GS Student's Daring Spirit Drives Her to Pursue Ivy League Education

Marin Minamiya is the youngest person to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, which involves reaching the highest peaks on seven continents and skiing to the North and South Poles. As a GS student, she hopes to apply her adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit in new ways.

August 18, 2021

Minamiya’s passion for adventuring began when she attended school in Hong Kong. On a trip to Nepal when she was just 13, she glimpsed the Himalayan Mountains and set her sights on climbing Mount Everest. To Minamiya, however, the importance of her adventures goes far beyond athletic accomplishment. 

“It taught me a lot about working with other people, about leadership, about communication, about planning ahead,” she said. “I wondered, if small peaks in Hong Kong could teach me so much, then what would it be like to climb the tallest peak in the beautiful Himalayan mountains?” 

Minamiya became the youngest Japanese person to scale Mount Everest in May 2016 at the age of 19, after intense physical training and determined efforts to raise the funds for the journey. She became Uniqlo's first female global brand ambassador in December 2016, and with the company’s sponsorship is the youngest person ever to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, which includes scaling the Seven Summits and skiing to the North and South Poles. During her search for sponsors, Minamiya sent thousands of emails to potential supporters before eventually being connected to the CEO of Uniqlo.

Marin Minamiya in Denali

“The world is much smaller than we think it is. We can accomplish so much more than we imagine,” she said.

Minamiya is often referred to as a mountaineer, although she does not necessarily see herself that way. 

“That wasn't really my intention,” she said. “That wasn't a title that I intended to go out and get. I'm still interested in climbing some peaks, but not as a professional mountaineer. It's one part of my life.” 

In 2017, Minamiya traveled to South Africa to learn about sailing, with the goal of circumnavigating the globe. After a year, she decided it was not the next step for her to take and sought a new beginning. In 2019, she received the Miss Japan Special Honorary Award, which meant a lot to her after years of traveling overseas. 

“Becoming Miss Japan gave me the opportunity to return to my identity, look at my roots and background, and discover and build my own inner core—who I am,” she said. 

Marin wearing a coat and UNIQLO gear, with snowy eyelashes

The following year, Minamiya was introduced to a group of Japanese entrepreneurs and discovered a new passion. Her entrepreneurial skill and ambition were evident in her experiences with Uniqlo and from pitching herself to different CEOs throughout her mountaineering adventures. She was also named to Forbes Japan’s 30 Under 30 List in 2018 and spoke at the United Nations HeForShe conference in Tokyo.

It is truly a privilege to be able to join GS's academic environment, where peers from unique backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages come together in the same classroom.

GS Student Marin Minamiya

Minamiya was enrolled at Waseda University in Tokyo, studying political science and economics, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, moving her classes online. She decided to apply to the School of General Studies (GS) in September of 2020, fulfilling a long-standing goal. Minamiya had completed a Columbia University Summer Program for high school students in 2013 and planned on applying to Columbia at that time, until a family situation made it more practical to attend university in Japan. 

“For me, transferring to Columbia GS not only means receiving academic and personal development, but also holds the meaning of closing a big loop from 2013,” she reflected. 

Minamiya on Mount Everest

At GS, Minamiya hopes to shift her focus to different courses of study, such as computer science or sustainable development. She is interested in fast-growing industries, as well as gaining an increased understanding of the digitized world. 

Her approach to academics reflects much of the same adventurous spirit, dedication, and self-discipline that led her to climb Mount Everest, and to pursue sailing in South Africa because of its challenging currents.

The world is much smaller than we think it is. We can accomplish so much more than we imagine.

Marin Minamiya

Minamiya is excited about the diversity in age and background at GS and has found it to be a welcoming and supportive environment.

“It is truly a privilege to be able to join GS's academic environment, where peers from unique backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages come together in the same classroom,” she said.