From the NIA Board of Directors

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  • Sunday, February 10, 2019 7:52 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    The NOLS Board of Trustees, which the NOLS President and Executive Team ultimately report to, meets three times each year.  In February they meet in different US cities, in June they typically travel to a NOLS Campus, and in October they all come to Lander.  This February the meeting was held in Houston, TX and combined with a meeting of the Presidential Search Committee.  Because of this, the BoT meeting that just wrapped up was in a shorter format than usual, with just one Open Committee session in addition to the General Session.  I travelled to Houston to represent NOLS instructors at both the Students, Staff, and Studies Committee meeting and the General Session.  Below are a few of my observations and highlights that Faculty may find useful.  The official Notes are taken by Kathy Dunham.

    Students, Staff, and Studies

    The trustees on this committee are Jane Fried, Auny Abegglen, David Cohen, Danielle Dignan, Stuart Harris, and Stefan Jackson.  This meeting largely was largely comprised of reports (via conference call) from Liz Tuohy and Scott Robertson, which the Trustees asked clarifying questions about and occasionally offered some pushback on.

    The bulk of the meeting was taken up by Liz’s reports on new NOLS courses.  These include “co-branded” courses, as well as Affinity courses.  Recent co-branded courses include the NOLS/Saybrook University Masters in Leadership Program and the Tanzania Research Expedition, which was in partnership with both CWC and the University of Wyoming.  An upcoming co-branded offering will be an Outdoor Educator Semester on which students will also have lined up summer jobs working for Avid4Adventure after their NOLS experience ends.  The first Saybrook cohort was comprised of seven students, the second cohort will be six students.  The Tanzania Research Expedition was half students from CWC, and half open enrollment students, none of whom took this course for College Credit.  The OES/Avid course will run for the first time in the Spring of 2020.

    An upcoming Southwest Leaders of Color course currently has 7 students enrolled.  We also heard about an LGBTQ+ Canyons course scheduled for the fall of 2019, which NOLS has made the decision not to start promoting until we have additional, non-binary, gender identity options on our application.  There was significant skepticism on the part of a few Trustees about why it had taken NOLS a full year to implement non-binary gender options.  (Indeed, these options aren’t yet live.)  As an observer, it was interesting to see trustees hold the feet of a few high ranking NOLS administrators to the fire over this issue.

    Liz went on to give a short update about Expedition Instructor Training next steps.  These include a review of the Program Supervisor role headed by Anna Haegel, as well as efforts to build a healthier, more open culture of feedback on field iTeams.  Interestingly, one committee member asked “What’s a PSup?”, which I think drives home the remove at which our Trustees work from the day to day reality of NOLS.  I am sure that at times this remove can be both beneficial and harmful.

    An HQ employee who also works in the field who was present asked Liz about the power differential that exists between PSups and Instructors, who rarely have meaningful opportunities to provide constructive feedback for the people who write their SPEs.  Liz’s reply was essentially to acknowledge that this is a problem.

    Scott Robertson gave an update on the new Harassment policy, which essentially consisted of saying that we have a new policy, it took a long time to come up with, it’s on Iko Wapi, and everyone should read it.  There was some fairly energetic conversation revolving around how to ensure that existing Faculty/Staff read and understand this document.  Here, and at other times in this committee meeting, ideas were floated that would require instructors to perform additional tasks during uncompensated time.  I’d urge NOLS to find space to accommodate additional training demands within briefing time, rather than add to the already significant number of tasks instructors must do to maintain their status (re-certifying their WFR, filling out WRAPs, keeping abreast of school-wide news, etc.) on their own time.

    One thing that stood out for me about this committee meeting was that there was no mention of NOLS Wilderness Medicine whatsoever.  Aside from myself and Stuart Harris (a trustee who is also deeply involved in the Med in the Wild program) no one else in the room seemed to have any connection to this Pillar.  Indeed, the Board of Trustees as a whole seems incredibly focused on Expeditions, and the tiny Risk Services pillar was discussed more than either Custom Education of Wilderness Medicine.

    General Session

    The General Session of the Board of Trustees Meeting consisted of some parliamentary housekeeping (Call to Order, approval of October’s Meeting Notes, etc.), the reports of various committee chairs, and the NIA Report.

    The Board committees are: Students, Staff, and Studies; Audit; Risk Management; Advisory Council Update; Development and Alumni; Marketing and Systems; and Finance and Investment. Rather than review these presentations in detail, I’ll confine myself to reporting a few facts that stood out to me or are not readily available elsewhere (e.g. Board Report, Weekly Managers Notes, etc.). 

    NOLS Administration is in the early stages of planning the budget for Fiscal year 2020 (September 1st, 2019 - August 31st, 2020).  Gans said that at this point they’re envisioning a 2.5-3% increase in tuition, a 2.5% increase in compensation, and no changes to other benefits.  Inflation is predicted to be 1.9% and average increases in US wages at about 3%.  Gans mentioned briefly that he thinks low national unemployment and upward movement in wages nationally will put upward pressure on NOLS wages, especially if we want to improve in-town retention. However, he also mentioned that in recent years NOLS has at time raised compensation faster than tuition, and that this isn’t sustainable in the long term.  This is certainly true, unless NOLS were to search for efficiencies (i.e. reduce the number of employees) in HQ and in-town hierarchies.  One NOLS administrator present mentioned to me that it always possible the new President will undertake a major restructuring.

