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Educator Expedition: Paddle Sport Coaching

By Rachael Bates, NOLS Instructor

This fall I had the privilege to participate in two courses during the British Canoe Union (BCU) week, sponsored by Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe, in Portland, Oregon.  NOLS generously supported my continued training through the Instructor Development Fund. This education transfers to outdoor education environments and benefits NOLS students. The courses I took part in were the BCU Coach 2 training and the BCU 4 star sea kayak leader assessment.

The Coach 2 training is a four-day course focused on developing paddle sport coaching technique and providing stroke refinement through engaging activities. Paddle sports encompass a variety of boats, such as whitewater kayaks, stand up paddleboards, sea kayaks, canoes, and polo boats. As a participant, I created lesson plans that were applicable to all paddle sports, using activities to emphasize the fundamentals of paddling and designing activities that involved a high level of student observation.

We implemented new lessons every day and received feedback from peers and course instructors regarding our lesson delivery and content. This experience provided me exactly what I was hoping for: tools to individualize paddle stoke and provide feedback for students through fun, and engaging activities.  I also refined my ability to observe.


Rachael on a personal sea kayaking trip.

I am always seeking opportunities to better serve and educate my students on NOLS sea kayak courses. This coaching course provided me with just that. The course was interactive, fun, and focused on the application of knowledge. The skills I learned are directly transferable to my work with NOLS and will continue to develop my ability to create quality paddlers in the sea kayak and canoe program.


Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Jan 15, 2015 in the following categories: Instructor News

Educator Expedition: The Gales Storm Gathering

By Steve Robitshek, NOLS Instructor

The Gales Storm Gathering event is intended as a fun, invigorating sea kayaking instructional event for students looking to gain experience “in conditions” on the Great Lakes, according to the website.

“We all want to know what variables change for rolling, rescues, towing, leadership, and group management once the placid waters of summer have dissipated.

“The Great Lakes offer a terrific opportunity for sea kayakers to experience the beauty of lumpy conditions. Lake Superior has a variety of wind conditions, sea states, and waves in autumn. Often students will seek training in far-flung locales on the east coast, west coast, or overseas; when in fact our freshwater seas offer this exact sort of paddling environment right next door. This coupled with some very world class coaches can make for the best learning experience.”

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Ahh paddling to have fun, push skills, and get wet!  No students, no responsibilities, no curriculum, no camping, and lots of learning—why would one not attend? I relished this chance to paddle to just paddle, with coaches and participants that simply wanted to push skill development in challenging conditions. All this and time on the Big Lake in Pictured Rocks National Seashore!

Goals of the Gales Storm Gathering, Oct. 3–5, 2014, included building confidence in existing skills, reinforcing good habits in wind and waves, correct bad habits with real-world experiences and top-notch rough-water coaches, teaching safe and fun paddling in beautiful surroundings, and providing access to outstanding coaches from around the world.

I’ve been looking to get outside of NOLS to experience what other organizations and people do to manage risk, teach, and coach. Thanks to the NOLS Instructor Development Fund, I was able to attend the Gales Storm Gathering. This symposium pushed me in challenging conditions. Jeff Allen, one of the coaches, introduced many scenarios to manage as well as great coaching during the event.

Adding the skills and experiences to my toolbox will enable me to coach and challenge students more in all the different settings we typically encounter on NOLS sea kayaking courses.

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Jan 8, 2015 in the following categories: Instructor News

Educator Expedition: Advanced Rock Guiding Course

By Andrew Megas-Russell, NOLS Instructor

This fall, I successfully completed the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant exam in Red Rocks, Nevada. I decided to to seek outside training and evaluation from the AMGA to broaden my proficiency as an instructor, enhance student outcomes, improve course quality, and provide and enriched level of instructor coaching and mentorship as a NOLS course leader. Since taking my NOLS Instructor Course in 2009, I have received invaluable coaching and mentorship from the many talented NOLS climbing instructors with whom I have had the pleasure of working. It was gratifying to pass the aspirant exam and see that the competence I have developed through years of working at NOLS has been on par with the industry standard.

