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
After 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
Chris 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.
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.
RM Interns Organize Community Garden Cleanup
At NOLS Rocky Mountain, each season the interns are required to develop and facilitate a community outreach project.
They selected this project to get involved with the Lander community, give back, and enjoy some beautiful fall weather.
Burrows and Martin also communicated with local businesses and received food donations for the volunteers who came out for their event.
The volunteers earned their lunch, by building garden beds, sifting dirt, pulling weeds, and helping unload manure. NOLS employees and locals worked together to improve the garden and learn about the community plot.
"We had fun getting our hands dirty and working to help benefit Pushroot Community Garden this weekend. It was great to see the community support and enthusiasm for the volunteer day, especially within local businesses that made the event a success through their donations to the cause," said Burrows.
Take Care of Things: Goodbye Alfred
On the last night of my NOLS course Mandy Pohja pulled an essay out of her pack and we all sat down to debrief the course. We took turns reading “Briefing for Entry into a More Harsh Environment” by Morgan Hite.
It talked about what we could take home from a NOLS course. One of the points is to, “take care of things.”
Hite wrote, “Take care of things. In that other world it's easy to replace anything that wears out or breaks, and the seemingly endless supply suggests that individual objects have little value. Be what the philosopher Wendell Berry calls ‘a true materialist.’ Build things of quality, mend what you have and throw away as little as possible.”
This was the original backpack Pohja took on her student course years ago and she has taken care of it through many good nights in the backcountry.
Pohja reflected on her time with her backpack, “Today I said goodbye to my good friend, Alfred (Yes, I named my backpack, and yes I can fit inside of it). Over the past seven years we have spent 300 nights camping and 1,000 miles hiking together in some amazing places.
Thanks Alfred for all the amazing adventures, and thanks to countless NOLS students and instructors for putting up with his shenanigans.
Alfred, you will be missed.”
Congrats to Mandy for providing an excellent example to students and instructors of how to take care of your gear!
Voice of America Visits NOLS to Profile YALI Fellow
This week Andrea Tadic and Philip Alexiou, journalists from Voice of America visited NOLS Headquarters and NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, Wyoming.
Based in Washington, D.C., Voice of America is an English language news program, which broadcasts internationally.
They came to profile Dziedzorm “JayJay” Segbefia who was part of Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). This program is run through the United States State Department, and this summer 500 fellows from all parts of Africa participated in the six-week fellowship program.
First the fellows were sent to different colleges where they took classes on public management, civic leadership, and business entrepreneurship. JayJay was sent to Dartmouth College to participate in a business program.
In Ghana, JayJay is the Expedition Leader for Bravehearts Expeditions. His company takes youth into the wilderness and pushes them to new limits.
“I applied for YALI because I saw in it an opportunity for coaching, personal development, and business education all in one category” said JayJay.
After the culturally engaging sessions at Dartmough, Segbefia was placed at an internship at NOLS Rocky Mountain. An employee at the United States State Department was a NOLS alumna and identified NOLS as an ideal fit for JayJay’s internship.
JayJay came to Wyoming and spent time working at NOLS Rocky Mountain in the issue room and food rations store The Gulch.
When the film crew arrived in Lander, fellow JayJay had just returned from a Wind River Wilderness – Prime course. Tadic and Alexiou visited NOLS Rocky Mountain where JayJay gave them a tour and talked about his experiences both on the course and during his internship.
They also headed up to Sinks Canyon to shoot some footage of him rock climbing, a skill he developed and got passionate about during his time with NOLS.
JayJay plans to use his experiences and practices learned at NOLS back at his own company.
While in Lander, the film crew also had the chance to speak with some NOLS employees about the school and their personal experiences in the field.
Stay tuned in the coming months for the pieces profiling both JayJay and NOLS!
Lander Valley High School and NOLS team up for incoming freshmen orientation
On August 12th and 13th NOLS teamed up with Lander Valley High School to provide a taste of outdoor recreation to the freshmen orientation. This is the second year that NOLS has helped out with the freshmen orientation and NOLS hopes to make it an annual event for years to come.
Lander Valley High School is located at the foothills of the Wind River Mountains in the small, tight knit, and active community of Lander, Wyoming, NOLS’ original home and headquarters. Kids spend their time cruising around on bikes, playing video games, joining high school sports teams, and goofing off like kids should. Many families take their kids out into the Winds for family trips and some parents take their kids rock climbing or backcountry skiing. These kids are so lucky to have so many unique opportunities for recreation, and many don’t realize how special of a place they live in.
