NOLS Amazon Students Reflections, Part 1
As Brazil crazily prepares for Carnival starting this Saturday and continues to anticipate further excitment for the World Cup this boreal summer, we are enjoying our last few months of the off-season. Off-season at NOLS Amazon is filled with delicious peaceful mornings and downpours of rain that are so heavy it is hard to hear yourself think. The boreal spring is on the cusp and summer is soon to follow, which means things start kicking in gear. With the excitment of another year with more students, more adventures, and more time in the Amazon we admittedly start to get all giddy inside! So, until we meet our 2014 NOLS Amazon River Expedition and Semester students, here is the Part 1 of a student-written series about how NOLS Amazon has shaped who they have become.
The first short piece is written by a 2011 NOLS Amazon Semester graduate, Kelsey Kuhn.
At a young age my heart was captured by the mysterious allure and biodiversity that the Amazon Rainforest embodies. So, when I discovered NOLS offered a semester course in the Amazon I enrolled eagerly. My experience has had such a great impacted my life and gave me the skills and experience to create the path I have always wanted to walk.
This course challenged me physically, emotionally and socially in ways I never expected, and in ways no other place on Earth could have done. The skills I gained in that course set me up for achievement in the outdoor world for life. The month I spent canoeing on the Juruena River taught me skills to excel reading and navigating on the whitewater and flat water. Bushwhacking though the tangles of vines and thickets of the jungle gave me patience and understanding of low impact route fining and the importance of leave no trace.
Hiking in the Serra Ricardo Franco was my playground to become an expert in cross-country hiking. I was able to cultivate my outdoor skills so I could thrive, not just survive in the Amazon. Living in the jungle with people from all different pasts, presents, and futures was one of the toughest experiences, but also one of the most rewarding. The tools I gained from navigating the tricky group dynamics have made resolving conflicts in “real” life much easier. It was also the perfect stage for me to exercise my leadership skills. NOLS has helped me become a truly effective leader rooted in understanding, communication, and safety. The time I spent in Brazil also took my relationship with nature to a new level. The power of a river and true wilderness of the jungle created a deeper respect for our planet in my being.
I have always wanted to peruse outdoor related jobs and have done exactly that since I graduated from NOLS Amazon. I was an intern on United States' only Organic Biodynamic Tea farm where I learned to heal and cultivate the Earth. I spent last April-September on a backcountry trail crew, living and working in Kings Canyon National Park. The experience and skills I gained from NOLS made me a prime candidate to be hired by the California Conservation Corps backcountry trails program. This summer I will be a Sea Kayak guide in Alaska, utilizing my leadership and outdoor skills to share the wonders of Earth with the general public. I can’t wait to teach people about the fragile beauty of our planet, and inspire a sense of pride and responsibility to take care of it in their souls.
Whenever I look back on every thing I have accomplished in the past few years, and all that I have ahead of me I feel I owe a thank you to my NOLS Amazon course. If I had never gone to the Amazon and not learned and experienced what I did, I would not be the same person I am today, and definitely not living this life I am living at age 22.
Leadership in the Wilderness: The First Darden/NOLS Course
By Alex Fife
As the last light faded and I clicked on my headlamp, two things had become clear: 1) it is very dark in the wilderness, and 2) this was not going to be a simple walk in the woods. Though night had fallen, we still had to cover a considerable distance before reaching and setting up camp. I thought back on the day: we had hiked at least six miles, first across an expanse of cactus and thorns and then through a rocky canyon with gnarled Arizona sycamore trees. When not hiking, our time had been filled with instruction on fundamental outdoor skills such as how to cook with a camp stove, read a topographic map, and the multistep process for going to the bathroom in the woods. It was the beginning of a class unlike any other offered at Darden.
This January marked the first Darden collaboration with the National Outdoor Leadership School, NOLS for short. In addition to running custom programs for companies like Google and Salesforce.com, NOLS Professional Training has offered courses for a number of MBA programs. Jake Freed, Assistant Director of NOLS Pro and one our instructors, believes that “the wilderness actually draws many parallels with the landscape business school graduates will face. It is an ambiguous, dynamic setting where decisions with real consequences must be made, often with incomplete information.” Dr. Freed notes that the course structure encourages participants to “practice leadership skills in a challenging, unfamiliar environment where it is OK to fail and where both success and failure ultimately lead to profound learning.”