The 10-day Advanced Rock Guide Course and Aspirant Exam is the second course in a three-course progression toward becoming a nationally certified rock guide.  Days were long and rigorous.  I was tested on my climbing technique and climbed over 80 pitches reaching 5.10+ in difficulty. At the start of the course, I was required to execute a series of timed vertical rescue scenarios that challenged my improvisation and proficiency with technical skills as well as my ability to work under pressure.  The instructors on the course, all internationally certified mountain guides with decades of experience, helped me focus and refine my multi-pitch belay and rappel transition techniques, free rope end theory, and short rope and short pitch techniques to ensure student safety on exposed terrain. The instructors gave me on-the-spot feedback and advice, and they also hosted formal debriefs at the end of each day.


Assessment areas throughout the aspirant exam section of the course included risk management, client care, professionalism, terrain assessment, mountain sense, and pedagogy. In addition to learning all these new techniques and technical skills, the most valuable lesson was the importance of applying the right technique at the right time.  This is a fundamental NOLS leadership skill I teach my own students:  judgment and decision-making.

Passing the AMGA Aspirant exam leaves me feeling  more confident in my skills and knowledge and prepared as an instructor. I look forward to applying for the final rock guide exam next fall and becoming a nationally certified rock guide.


Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Dec 11, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News

Educator Expedition: San Juan and Gulf Island Keelboat Sailing

By Bradley Martin, NOLS Instructor

I recently sailed from Anacortes, Washington, through the San Juan Islands of Washington and Gulf Islands, Canada. I made this voyage on a personal expedition outside of my role as NOLS instructor with support from the NOLS Instructor Development Fund (IDF). October really is an ideal time of year to cruise the Pacific Northwest Islands. Due to the colder and rainier weather, there is very little boat traffic. In many anchorages, I was the only occupant. Notable anchorages were Reid Harbor on Stewart Island and Watmough Bay on Lopez Island. Both offered good wind protection from most directions and were stunning in beauty.

I chartered a Catalina 30—Tofte—which was very similar to NOLS’ Luna Quest, a Catalina 36. This boat made me appreciate how our NOLS fleet is “tricked out” with details to make them expeditionary yachts (e.g. batteries that will hold a charge on little motor use, trimmed down cushions and things that take up space, long anchor rode, etc.). Before leaving Anacortes, I removed unnecessary items like extraneous kitchenware and inadequate life jackets and cushions. I added jack lines, extra anchor rode, and backup webbing for reefed tack and clew.

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I experienced a variety of conditions on this expedition. In the beginning of the expedition, calm seas and sunny weather were common. I sailed some light wind days and later twice had to reef in 20 knots of wind. This allowed me to cover some good distance in a short amount of time. Conditions required very little motoring and therefore I spent very little on diesel fuel.

I encountered more challenging conditions later in the expedition (low pressure systems and up to force 4-5 winds from the south). This contributed to not traveling through as much of Canada as I had hoped.  However, I sailed through waters and anchorages and islands in the San Juans that were new to me. I covered a total distance of 195 nautical miles on this personal adventure. I really appreciate the IDF helping me make this expedition happen.

San Juan Islands 093

Permalink | Posted by NOLS on Dec 9, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News, Pacific Northwest

NOLS Thanks In-Town Staff

Each year, NOLS hands out a few awards to instructors, community members, alumni, and in-town staff to recognize their hard work, dedication, and positive changes in the world.

Please join us in congratulating this year's NOLS in-town awardees Alexa Callison-Burch, Debra East and Chris Agnew!

Alexa Callison-Burch: We feel blessed everyday that we get to work with Alexa

Alexa came to NOLS in the summer of 2006 when she completed her first NOLS course, an Absaroka Backpacking course. She is remembered by her instructors, as being passionate about wilderness, having excellent expedition behavior, and fulfilling a role as a mentor for other students. She was engaged with all aspects of the course. This promising performance led her instructors to encourage her to complete a fall Outdoor Educator semester as a step toward becoming an instructor.  She completed her instructor course in the spring of 2007 and began working field courses. Since that time, Alexa has worked over 60 field weeks as a hiking and sea kayaking instructor providing many students with inspiring energy and education as they embarked on their own wilderness expeditions. She is committed to providing each student with the opportunity to have life changing experiences on every course she works.