This past week, NOLS ran a special course for students at the local high school who are going into their senior year. They took students who agreed to be “senior mentors” out to the Winds where they got to spend a week backpacking with instructors Thea Sittler and Jonathan Brooks.
The course almost summited Wind River Peak but got to witness some extreme weather instead, including an impressive hail storm! They got to experience greeting a day with a pre-breakfast sunrise hike and they got to see some alpine wildlife. They learned how to cook in the backcountry and learned how to work as a well-oiled machine. They were allowed to make mistakes and help each other out and, like on any NOLS course, they learned how much fun simply hanging out around a whisper lite stove without life’s usual distractions can be. All the while, these students got the added bonus of being able to say they were hanging out in their home mountain range.
When the senior mentors got back to Lander, it became their turn to share the importance of being outside in your backyard. Along with a fleet of NOLS instructors, the senior mentors got to take any incoming freshmen who were interested up to Sinks Canyon for a few hours of rock climbing as a part of their freshmen orientation. Instructors taught some basic safety rules and explained the rope systems, while the senior mentors became instant leaders and took the reins to coach the freshman through tying the figure eight, belaying, and climbing technique. Watching students climb at Sinks, it quickly became apparent why climbing is such a great addition to a freshman orientation. The sport has so many assets which teach so many different skills and ideas.
For example, there is a learning curve to the rope systems, which challenges people before they even leave the ground.
“This friction device pulls the rope that way and then you lock the carabineer and spin it that way so that it doesn’t cross load, and then the load bearing strand is pulled downwards; do multiple wraps and make sure the prussik will self tend then double check for redundancy before weighting the system…”
As a climber myself, it took years to get used to translating sentences like these. Rock climbing requires focus and an open mind to learn how all of the systems work. While the systems taught to the freshmen at Sinks Canyon were relatively simple compared to the one above, remembering that most of them had never heard of gri-gris before really gave me an appreciation for how quickly students can wrap their minds around new ideas. They learned their knots quickly and got the belaying motions down almost instantly.
While some students were willing to blindly (sometimes literally, with a blindfold on!!) throw their weight onto the rope, others were more skeptical and hesitant to trust the rope systems and their belayer. They double checked each other’s’ systems while a NOLS instructor watched, used commands to communicate that they are ready to climb, and then left the ground once they know they fully trusted the situation.
Another important lesson learned from climbing is how to be resourceful. Students were equipped with everything necessary to get up the wall, along with a quick demonstration and explanation of climbing technique. Once a student is on the wall, they have to figure out how to use their resources (shoes, limbs, rock etc.) mostly on their own. In high school, students bring their own strengths to the table, which are unique to their past experiences and their interests. With each new activity they try, each homework assignment, each challenging moment, and each decision they make, they have to figure out how to use their resources to problem solve their way through.
Lastly, and potentially the best part of climbing, is that it can be awkward as heck! This is especially true among a group of newer climbers. Instructors watched students slowly work their way up walls, flail, fall, etc. Students learned that it is awkward to jam a foot in a crack, stand on it, and then realize that it must be taken out in the reverse order. They also learned that, despite feeling confident with your feet on a small little foot hold, its possible to have your toe slip off unexpectedly at any time!
From finding jelly beans perched on climbing holds, to blindfolding each other, to dumping bottles of water on each other to beat the heat, the students got a solid introduction to what rock climbing at your home crag is really like and the staff found it super satisfying to introduce students to their local recreation opportunities.
At the end of the day it was inspiring to listen to instructors equate lessons learned from climbing to life skills needed to make it through high school. It was neat to see how easy it is to bridge the gap between academic education and adventure education. From learning technical rope skills to developing trust and a good mindset, NOLS was thrilled to provide a great climbing orientation for these incoming Lander Valley High School freshmen and to incorporate some appropriate outdoor education to the start of their new academic journey.
Good luck to this group of students and may the send-train continue!
Written by Kaybe Loughran, NOLS Rocky Mountain Intern
Fremont the Backpack
By Kaybe Loughran
Fremont the backpack sat in a heap
Of bags, tents, and jackets, three feet deep
He waited there for a future cold weather snap
When Nate finally would have time to repair his strap
Fremont remembered his first trip out
He hadn’t an idea what the Winds were about
Back then he was Deuter pack 2602
And his nylon was shiny, factory new!
Johnny the student carried him over ridges and creeks
Together they scrambled over so many peaks
One day they hiked and hiked what felt like nonstop
Until they found themselves on Fremont peak, right at the top!