When asked about Darden’s decision to collaborate with NOLS, Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne responded that “The Darden/NOLS field elective was about experiencing leadership. The idea was to empower our students by allowing each and every participant to discover their capabilities as leaders, while operating in a unique and challenging setting. When the decisions you make as a leader can result in your team hiking in the dark, getting lost, or not having enough water, outcomes are direct and consequences clear. Leaders and team members alike are called to think and care for each other in new ways and to rely on trust, extraordinary teamwork, non-selfish behavior and mutual respect.”Our course took place in the Galiuro Mountains in Arizona. Never heard of the Galiuro Mountains? Neither had we, but being in the desert in January sounded reasonably warm and the course description spoke of an area “renowned for its rugged terrain, spectacular Sonoran ecology and beautiful vistas.” It is also a treacherous place where, in the words of second year student Amanda Miller, “EVERYTHING will bite, prick, or sting you.” So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that 13 second year students, Yael, one alum, and three NOLS instructors ventured into the wilderness.
The objective for the week was clear: to hike south through the mountain range, a distance of roughly 40 miles through canyons and high mountain passes. While our NOLS instructors would serve as advisors, Darden students were responsible for almost every aspect of the expedition. Every day, three students would act as expedition leaders, each responsible for leading a small team from dawn until dusk. These leaders would plot the course for the day, draw up contingency plans, and make dozens of critical decisions along the way. NOLS instructors would give their advice when asked, but would not intervene if a leader made a mistake.
“We had to make real managerial decisions in the middle of nowhere,” said Amanda Miller, “We had to manage our peers in uncharted territory. We had to use a compass and a topographical map to figure out how to get down mountain faces by the light of a headlamp with no trail in sight. We all learned about our leadership styles and how they can evolve when you move between carefully planned scenarios and chaotic uncertainty.”
“We were able to exercise both our leadership and active follower skills while receiving concrete feedback from our Darden peers and NOLS instructors,” noted Kat Baronowski, a second year student and DSA President, “It was a great opportunity to put into practice a number of the lessons we’ve learned in the Darden classroom.”
Mark Silvers, a second year student and Marine Corps veteran, agreed that the experience was a dramatic departure from learning leadership in a classroom. “It is completely different to lead a team in an environment where a leader’s mistakes can cost daylight, calories, warmth, and morale.” he said, “Darden students aren’t Marines, and the trip provided an extraordinary opportunity for me to adapt my leadership style to a diverse group with a wide range of backgrounds, risk tolerances, and priorities.”
Our NOLS instructors also pushed us to improve our “expedition behavior,” a mantra that embodies good teamwork, active followership, and mindfulness. If you see something that needs to be done in camp, do it. If you have a suggestion for a better route on the map, speak up. If you see a teammate struggling, offer to carry some extra weight to lighten their load. Share the precious last Fig Newton you had been saving when you notice someone needs an energy boost. The Darden team fully embraced this mentality and their small acts of unselfishness had a huge impact on the success of an expedition. I will be forever grateful for the untold number of sacrifices, words of encouragement and respect that my teammates gave me.
Never was that spirit more critical than on our final day, when we rose before sunrise and hiked five miles to reach our rendezvous point. Bone tired and freezing cold, it took every ounce of energy and will to keep going. Yet despite our miserable state, all I could hear in the darkness (on our supposedly “silent hike”) was laughter and encouraging comments. One student sang a song about breakfast burritos and we chuckled to discover another, in the dim light, proudly sporting his favorite purple long johns sans pants.
As the rising sun filled the canyon with a red glow, I was struck with a pang of sadness that our journey had come to an end. I was going to miss the camaraderie, the cheesy bagels fried over a carefully balanced camp stove, and our intense sense of common purpose. Yet as I hiked the last miles of the trip, I took heart in the fact that the hard-earned lessons of the past week extended far beyond the trail.
