Faculty Summit workshop examines technology in the backcountry
As the final day of the second annual NOLS Faculty Summit began to wind down, the final workshops of the week imparted final insights and discussions.
One of these was on the topic of communication and technologies in the wilderness classroom, an ever-evolving subject. Facilitated by NOLS Professional Training Program Coordinator Marcio Paes Barreto, the forum explored questions along continuums such as “Is a GPS enabling or distracting? How about a Kindle, with or without search capabilities?” and “Where do you stand on managing technology like iPhones on a continuum from physical removal to a verbal contract?”
These questions were posed not with the goal of setting or revising NOLS policy, but of discussing shifting technological advances and reliance, as well as the value of removing (or relying on) such tools while on a NOLS course. The forum examined faculty members’ perspectives and experiences with radios, phones, personal locator beacons, cameras, and new navigation apps on iPads.
NOLS has always believed that living in nature—free of society’s distractions—teaches responsibility, that wilderness is the best place to develop leadership skills. Nonetheless, devices like GPS and satellite phones can serve as both educational and risk management tools. As the wave of technology rolls forward, NOLS must remain on that wave, not behind it, as it seeks the best ways to educate students.
Ultimately, the group agreed that when communication and information technology overlap, disruption can be avoided when educational goals are incorporated. This, of course, will be an intriguing wave to watch as NOLS leads the outdoor education industry into the future.
For a video from this event and more, keep an eye on NOLS.TV starting next week.
Off-Campus Semester to Start with NOLS
In August, a group of incoming freshmen at Elon University will embark on a 22-day NOLS course in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. While this may not be reminiscent of the typical freshman orientation, it is actually the start of Elon’s inaugural Gap Semester Program, during which students spend their entire first semester of college off campus. At the conclusion of their NOLS course, the group will travel back to North Carolina, stopping in four distinct locations to perform service projects. After that, the students will travel to Costa Rica, where they will live in home-stays.
“Starting with NOLS, [we expect] the students will develop self-reliance, a stronger sense of who they are, as well as a cohesive group identity. [Additionally], the type of experience they will have with NOLS will provide them with a substantial foundation for the service projects and the international experience,” explained Rex Waters, associate dean of students.
This novel program reflects Elon’s dedication to launching “innovative pathways in undergraduate and graduate education,” as well as the school’s “ethos of engaged learning.”
“[Elon, is an] institution, that is always looking ahead at what is best for our students; [our programs are] proactive, not reactive,” said Waters.
Proactive thinking is exactly why the program begins with NOLS.
“The significance of the NOLS program can’t help but transform the students by making them more self aware and thus enabling them to look at the world more broadly,” Waters said. “This innovative transition experience will hopefully provide life experiences integrated with a curriculum that will serve as a launch pad in unleashing the potential of these students on the Elon campus when they return. I wish I could go!”
NOLS Pro featured in Businessweek
“Outdoor education, once largely confined to orientation at business schools, is making inroads at a growing number of MBA programs as schools look for more effective ways to teach students the dynamics of leadership and team-building. Many of them are turning to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS),” writes Alison Damast in a Bloomberg Businessweek article published today.
The article, with headline “MBAs Learning Leadership the Hard Way,” examines the trend of business schools across the nation incorporating outdoor education into programming, specifically with NOLS Professional Training.
NOLS has seen a three-fold increase in MBA programs since 2007, and the future looks bright, as conversations are ongoing with a number of renowned MBA programs. The school with the longest history with NOLS, Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, gives the experience and NOLS Pro rave reviews in the article:
“They’re in charge and they have all this responsibility in an environment in which they are not the experts,” Warton’s Director of Graduate Leadership Jeff Klein is quoted saying in the article. “Where we find NOLS to be incredibly skilled is the ability to allow students to lead and then to accept the consequences of success or failure.”
Powerful Impact of Positivity
Stephanie Calderon’s first two days in Alaska were not at all what she expected. A week prior, Calderon was laying on a beach in Mexico, enjoying the sun and reminiscing about her recent graduation from high school. Now she was standing in the cold rain, far from her cell phone and computer, trying to tie knots in a wet rope. Earlier in the year, when she signed up for the STEP Student Expedition with NOLS Professional Training, Alaska sounded like fun. Now she was miserable.
But there was no other option—the tent had to be set up—so Stephanie kept working.
Later, while sitting around a fire, the students on Calderon’s course talked about the difficulty of completing tasks in inclement weather. One student explained that, although she was challenged by the weather, Calderon’s positive demeanor prevented her from complaining.
“This set the attitude for me. [I realized] the importance of remaining positive, no matter how bad things are, because it impacts other people’s actions,” explained Calderon, who quickly fell in love with NOLS.
When she returned and started college at the University of Arizona, the lessons learned on the expedition served Calderon well.
“Having experience living in close quarters [on course] made it a lot easier to live in a dorm. NOLS taught me the necessity of communicating about things that aren’t working,” said Calderon. “On course, you couldn’t run away to your room—you had to deal with it there.”