Johnny was so happy that he marked the event
By naming his trusty pack after their first mountain ascent.
Over the next few weeks, Fremont and Johnny traveled together
The land was so rugged and so was the weather
Fremont became less shiny and acquired more wear
His nylon was breaking and he needed repair
Johnny’s instructor taught them packs could be sewn
So that buying a new one could be postponed
He showed them his gaiters and other gear
Which he would probably keep using for many a year
“Take care of your things and repair them here!
You’ll eliminate work that NOLS staff must endure.”
Fremont came back into town with a little red patch,
A mark that adventure never comes without a scratch.
He hung out, rested, and became ready to spring
For the excitement the next course could bring
A few days later Fremont met Carrie Jean,
A young energetic girl of sixteen.
The first night at camp Carrie forgot
To put her snacks in the bear fence, and guess what they brought?
A little brown mouse who nibbled right through
Fremont’s fabric and into her shoe
“Eek!” she said in the light of the morning,
“My gulch crunch is gone and the ants are swarming!!”
Fremont was dragged across granite and mud
His zipper was dirty and could not be tugged
"Help" he cried, though only the tent could hear,
"Someone please teach this girl about gear!"
The tent sighed and let Fremont under his fly,
He could do little but at least he could keep Fremont dry.
So after three long weeks Fremont returned to the base
Bashed, bruised, and torn all over the place.
Kevin gave him one long look and shook his head
“Not back to the gear room, but the back pile instead!”
So that’s where Fremont is and that’s where he’ll stay
Until the base has a cold, slow, quiet day.
The staff at NOLS works hard to keep their gear in working order. Students are sent into the field with good quality stuff. Due to the nature of NOLS courses, gear never stays pristine, but NOLS instructors use these opportunities to teach students how to repair their own things. According to Kevin McGowan, who runs the gear room, whatever can be repaired in town can also be repaired in the field. Students are equipped with stove and tent repair kits as well as patch kits and a speedy stitcher for all sorts of gear. They learn repair techniques and important lessons about taking good care of their belongings. Students are often issued used gear with character and history. Puffy coats may be marked with small patches, but they are just as warm as any other jacket.
Amit puts a patch on a puffy coat that just came off of a course.When gear comes back that needs extra special attention, like Fremont the backpack, it is usually out of commission during the busy summer months until the staff have time to work on it. The branch currently has a pile of gear to sort through, which will probably have to wait until winter. Some of this pile will end up getting sold at garage sales if it is beyond repair for extensive courses but still of use to someone else.
The pile of gear in need of repair grows steadily during the summer months.
The lifespan of a backpack is usually about two years, and a lead rope will last a few courses before it must become a top rope. Other gear has different expected lifespans, but gear ends up being approximately 18 percent of NOLS’ budget, a large part when you consider everything else that a NOLS course covers (travel, food, wages, etc.). The sustainability office is working on ways to minimize the amount of new gear NOLS purchases and maximize the amount that NOLS can repair. In general, sustainability is an integral part of NOLS’ mission, and as much as NOLS students and staff can reuse and repair, they will! NOLS instructors hope students come off courses with new drive to take care of their gear and purchase less.
Issue room staff Augustine works on sewing up a pair of pants.
That's Not the NOLS Bus!
The Monday morning walk to work was a little different for NOLS Headquarters employees this week, as they were greeted by a 1970 Crown bus at the building entrance.
Three men campaigning for Wyoming Democrat Charlie Hardy for U.S. Senate made their way to 284 Lincoln St. in Lander this morning. Hardy is a Wind River Wilderness ‘75 graduate, and Bruce Wilkinson, owner of this campaign bus, is a Wilderness First Responder.
Nick, Felix, and Bruce greeted NOLS staff as they arrived at work this morning. Jeanne O'Brien photo
Wilkinson spoke of Hardy’s connection to nature and desire to create a better future drawing him to NOLS. Wilkinson, bus driver Nick Brasheer, and fellow campaigner Felix Agulto share Hardy’s outdoor interests as well as his political views and made plans to hike around Sinks Canyon this afternoon before hitting the road for Wright, Wyoming.
She's Cowboy Tough
It takes a certain type to sign up for a three-and-a-half-day adventure race through the wilds of Wyoming.
But it takes something truly special to sign up three days before the race starts because a team needs a new fourth team member. NOLS Marketing Representative Marina Fleming (Pacific Northwest Trip Leader, WFR and soon North Cascades Mountaineering-Prime grad) is that kind of person. Up for anything, adventurous, and, to the Wind River Country Team, a hero.