Truly, this course was unlike any at Darden.
This post originally appeared in the February edition of the Darden School of Business' news journal, The Cold Call Chronicle.
New Robertson Scholars Leadership Expedition Video
The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program invests in young leaders who strive to make transformational contributions to society. Students attend Duke University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 2008, NOLS Professional Training and The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program have run a 10 day canyon backpacking expedition for select scholars. Students are exposed to the theory and practice of leadership in one of the most beautiful classrooms in the world.
In NOLS' most recent video, scholars share their thoughts on the progression, challenges, and resulting leadership lessons learned during their expedition.
Imagine your 2014 summer
Summer is here!
Well, at least the 2014 summer NOLS course catalog is here, and that's even better, because you still have time to plan the perfect summer with NOLS.
We have boxes and boxes and boxes of the summer catalog here at NOLS Headquarters, so request one here. If you'd prefer a paperless version, we've got you covered, too. Download the iPad version of the 2014 summer catalog here.
Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Jan 16, 2014 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Curriculum, Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus, Yukon
The 12 Days of NOLS
We’ve found the perfect way to get you into the holiday spirit and fight the cold snap with a hearty laugh. Watch NOLS Creative’s newest (and possibly goofiest) release, “The 12 Days of NOLS,” a NOLS variation on the classic tune, to get a taste of the NOLS experience or reminisce about your course! Written with extensive input from the peanut gallery, shot and edited in less than 12 hours, and brought to you with only mild shame, we now ask you to watch the video and sing along.
On the first day of my course Paul Petzoldt gave to me ...
Windpants with a reinforced knee
Two trekking poles
Six dudes belaying
Seven miles a' shwackin’
Eight malt balls missing
Nine quickdraws clipping
Ten backpacks bulging
Eleven toasty hot drinks
Twelve students mapping
Happy Holidays from NOLS
Permalink | Posted by Casey Adams on Dec 10, 2013 in the following categories: Alaska, Alumni, Amazon, Australia, Books, Curriculum, India, Instructor News, Leadership, Mexico, New Zealand, Northeast, On The Net, Pacific Northwest, Patagonia, Professional Training, Rocky Mountain, Scandinavia, Southwest, Teton Valley, Wilderness Medicine Institute, Yukon
Leemon receives Wilderness Risk Management Award
NOLS Director of Risk Management Drew Leemon has been awarded the Charles (Reb) Gregg Wilderness Risk Management Award at the 20th annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC).
The Charles (Reb) Gregg Award for exceptional leadership, service, and innovation in wilderness risk management recognizes extraordinary contributions to the outdoor education community, to adventure and service organizations, and to programs and businesses that utilize wild places for their activities. Recipients of the Reb Gregg award have contributed significantly to the practice of wilderness risk management by raising standards of practice, providing valued service to an industry committed to connecting people to wilderness, and supporting the stewardship of wilderness.
Leemon has been in wilderness education for 34 years, including as the NOLS risk management director for 18 years. He has also committed 18 years to the WRMC steering committee and six years as its chair. During his tenure with NOLS, he designed and implemented the NOLS accepted field practices, a tool for communicating NOLS' best field practices, supervises training and continuing education opportunities for field instructors and led initiatives such as NOLS' incorporation of satellite phones and personal locator beacons on field courses.
Leemon’s colleague, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute Curriculum Director Tod Schimelpfenig introduced him at the WRMC award ceremony.
“[Leemon] has created an atmosphere of openness in risk management and incident response, a culture where it's acceptable to investigate, report, and learn from our experience. In a world that can be secretive, suspicious, closed, and defensive when problems arise, field staff trust that field incidents will be handled thoughtfully, carefully, thoroughly, and respectfully. NOLS—and Drew—plays a large role in this process: sets a standard for communicating lessons learned.”
Upon accepting the award, Leemon noted the passion that brings together the WRMC, himself included:
“We’re all here because we know that adventure, experiential education, and being in nature exposes us to physical and emotional risk, but that this risk is what allows us and our students to grow and become better people. This duality of risk means that while we risk loss, we also gain by taking risks,” he said.