The following summer, Calderon returned to STEP as an intern, where she was surprised to find herself acting as a role model to the students. This rewarding experience, combined with continued correspondence with NOLS instructor Lynn Petzold, inspired Calderon to pursue further work with NOLS.
“If I could be as amazing an instructor as Lynn and have a powerful impact on other lives … that would be great!” Calderon said.
Allison Bergh on Astronauts and the Arctic
Allison Bergh, a long-time instructor for NOLS and NOLS Professional Training, got her start in outdoor education as a river guide. While she loved the wilderness aspect the job, Bergh soon realized that she wanted to be an educator rather than a guide.
“In 1994, armed with enthusiasm, limited backcountry experience (but a huge passion for rivers and river trips), and a desire to learn, I applied for a NOLS instructor course,” Bergh said.
Today, in addition to teaching for NOLS, Bergh is the co-owner of a leadership development business that she started with another NOLS instructor, Kat Smithhammer.
“I have my work with NOLS and NOLS Pro to thank for developing my skill set, confidence, and leadership capabilities to where I am now successfully running my own business," said Bergh. “Being a new business owner takes up most of my professional time, but I still work a few courses a year for NOLS Pro because I love it so much.”
One of the reasons Bergh loves NOLS Pro is the clients. As Bergh notes, “[I get to work with] astronauts... need I say more?” But she does, emphasizing that the amazing people on NOLS Pro courses are what keep her coming back.
“I have been introduced to some amazingly talented, interesting, passionate, and hard-working people through my NOLS Pro work. I have yet to run into a client who doesn’t feel as if they have something to learn about being a more effective communicator, or becoming better at using situational leadership.”
When asked about a story that highlighted the efficacy of NOLS Pro courses, Bergh went back to NASA astronauts.
“[We were] sitting on the side of a canyon in southern Utah, trying to decide whether we were going to head up into a slot canyon with a rainstorm brewing. It was a defining decision-making moment for the group, with relevancy from the canyons of Utah applying to work up in space. I appreciate the learning that goes on during our courses because it feels real and tangible to our clients’ everyday work life.”
Bergh doesn’t see herself as having a sole “great accomplishment” in the outdoors.
“I would describe it more as an appreciation for being a competent outdoors person who has strong decision-making and communication skills. [This allows me to] access remote places on the globe safely and travel within them with groups of friends. I canoe in the Canadian Arctic with a group of girlfriends every few years, and those are some of the best weeks of my life. I have NOLS to thank for refining my leadership and team skills so that I have friends who continue to want to go to the Arctic with me!”
Wharton, Wilderness, Wall Street
Six years after completing a Wharton Leadership Venture Winter Expedition with NOLS Professional Training, Daniel DiBiasio still remembers every campsite. He also remembers, word-for-word, the feedback he received about his role as Leader of the Day. It was the honesty of the critique that resonates the most with DiBiasio, who frequently applies these skills at his job on Wall Street.
“[As Leader of the Day], people may have agreed with your decisions during the day, but once the authority has been relinquished, the feedback you get is very honest. For this reason, it’s tangible feedback, not theoretical—which is more valuable than what you tend to get in the classroom,” said DiBiasio.
“I think of that feedback and the [process] almost every time I make a decision that impacts one or more employees, particularly how I gather information and then implement change,” noting the NOLS leadership curriculum helped him develop the leadership role he plays today. “The feedback initially pushed me pretty far outside my comfort zone, but without that knowledge I would certainly not be as effective a leader.”
Although the similarities between a backpacking expedition and the business world may seem tenuous, DiBiasio believes otherwise.
“What you’re really doing [in business] is managing people,” he said.
Whether it’s on Wall Street, or in the wilderness, the effective management of people requires clear communication. As DiBiasio found, outdoor leadership makes this lesson tangible, which increases its effectiveness.
“Of all the things I learned at Wharton, some of the most valuable lessons happened with NOLS and Wharton Leadership Ventures,” commented DiBiasio.
Chris Beeson on Leadership Lessons in the Wilderness
As a sophomore in college, Chris Beeson went backpacking with his school’s outdoor program and fell in love with the type of education that occurs outside.
“After that, I went through the school’s leadership program and started leading trips for the outdoor program. This experience made me realize what I wanted for a career: to work for NOLS,” said Beeson, who became an instructor in 2000.
Over the past two years, Beeson’s work for NOLS was primarily instructing Professional Training courses. Beeson says this experience was particularly rewarding because of the clients.
“Clients on NOLS Professional Training courses come to NOLS as an intact team with a defined purpose or goal. This shared commitment allows for deep learning to take place faster; in four to six days the client can get to the same place (developmentally) as students on standard-length NOLS courses,” said Beeson.
Working with the clients at NOLS Pro inspired Beeson to return to school. With his own goal defined—to learn more leadership tools and expand his set of frameworks—Beeson is now working toward a Master’s in education, focusing on organizational learning and leadership development, at Harvard University.
For Beeson, the importance of NOLS Professional Training courses stems from the curriculum’s applicability to a range of organizations. One client that Beeson believes embodies this flexibility is the Building Goodness Foundation.
