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.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Sustainable Roads Meetings!
Your voice was heard by Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest! Hundreds told the National Forest what forest roads matter most to them and they listened. The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is hosting a series of public results forms to share the data collected from the sustainable roads public outreach meetings held last summer. Participants helped identify forest roads that mattered to them. The Forest is in the process of creating a sustainable road strategy to maintain the forest road system within budget for safe travel, use, administration and resource protection.
As a reminder, please come see the results from the Sustainable Roads outreach meetings:
JULY 24, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
10 West Sunset Way
JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
570 Sauk Avenue
Darrington, WA 98241
Photo from http://mbssustainableroads.com/
NOLS Monitors Washington Fires
NOLS Pacific Northwest is actively monitoring the current fire conditions throughout Washington. We are in regular communication with the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest regarding current conditions, closures, and recommendations. We've made some precautionary adjustments to one course route. No courses are at risk from the current fire activity. The large Carlton Complex fire is in lower elevation forest and grassland and is not currently burning within any NOLS course area.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Sustainable Roads
Forest Service roads provide outstanding access to a breadth of interests from recreation to research to commercial activities. Faced with limited resources to maintain the large network of roads in Western Washington, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Sustainable Roads Cadre united in 2013 to research how the public uses the roads in this National Forest. The groups hosted community meetings in the Puget Sound area that attracted 224 people to speak about the roads they value most. An additional 1800 people filled in the online questionnaire, providing the Mt. Baker Sustainable Roads team with plenty of data with which to make appropriate recreation and stewardship decisions for the future. The groups are hosting a further series of meetings to discuss the results of the research and are inviting interested members of the public to join them. Check out your local event listed below!
Capacity limits attendance to a first-come basis. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
JULY 10, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Bellingham Public Library
210 Central Ave
Bellingham, WA 98227
JULY 17, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Park Place Middle School Commons
1408 W Main St.
Monroe, WA 98272
JULY 24, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Issaquah Main Library
10 West Sunset Way
JULY 29, 2:00 -4:30 p.m.
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
JULY 31, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Darrington Community Center
570 Sauk Avenue
Darrington, WA 98241
For more info check out the webiste at http://mbssustainableroads.com/
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation!
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) is an organization that provides opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to give back to conservation science. ASC pairs a network of outdoor volunteers with scientific agencies that are in need of data from hard to reach places. This is a fantastic opportunity for NOLS alumni to put their wilderness skills to use in aid of conservation science! For more info check out ASC’s web page here. A recent project in the Pacific Northwest placed volunteers on a 3-month long search for Pacific Marten in the Olympic National Forest. You can explore Olympic National Park, immediately to the west of the project area, on a Fall Semester in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest Backpacking Adventure, or Pacific Northwest Backpacking course. Check out the video of the search for the Pacific Marten below (credit to ASC).
Indigenous Voices Speaking Out for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
Miho Aida is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and former NOLS field instructor. Please join her on Monday June 30th for the Skagit Valley screening of “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins – Gwich’in Women Speak." The film provides a platform for Arctic indigenous Gwich’in women to speak out and inspire audiences around the country to protect their sacred land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska from oil drilling. The short documentary won the Audience Choice Award at the 2014 Earth Port Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 2013 American Indian Film Festival. Miho is currently doing a west coast tour on her bicycle to share her film!
Monday, June 30th at NOLS Pacific Northwest (in dining hall)
20950 Bulson Road, Mt. Vernon, 98274
Stewarding the Mt. Baker area
The beautiful Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest lies to the north and east of the NOLS Pacific Northwest campus in Conway, WA. This area of alpine ecosystem wilderness serves as an amazing classroom for our North Cascades Mountaineering and Outdoor Educator Mountaineering Programs. Each summer the Forest Service looks for volunteers to serve as Mountain Stewards to help teach hikers and climbers in the area to look after and protect this beautiful area of the Cascades. For those from the Northwest, check out this amazing opportunity to give back here!
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!
Climate Change and the Ocean of the Northwest
Following up on the glacier research blog post two weeks ago, the National Park Service has also released a video about the impacts of climate change on the coasts and intertidal biological communities of the Northwest. In this video Dr. Steven Fradkin, coastal ecologist at Olympic National Park, explores these communities on shore and by boat and discusses how the stunning breadth of biological diversity are indicators of environmental health.
Interested in traveling through similar terrain this summer, take a look at the Sea Kayak and Sailing course. Want to explore these same intertidal communities of Olympic National Park while earning a full semester of college credit, check out a Semester in the Pacific Northwest this fall.
Get to Know NOLS Pacific Northwest
Curious about the Pacific Northwest? Chris Agnew, NOLS Pacific Northwest director, has a great deal of insight to offer. Read our recent Q&A session with him to learn more about the region and NOLS courses there.
Our staff are smart, multi-talented, and passionately focused on creating positive and challenging learning experiences for our students in wild and remote places.
How long have you been Branch Director at NOLS Pacific Northwest?
Three and a half years—it correlates almost perfectly with the age of my oldest child!
What is your background with NOLS? Or how did it all begin for you?
As I was growing up, my father would always mention this organization in Wyoming suggesting I should take a course with them at some point. In college I was considering different study abroad opportunities and considered an international semester with NOLS as well. Having grown up backpacking and climbing with my family in the western U.S., I was attracted to a NOLS course that would take me far from my experience and have a strong cultural emphasis.
I ultimately chose a Semester in Kenya. The extended time in the wilderness, authentic leadership opportunities, and immersive cultural experiences I gained on my course were life changing. It gave me and two friends I made on the course the confidence and skills to travel across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda following our semester. It also lit a spark for me in the field of education.
Three years later, I finished undergraduate and took my Instructor Course.
What is your favorite aspect of running courses in the Pacific Northwest?
Courses in the Pacific Northwest are unique in so many ways: The proximity of high, rugged alpine to ocean. Large, urban areas being so close to wild, remote, and rarely visited wilderness. Challenging weather, engaging terrain, countless glaciers, and deep lush vegetation. The Pacific Northwest is special.
The powerful ocean, steep mountains, and challenging weather can be intimidating to students at first. Through time in these wild places and excellent coaching by our faculty, by the end of a course our students return feeling at home and comfortable in this formidable landscape.
Where else would you want to be?
What would you say most surprises students when they arrive or during their course in that part of the world?
Access to our campus and our stunning classrooms is unparalleled. With our campus only a little over one hour from Sea-Tac airport and only having to travel as little as 90 minutes from our campus before they start hiking, we can maximize learning and time in the field rather than getting from here to there.