Cycling and board meetings
For the past seven years, NOLS Advisory Councilmember John Whisnant has led the “Tour de Lander” during the annual board meetings here at NOLS Headquarters. This year is no different. Tour de Lander VII began Tuesday, and daily stages have departed from the Pronghorn Inn parking lot to tour the area.
“The weather cooperated, the bikes cooperated, and the dirt roads mostly cooperated,” Whisnant noted in an email inviting participants to jump in on later stages. “On Tuesday, we were stopped after three miles on the Louis Lake dirt road by ice covering the road.”
However, the cyclists found plenty of road to explore for the rest of the week. Wednesday and Thursday saw successful rides for the three regular cyclists on this annual tour.
NOLS Advisory and Board of Trustee members converge upon Lander each year for board meetings that culminate in a staff celebration on Saturday evening. Perhaps next year the celebration will include a yellow jersey for the dedicated participants in the grueling Tour de Lander.
Former NOLS Chair honored
The Murie Center presented former NOLS Board of Trustees Chair Gretchen Long with the third annual Spirit of Conservation Award last week.
Long is a 1991 graduate of the 25 and over Baja Sea Kayaking course and was named chairman of the NOLS Board in 1998. She is also an emeritus board member of The Murie Center.
The Murie Center Spirit of Conservation Award is presented to an individual whose life work demonstrates a commitment to conservation, civility, and community—trademarks of the Murie family legacy. The Murie Center, in partnership with the Grand Teton National Park, engages people to understand and commit to the enduring value of conserving wildlife and wild places.
NOLS' Own Marco Johnson Gets More Than He Gives
NOLS is a remarkable place. Long-time NOLS field and WMI instructor Marco Johnson realized that shortly after hearing about his friend’s semester experience. The two young men were working a summer outdoor education program leading trips in the Adirondack Mountains. It took him all of five minutes to decide that he wanted a similar experience and education.
Marco’s student course so many years ago not only taught him leadership skills, but also to let things roll off his back. His instructors helped him to be successful, but they also allowed him to make mistakes.
“I learned that good leadership was taking responsibility for my mistakes not just my successes,” Marco recalled.
One such lesson came on the winter section of his 1981 Semester in the Rockies. Marco and his tentmates were almost done building their quinzee but made a mistake while digging. The snow shelter collapsed. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, the group laughed it off, zipped three sleeping bags together, and used the fourth for a quilt. They then crawled into bed and fell asleep beneath the stars above the Wind River Mountains.
Four years later, Marco took his instructor course and began teaching for the school. After working full-time for NOLS for over 28 years, Marco has 628 weeks in the field, worked as a program supervisor in Alaska and Patagonia, instructed many Wilderness First Responders and WEMTs, and currently serves at NOLS headquarters as the Field Staffing Director.
“I have had the privilege of working beside the most fantastic group of people and educators I know,” he explained. “The students I have spent time with in the field and classroom have given back to me so much more than I believe I provided for them.”
NOLS is a remarkable place, and, Marco believes, a unique one.
“How many people do we know who can truly say, ‘I love what I do and who I work with? What I do makes a difference.’”
Not that many, in his estimate. Which is why Marco demonstrates his belief in the power of a NOLS education by giving back to NOLS financially.
“I want the possibility of a NOLS education to be available to anyone who desires it. I believe that my donations to NOLS, no matter the size, make a difference.”
To learn more about philanthropy at NOLS or to make a gift, visit giving.nols.edu.
ABC 6/26 Graduation
Congratulations to all our super star Students from the stand-a-lone Australian Backpacking course!
Yesterday our students rolled into Base after spending a couple of days with a local aboriginal community, concluding their hiking course in the Northern King Leapold Ranges. All the students were "A grade" when it came time for cleaning, repairing, counting and putting expedition gear away! We can't thank them enough for their top class expedition behaviour, finishing their course in style.
It was awesome to hear their expedition highlights; from wildlife encounters, making a good pizza to finding an amazing pool to soak their tired feet! All smiles and found memories!
Here are a few shots from their end of expedition clean and mend day.....