In 2011, Alexa completed a Wilderness EMT course in Lander. She then went on to complete an Instructor Training Course with NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute in November of 2012. Since that time, she has worked WFRs, WFAs, and WFRRs. She is a natural fit given both her organizational skills and teaching acumen.

Alexa’s in-town career began in the NOLS Field Staffing office in 2009, where she helped match field instructors with their courses and students. She moved over to NOLS Rocky Mountain as the evacuation coordinator in 2010. In this role, Alexa has modeled excellence by helping our instructors and the branch manage the diversity of infield challenges and evacuations that arise. She is known and admired for her calm and patient communication style that allows her to support students and instructors in the field. Alexa’s care and empathy for each individual student is felt by all. We have become a more compassionate school due to her influence.


Debra East: For her commitment to inclusion and can-do attitude

Brad_christensen-20141011-8882After years of running the underground bed and breakfast for NOLS field instructors, Debra began her official NOLS career in 2003. Over the next four years, she shared her skills and passion with such varied departments as purchasing, admissions, marketing, and WMI. In each of these roles she was valued for her upbeat, positive attitude and willingness to do whatever needed doing.

Since joining NOLS in a full-time capacity in 2007, Debra has committed her energies to excellence in customer service. A recent recipient of a Moving Hands Scholarship with American Sign Language interpretation noted, “Her clear and detailed communication, support, and encouragement makes me all the more sure that the National Outdoor Leadership School is the place to be when studying and appreciating the outdoors.” 

In 2008, Debra stepped up to become the WMI admissions supervisor. In this role, she has mentored many individuals. One former employee shared, “She allows employees the opportunity and space to navigate their positions and thrive while she stands nearby.” Another reached out to say, “I can’t thank her enough for giving me confidence as a worker and a woman in the workplace.” Debra’s employees hope one day to receive her highest compliment, a new database feature named for them.

Debra’s passionate and tireless work to help NOLS be a school that welcomes everyone has resulted in significant increases in students supported through scholarships, Veteran’s Administration funds, Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, and most recently 529 Education Awards. Her work to develop an agreement with Western State Colorado University helped students benefit from, and NOLS secure, nearly $1 million in tuition dollars this past year. 

Debra goes above and beyond to build relationships with students she supports. After this most recent Wilderness Medicine Expedition for physicians and nurses, three students shared it was their interactions on the phone with Debra that solidified their decision to take the course—because their questions and uncertainties were so well addressed.


Chris Agnew: For his outstanding contributions to our students and mission

Brad_christensen-20141011-8841Chris took a Spring Semester in Kenya in 1998, and his instructor wrote, “Mr. Energy had a positive effect on every situation he was involved in. He plays hard and works equally hard. He assumed leadership roles and actively learned the stations on the sailing dhow. He was a role model of good expedition behavior to the rest of the expedition members.” Another instructor added, “His undefeatable positive attitude, sense of humor, navigation ability, and easy-going style all contributed to his selection as small group leader.”

In May of 2001, Chris took an Instructor Course at NOLS Rocky Mountain and followed that by working his first course—a July North Cascades Wilderness Course—as a patrol leader.

He has worked climbing, canyon, hiking, and mountaineering courses. Most of the work was accomplished at NOLS Pacific Northwest, but some at NOLS Rocky Mountain, Alaska, and Southwest.

In January of 2007, Chris transitioned into administrative work as WMI staffing manager at NOLS Headquarters. Staff who worked with him during his in-town years commented that, “he is exceptionally strong in the area of judgment and decision making. He is a critical and organized thinker who weighs the variables quickly and makes sound decisions. He is an articulate and direct communicator who quickly grasps the tenor of the conversation at hand regardless of its impromptu or challenging nature."

