, a 2020 Kilimanjaro Summit Scholarship recipient, who has stepped into inspiring other young women to pursue their dreams before she’s even had the chance to set foot on Kilimanjaro (the climb was rescheduled to fall 2022 due to repeated COVID postponements). There’s Humaira, who takes paying it forward to the next level and got involved in starting another mountain scholarship program specifically aimed at women of color. The snowball effect of the Summit Scholarship is real, and we’re not stopping here.
7. What does the future hold for the AWE Summit Scholarship Foundation?
The Summit Scholarship program is now in its fourth year, and as of a few months ago it is officially a standalone 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. This is a monumental step forward for the program, as it means that we now have proper oversight from a board of directors that consists of some of the most passionate and capable women I know. It also means that we can intensify our fundraising efforts, and it may mean that we will soon be in a position to hire a program administrator so that we can stop relying on 100% unpaid volunteer labor and continue to grow the program year after year.
8. What else would you like us to know about AWE and the summit scholarship?
There are three things that are important to mention:
- The Summit Scholarship isn’t just about providing funds for a few hand-picked women to climb mountains free of charge - it is so much more. The scholarship application process itself serves as a platform that catalyzes dreams: the application essays give our Summit Scholarship hopefuls permission to dream big and imagine themselves in situations that they may previously have considered “not for them” or “out of reach.” That’s a powerful catalyst.
- The AWE Summit Scholarship Foundation relies on amazing partner organizations like Nite Ize, and on individual charitable donations, to raise the funds that are required to create scholarships. You can help by making a tax-deductible donation at www.summitscholarship.org/donate or, to make things a bit more fun and interactive, participate in our virtual challenge!
- If you love the idea of participating in an all-female expedition, you can do so without being a Summit Scholarship recipient. All scholarship adventures are also open to regular paying guests of AWExpeditions, the Summit Scholarship Foundation’s sister organization. Simply head over to www.awexpeditions.org and take a look at their all-female mountaineering & backpacking trips. If you see something that catches your eye, don’t delay - most of AWE’s 2022 departures are already sold out.
If you are dreaming of big mountain climbs, identify as a woman, or know someone who fits this bill, we encourage you to put in an application over at www.summitscholarship.org/apply. You could be given the chance of a lifetime!
Sunny started leading multi-day backcountry trips in the mid-2000s as a student at Harvard College. She went on to obtain an MBA from Harvard Business School and pursue a career as a management consultant while simultaneously expanding her climbing and mountaineering skill set. At the end of 2015, Sunny decided to leave behind the business world in order to focus full-time on climbing and running mountains. Today, she is a professional mountain athlete with multiple speed records on Aconcagua, the Annapurna Circuit, and in the Colorado Rockies. Sunny is a Wilderness First Responder and an AIARE Level II avalanche professional.