Columbia Business School Students Tackle Patagonia
Last December, 11 Columbia Business School (CBS) students completed the first 10-day CBS Leadership Expedition to Patagonia. Maya Mandel, CBS class of 2013 and president of the Outdoor Adventures Club was responsible for bringing the course to fruition. Initially introduced to NOLS through a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, Maya was interested in what NOLS could offer her and her peers. After discussing several different options, it was determined that an expedition to Patagonia would best suit the CBS students.
Mandel, a second year student from Israel, noted that her decision to attend CBS was not fueled by a desire to change careers. Rather, she said, “I was eager to push myself outside my comfort zone. I wanted to create meaningful relationships with new colleagues… and I hoped to be inspired to do things that I never would have done otherwise.” The inaugural CBS Leadership Expedition to Patagonia helped her do just that. In fact, she stated, the course “was the pinnacle of my CBS experience thus far.”
The expedition consisted of 10 days spent in the remote Northern Patagonia Mountains. Mandel reminisced, “We carried 60-pound backpacks, crossed rivers, climbed mountain passes, drank maté, devoured the dulce de leche treat, handled fatigue and injuries, enjoyed two to three sunny mornings, and survived the last day of the world, (at least according to the Mayan Calendar), and witnessed first-hand how in such a short time period we learn new skills, adapt, grow, and lead.”
Mandel spoke highly of their three instructors and explained, “[They] introduced leadership principals, decision-making styles, and encouraged us to conduct an open and honest feedback session at the end of every day. We learned about self-leadership, designated leadership, and most importantly how to be an effective active follower. We lived by the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and practiced good expedition behavior (EB) day in and day out.”
Regarding the many lessons gained from such a unique expedition experience, Mandel reflected, “We had the opportunity to focus on the simple things in life, to receive (and give) sincere feedback from teammates, to face and overcome obstacles never faced before, to practice all kinds of leadership, to laugh, to explore, to reflect, to challenge, to conquer, to support.” She closed by saying, “The inaugural CBS Leadership Expedition to Patagonia was everything I was hoping my MBA experience would be.”
Camp Dudley Takes It West
When Camp Dudley, a residential summer camp based out of Westport, New York, decided to expand its focus on wilderness-based leadership development, Outdoor Program Director Scott Steen knew exactly who he wanted to call. Originally introduced to NOLS through instructor friends, Steen believes “NOLS is a premier leadership development organization.”
Camp Dudley’s dedication to “develop moral, personal, physical, and leadership skills in the spirit of fellowship and fun” led to the creation of this new course in 2012, allowing Dudley’s young leaders-in-training to live out the mission in a unique outdoor setting. Although the specific activities that take place at camp may vary significantly from what happens on a NOLS course, Steen contends that the alignment of mission and values between the two organizations make them a great fit for one another.
The inaugural NOLS Camp Dudley and Kiniya (Dudley’s sister camp) Leadership Expedition was a 21-day course consisting of a 14-day backpacking section and a week of rock-climbing in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. Campers learned to travel confidently across mountainous terrain using 3rd and 4th class terrain management, travel planning, and route selection skills. Opportunities to fly-fish, identify diverse flora and fauna, and see spectacular views arose throughout the trip. During the rock-climbing portion, top-rope belay techniques, rappelling, and basic safety techniques were covered.
In addition to the technical skills gained, Steen noted that campers received great benefit from improved “leadership skills that can be applied beyond the camp or course context to life in college and everything thereafter.” Camp Dudley’s motto is simple: “The other fellow first.” This is a motto Steen considers well taught in the outdoor classroom: “In a remote wilderness setting, individuals in a group can learn how to live well with each other, to count on one another, and to consider the needs of the group.” As a result of the expedition, campers also experienced real “self-discovery and a deep appreciation for the natural world.”
Camp Dudley staff member Dylan Pollock served as a facilitator on the expedition; he ensured that the course stayed true to Dudley’s roots while fully embracing the NOLS curriculum. For Pollock, the laid back, fun atmosphere coupled with a determination to travel efficiently and work together as a team set the trip apart. As the expedition progressed, Pollock was struck by the campers’ growing “awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and ability to make improvements. It was incredible to see over the course of 20 days.”
Pollock reflected on one camper who “was not the outdoors type person” but who “became the go-to for an opinion on map reading. People felt confident getting his opinion.” Furthermore, Pollock recalls a defining moment when, after the course, those who participated spoke to an audience fluidly and openly about their experience. He noted that their demeanor and comportment revealed to all that they had developed as leaders.
Veterans return from wilderness with NOLS and the Sierra Club
In early May, seven veterans and one Army wife embarked on a six-day leadership expedition in the Gila Wilderness. Organized by the Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors and run by NOLS Professional Training, the course was open to—and free for—veterans. The goal of the course was to give veterans an opportunity to become outdoor leaders.
Although it is easy to assume that the culture of NOLS and that of the military are incongruent, the very core of what NOLS offers—wilderness expeditions—is exactly why the two are a perfect match. As one participant noted, returning to the unregimented world of civilian life can be an incredible challenge for veterans.
“I think all veterans suffer to some extent as they leave military service in finding their way in the next chapter of life. I felt a bit like Morgan Freeman’s character Red in the movie Shawshank Redeption. ‘I’m an institutional man, and not sure I can make it on the outside,’” explained USNR Trevor Ivory in a recent post on the Sierra Club blog. “Even though I was outside my comfort zone from day [one], the interactions with staff and other veterans built a confidence and sense of self and team accomplishment that I hadn’t experienced since my time on active duty.”
This kind of reaction echoes the experience Stacy Bare, the Sierra Club’s national military families and veterans representative, has had with outdoor recreation and summarizes why he helped create the program.
“[On the course], I reminded myself that veterans and service members love to serve, love to challenge themselves, love to push themselves farther, and to be part of a team,” commented Bare. “I reminded myself that wilderness—the outdoors—[is] a necessary part of the human experience and that cutting ourselves off from that inhibits are ability to thrive in modern times.”
Perhaps nothing could better synthesize the purpose of the course than the slogan for the National Park Service: “Experience your America.” Through its partnership with the Sierra Club, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Operation Free, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, NOLS now enables those who fought for America to enjoy America and to develop skills for leading others in the wilderness.
Read more reflections from the course on the Sierra Club Military Families and Veterans Initiative blog.
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.”