“On the surface, it’s not the most natural fit: Building Goodness is an organization that builds houses and community structures in areas like Haiti, while NOLS operates in the wilderness. But the long-standing relationship between NOLS Pro and Building Goodness demonstrates that the NOLS model for risk management and leadership is transferable beyond the wilderness,” explained Beeson. “Because the material is tangible for everyone, NOLS can effect bigger change in society."
When asked about an outdoor-related achievement, rather than referencing a personal triumph, Beeson noted the accomplishments of students on one of his NOLS courses.
“Of all the open enrollment courses, Backpacking Adventures often produce the highest learning outcomes. Kids that age [14-15] just soak up knowledge. Ours was a group of high-energy kids who were a ton of fun. [I enjoyed] seeing how much they changed and grew, especially over the long independent student group expedition,” remarked Beeson. “Hearing their stories at the end made me really proud of all that they had accomplished.”
For Beeson, group accomplishments have greater significance than personal triumphs, particularly in an outdoor setting.
“In the end, I love the bond with friends and community that results from time spent outdoors,” he said. “There is such potential for deep relationships and deep learning.”
Lakeside Leadership Initiative
Earlier this month, students in the Lakeside Leadership Initiative (LLI) at the Lakeside School in Seattle participated in the first of four leadership seminars, which are being run by NOLS Professional Training.
While the Lakeside School has a long history of ensuring its students have ample opportunity to fill leadership roles--notable alumni include Bill Gates and Paul Allen--the Lakeside Leadership Initiative seeks to teach students the skills necessary to thrive in these roles.
“We want students to learn how to lead in a way that enhances the values we hold as a community, and to have the skills and practical knowledge to understand how to move a group towards that goal,” said Bryan Smith, Upper School assistant director and NOLS graduate.
“NOLS, a respected nonprofit outdoor education school, was chosen because Lakeside liked its proven professional training program, which provides the same kind of leadership training as it teaches in its back-country wilderness expeditions.”
Learn more about the school and the Lakeside Leadership Initiative here: http://www.lakesideschool.org/podium/default.aspx?t=204&nid=769080
Wilderness Leadership in the Harvard Business Review
We at NOLS operate on the firm believe that leadership can be learned. The people we instruct, from teenage students to business executives and everything in between, believe the same. Marc Randolph, among numerous other renowned members of the world of business, was quoted saying so in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review:
“Marc Randolph, a cofounder of Netflix and a NOLS graduate, strongly believes in stepping up to leadership this way. ‘On a hike, it’s a constant process of not being sure, taking a shot, and finding out one, 10, or 100 minutes later whether your decision was a good or bad one,’ he says. ‘That’s what you face in the business world, especially as an entrepreneur.’”
To read more of this thorough examination of the NOLS curriculum as it applies to the business world, written by our own Diversity and Inclusion Manager Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin and Director for Leadership John Kanengieter, pick up the April issue of the HBR, or check it out online.
Nate Ostis Talks Risk Management
Only a few days into a NOLS Fall Semester in the Rockies in 1994, Nate Ostis knew he wanted to work for NOLS.
“It was a life-changing experience for me; afterward I went and got my K-12 teacher's certificate and have maintained it ever since,” said Ostis, who achieved his initial goal and has since taught numerous courses for NOLS and Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). “I hope to be working for NOLS and WMI for the rest of my life.”
In addition to working traditional NOLS courses, Ostis teaches Risk Management Trainings for NOLS Professional Training. Ostis’ continued zeal for teaching risk management and leadership is inspired by the dynamic quality of the curriculum.
“When you get right down to it, we are still in the infancy stages of perfecting an approach to wilderness risk management, leadership, and decision-making. Fifty years ago there was no outdoor industry to speak of,” Ostis said. “We’ve learned a lot since then.”
Working as an instructor for NOLS Professional Training allows Ostis to develop new approaches to these skills.
“One of the greatest benefits of working for NOLS Pro is that I am learning just as much as I am teaching. Risk management is a journey, not a destination,” remarked Ostis. “That's what keeps us motivated. That's what prevents burnout. That's what makes this one of the greatest jobs I could ever hope for.”
The focus on improvement and development that Ostis brings to his work is also what he values the most in NOLS Pro clients.
“The number-one theme I see across all students of NOLS Pro courses is their readiness to think big and make change; our clients are ready to step outside their routine of thinking and shake things up,” Ostis noted. “It's exciting to work with people that are driven to make effective, productive change.”
These days, Ostis is fully immersed in risk management and leadership. On top of working for WMI and NOLS, Ostis has his own training company, Wilderness Rescue International. Started in 2000, Wilderness Rescue International now runs approximately 20 swiftwater rescue courses per year.
When asked about his greatest accomplishment in the outdoors, Ostis explained that risk management plays as big a role in his personal life as it does in his professional life.
“I think [my biggest accomplishment is] not killing myself. It takes a fair bit of calculation and management, and a whole lot of luck, to not kill yourself when pursuing adventure in the outdoors. I'm scared every time I go out and I'm glad that fear is there: when it disappears from time to time I realize I've become a liability again and it's time to call stop and recognize that complacency has arrived.”