Since 2010, Chris has served as Pacific Northwest director with additional oversight over both NOLS India and NOLS Scandinavia. During his time in this role, NOLS has increased the number of students we educate on our Scandinavia program, moved to a more permanent location in Sweden, and created a legal entity in that country. We have also expanded our course offerings at the PNW with the addition of new courses like the Pacific Northwest Spring Quarter and the Pacific Northwest Mountaineering and Sailing and introduced adventure age programming. In India, NOLS has maneuvered through numerous, complex Indian bureaucratic systems and introduced the Himalaya Cultural Expedition. In addition to his directorship responsibilities Chris also currently serves on the leadership team for the NOLS Strategic Plan goal for Exceptional Student Experiences.


Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 15, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Instructor News, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Wilderness Medicine Institute

What Wilderness Means to Us


I have spent my whole “adult” life guiding in the wilderness! The feeling that we have in this country is beyond words. Aren’t we so lucky that  those with insight were able to put aside these lands in perpetuity, where man is “only a visitor?” It just seems incredible that we have these jewels for ourselves and future generations and they will remain essentially untouched. As has often been said, “They aren’t making that any more.”

—George Hunker, longtime former NOLS instructor

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Oct 8, 2014 in the following categories: Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, Instructor News

‘Invest Everything in the Quality of Your Teaching’

By Alexa Rosenthall, Faculty Summit Intern

Despite snow flurries and muddy roads in the Red Canyon, the 2014 NOLS Faculty Summit was a great success! Over 200 participants came to the Wyss Campus for three days of presentations, workshops, networking, and high spirits.

The fourth annual NOLS Faculty Summit was kicked off with a welcome from NOLS Executive Director John Gans and Chair of the NOLS Board of Trustees Kate Williams.

Williams encouraged instructors to “invest everything in the quality of your teaching in the moment and, at the same time, believe and be changed by your belief that the impacts and rewards of this investment with your students and yourselves must be realized in places and times far beyond these fabulous classrooms we get to move in.”

The Summit hosted inspiring speakers such as Shawn Benjamin, former NOLS instructor and principal of Leadership Public Schools (LPS) Richmond. LPS Richmond sponsors students to pursue summer opportunities, such as NOLS, to encourage character development. Benjamin presented on how non-cognitive factors like self-control, gratitude, and leadership profoundly influence the likelihood of college graduation and life achievement.

Scott Briscoe, Expedition Denali member, spoke on Wednesday morning about the journey of the first African American team to attempt the Denali summit. He highlighted how the project has sparked an interest in the outdoors in diverse populations and those who may otherwise never have been exposed to the wilderness. 

Other excellent morning plenaries included Jim Halfpenny, Jeff Jackson, Drew Leemon David Chrislip, and Richard Adams.

For the afternoon workshops, 21 NOLS instructors and five guests presented various topics ranging from “Sappy Natural History: Making Environmental Studies Stick” by Jeff Wohl and “Beyond the Five Senses: Opening Your Perceptual Fields” by Suza Bedient to “Tribal History is Part of Wilderness: Making the Connection Through Indigenous Perspectives” by Lynette St. Clair.

Tuesday evening brought the presentation of the Instructors Awards. Jared Spaulding and Fabio Oliveira won the Instructor of the Year award, Briana Mackay won the combo In-Town/Field Staff Award, and Ariel Greene won the Thomas Plotkin Memorial Award. The audience was filled with supportive peers and roaring cheers.  

The keynote address was delivered by Caroline Byrd, a former NOLS Instructor and the current executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She spoke on how outdoor leaders make great conservation leaders. Byrd linked common character traits and habits of NOLS instructors to the skills necessary to make gains in conservation of wilderness. 

If you missed the Summit, check out the videos of the presentations and workshops here

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on May 20, 2014 in the following categories: Instructor News, Leadership, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Radio Stars: NOLS Southwest Course

Odessa, Texas NPR affiliate KXWT interviewed NOLS Southwest instructors and students before they hit the river Monday morning. The instructors shared their passion and believe in a NOLS education with Marfa Public Radio, and the students rattled of the many reasons they were there and goals they have for their Spring Semester in the Southwest.