When an injury benched one of the team’s members a week before the Cameco Cowboy Tough Adventure race began, a frantic search came to an end with a simple Google chat to team captain Casey Adams from Fleming:
“okay, I want to do it,” she typed, and with that, the team would be able to race, as only four-person and two-person teams are permitted.
The Cameco Cowboy Tough Adventure Race is in its second year, and once again this year the NOLS Marketing and Admission Department has two competitors headed into the field for the competition. Last year, Adam Swisher and Katie Everson represented NOLS, who is also a sponsor of the event.
This year, the four person team from Fremont County includes Adams, NOLS PR specialist and writer, and now, Fleming, as well as locals Shad Hamilton and Karla Wagner.
“The Wind River Country Team couldn't be more grateful to Marina for rising to this challenge just three days before the starting gun goes off in South Pass City,” Adams said. “She's made Lander her home recently, and we're excited to show her so much of what Fremont County has to offer in these four days and 400 miles!”
Fleming and Adams also expressed gratitude to NOLS for sponsoring the team as they headed down the block from NOLS Headquarters to visit The Gulch and NOLS Rocky Mountain to store up on food and locking carabiners.
Not Just a Building in Town
The Lander Cycling Club hosted the fifth annual Fremont Area Road Tour in NOLS’ hometown of Lander, Wyoming last weekend, and the NOLS presence coursing throughout the event was prevalent.
As a participant and NOLS employee, I found it exciting to see the people I work with and the organization I work for playing such an important role in an activity I enjoy in my personal time.
For months, I’ve been watching our own senior graphic designer Sam Pede coordinate the event, and when I thanked her, she was quick to pass credit to others at NOLS for lifting the tour to a professional level. Pede noted the efforts of PR and Partnerships Manager in organizing Wilderness First Responders to provide SAG support for the event. She said having those folks riding the various courses was essential. Among these skilled WMI grads was NOLS Social Media Coordinator Jared Steinman, who also took countless photos to capture the sense of community, enjoyment, and dedication out of the road (including all photos used in this blog post).
Also aiding riders out on the road, which included many NOLS staff and grads, was one item no cyclist will undervalue: food. The Gulch of NOLS Rocky Mountain donated heaps of food to be placed at aid stations around the county. It was a delightful day out there touring Fremont County, and it was even more special to see, once again, how important community events like these are to NOLS.
Welcome, NOLS Fellows!
By Christina Sallis, Diversity and Inclusion Intern
With summer just around the corner, things are starting to pick up at all NOLS locations around the world. We are excited to introduce a new group of NOLS Fellows to help out during this busy time. The NOLS Fellowship program was started in 2012 to create a pathway for people of color in the United States to pursue a career in outdoor education and to offer Fellows the opportunity to inspire people within their own communities to connect with the outdoors.
Tracie Williams will be joining the NOLS Rocky Mountain community in May, bringing tons of enthusiasm and interesting experiences with her. Tracie swears she can cook any gourmet meal in the backcountry with a stove and a casserole dish, she hitch-hiked across the U.S. and Canada, and has lived out of her car with a bird for a summer. She can usually be found with her best friend and dog, Merlin, and we are excited to have both in Lander for the summer.
Floyd Gossett was intrigued by stories he heard from NOLS grads during his travels. He recently took a Baja Sea Kayaking course at NOLS Mexico, where he experienced firsthand what NOLS has to offer and decided he’d like to get more involved. Floyd will head to NOLS Teton Valley this summer to fulfill this goal, where his laughter, stories, and barbecue skills will surely be appreciated.
Elsie Freland hails from Lander, Wyoming and has been around NOLS most of her life. She took a NOLS course out of NOLS Rocky Mountain when she was just 17 and looks forward to returning to NOLS as the NOLS Southwest Fellow. Elsie graduated from college last May with an art history degree and a minor in religion. She can be found pursuing her passion for the arts at museums, plays, and painting in the studio.
NOLS Pacific Northwest is excited to have Michaela Cohen-Fuentes (Mica) join the community as a Fellow this summer. Mica did a Wind River Range expedition out of NOLS Rocky Mountain that sparked her passion for the outdoors. She has lived in Italy and Mexico and can speak French, Spanish, and Italian. She loves hiking, biking, reading, and exchanging travel stories.
Look out for these awesome Fellows and the work they will be doing with NOLS this summer. Welcome to NOLS, Fellows!