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Listen to the interview here.

Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Mar 6, 2014 in the following categories: In The News, Instructor News, Southwest



    During the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Sarah Konrad made history when she became the first American woman to qualify for two sporting categories: Nordic skiing and the biathlon (pictured above). Fast forward eight years and Konrad has, for the second time, agreed to serve as an expert educational correspondent for NBC’s Emmy award-winning video series entitled, “The Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.”

    Konrad served as a NOLS instructor from 1986 to 1994 on courses ranging from Semesters in Patagonia and Alaska Mountaineering to Sea Kayaking and Semesters in the Rockies, and now she can be found teaching the rudiments of snow science in a different sort of classroom. The “NBC Learn” and “NBC Sports” webisode series, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, “explore the science, technology, engineering, and math at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games” and provide great visual aids for children and adults alike in learning about all of the applied science that goes into making the Olympic games run smoothly and efficiently behind the scenes. NBC’s “Learn” series also provides, “lesson plans and activities in conjunction with the National Science Teachers Association.” 



     During the NBC “Learn” webisode “The Science of Snow,” Konrad, a glaciologist, conducts a brief scientific experiment in the University of Wyoming’s Geology Building using “supercooled” water and explains the freezing process of water and how it can be directly applied to ski course maintenance and race outcomes. The video also touches on the importance of snow engineering during the Winter Games. Being a former Winter Olympian as well as an accomplished academic with a PhD in geology (specializing in glaciology), Konrad’s webisode on snow science is the perfect fit for NBC’s 2014 Winter Olympic “Learn” series. Konrad is currently serving as the Chair of the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Athletes Advisory Council. According to, "the AAC is responsible for broadening communication between the USOC and active athletes, and serves as a source of input and advice to the organization’s board of directors". Konrad is currently serving as the Associate Project Director for Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Department (EPSCoR). 




Permalink | Posted by Rahel Manna on Feb 11, 2014 in the following categories: Alumni, In The News, Instructor News, On The Net, Rocky Mountain

Expedition Denali Wins Outdoor Inspiration Award

Expedition Denali: Inspiring Diversity in the Outdoors earned the Outdoor Inspiration Award for its work to inspire youth, particularly youth of color, to get outside, get active and become stewards of our wild places.

The Outdoor Inspiration Awards recognize individuals, groups and companies whose efforts are above and beyond in inspiring others to enjoy, participate in and support outdoor activities. Expedition Denali won the group award, in the company of individual award recipient Timmy O’Neill and company awardee Timbuk2.

Organized by NOLS, Expedition Denali is the first African American team to attempt to summit the tallest peak in North America—Denali. Though they had to turn back just 1,000 feet from the summit due to a lightning storm, the team made history and is inspiring a generation of youth to reach their own great heights in the outdoors.

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Expedition Denali on the mountain. Hudson Henry photo

“The class of 2014 Outdoor Inspiration Award winners truly have a love for exploring the outdoors and use their passion to impact and change people’s lives,” said Kenji Haroutunian, Emerald Expo Outdoor group vice president and OR show director.

Two members of Expedition Denali, Rosemary Saal and Scott Briscoe, were present to accept the award on behalf of the entire team.

“Last fall we shared our story with about 3,000 youth, and this spring we’re on par to share that with an additional 6,000,” said Briscoe upon accepting the award. “We’re going to schools, community centers, churches, colleges, and talking about our climb and trying to inspire and get more people in the outdoors and diversify the outside.”

This tour of the nation will inspire youth of color to connect with America’s wild places and take on outdoor pursuits they never imagined possible by sharing the story of their historic attempt on North America’s tallest peak. Their story will have an even broader reach upon the completion of a film about the expedition by Distill Productions, LLC. Watch the latest teaser of the film below.




Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jan 28, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, In The News, Instructor News, On The Net

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