    I learned that the recently conducted Semester Study cost $300,000, and that $200,000 has been budgeted for the Presidential Search for the current Fiscal Year (ending August 31st, 2019) alone.

    NIA Report

    Finally, I was recognized to give the NIA Report.  I chose as my two main points the idea that NOLS should commit to a long term goal of a living wage for all employees and that NOLS could increase instructor buy-in in school-wide decision making by returning to having a NIA representative present at every Board of Trustees meeting.  My intent was to prepare the Trustees for the moment, later this year, when we unveil our Position Paper calling for a minimum wage and the moment when we present them with our petition calling for a return to an NIA rep at every BoT meeting.  Both of these ideas were warmly received by several individual Trustees, who approached me individually after the session adjourned and gave some very useful constructive feedback regarding the presentation of the living wage idea in the Position Paper.

    Here is the full text of my remarks:

    Good afternoon Trustees. 

    Since this is my first time here, I’d like to tell you just a little more about my NOLS background.  I took my Instructor Course in 2008 and my Wilderness Medicine Instructor Training Course in 2011.  In 2013, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the NOLS Instructor Association.  Since 2014, I’ve worked full time for NOLS as an AFP Instructor.  On January 1st, I began my term as NIA President, and it’s in that capacity that I came here today.  I feel truly honored to have been chosen by my peers to represent them, and to join in this conversation.

    Recently I had the opportunity to read through the new Expeditions Catalog, which is a beautiful document.  I noticed immediately the extent to which it leans on the expertise of our Instructor corps to pitch our expeditions:

    Page 2 boasts about “world-class instructors”

    On page 4 the instructors are “top-tier”

    On page 5 Prospective students are encouraged to “Learn from the best,” and informed that “NOLS sets the standard for instructor excellence.”

    On page 6 the line has been clearly drawn in the sand: NOLS has “the best instructors in the industry.”

    Now, no one can doubt that our students are the heart and soul of NOLS, and we pride ourselves in being student-centered in everything we do.  But it’s through NOLS’ nearly 1,000 instructors that our students experience our program and have their lives transformed.  Meaningful interaction with competent and compassionate instructors is the foundation of the NOLS experience.  Along with the wilderness itself, professional and dedicated instructors are the sine qua non of the NOLS student experience.  We at the NIA take this fact to be self evident.  While any individual instructor may be replaceable, a corps a deeply experienced, highly proficient educators is not.  I read Emily Leddingham’s rollout of an exit interview process for departing field instructors, on p.117 of the current Board Report, as one validation of this crucial point.

    Having worked in the field for 10 years, I’ve seen many fellow instructors move on.  Sometimes these folks are simply burnt out by the myriad demands - physical, emotional, and mental - of the instructor lifestyle, and their decision serves everyone.   More often, it seems that these instructors are still serving our students well, and it’s their frustration with specific aspects of our system that drives them to choose other work.

    One recent conversation I had with a highly trained instructor was representative.  As a graduate of the Professional Instructor Course, the Wilderness Medicine ITC, and numerous seminars, this is a person that NOLS has invested a great deal of money training.  Her outcomes are high and she serves her students well.  Yet she told me recently she was stepping back from fieldwork to bake in a commercial kitchen.  Will NOLS be able to carry on without her?  Surely.  Is this a loss for our school and our students?  I think it is.  Does her decision make the many dollars that NOLS used to subsidize her training money poorly spent?  This seems like one possible conclusion. 

    Of course, I asked this instructor why she was moving on.  I conducted an exit interview, if you will.  Her answer was unequivocal: “I feel like I traveled nonstop this past year and was pretty run down by it, yet I’m reporting $14k for my taxes.”  She also mentioned feeling like it was time to move on because she had recently turned 30.  This last point speaks volumes.  Our marketing materials make much of our professional instructors, yet many instructors view their often brief tenures with NOLS not as as profession, but rather as something cool to do for a few years in their 20s.

    This was driven home for me by another conversation I had a few years ago with another AFP Instructor.  She was hesitating to join the NIA, and when I asked why, she expressed that NOLS felt like an interesting way to spend her time for a few years, but not like a viable career.  When she was no longer satisfied with her situation here, she’d simply move on.  In other words, she wasn’t invested enough in NOLS to try to advocate for change.  

    Experienced, invested instructors who aren’t anxious about their financial well-being serve our students best.  My role as NIA president is to advocate on behalf of instructors, but it is also to promote the school’s mission.  NOLS’ mission is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership.  To be the leading teacher, we need to have the best teachers.  If we want our teachers - our instructors - to continue to rise to meet our constantly evolving professional expectations, we need to treat them as professionals. 

    Towards this end, the NIA is hard at work on an in-depth Position Paper that makes the case for adopting living wages as a long term ambitious goal in the next strategic plan.  No one who dedicates a year to working for NOLS should be asked to get by on just $14,000.  Look for your copy of our position paper before the end of 2019.

    A living wage for instructors won’t be realized overnight.  There is an equally important step that NOLS can take to retain our best instructors that can happen much sooner and cost little.  This is concrete action to give faculty a meaningful role in school-wide decision making.  There exist senior instructors - I’m one of them - who believe they are already compensated fairly, but wish they could weigh in on the direction of the school in ways that go beyond a scribbled note on the bottom of a program evaluation.

    One specific step that the Board of Trustees could take in the near future that would increase the buy-in of all Instructors in school-wide decision making processes would be to invite an NIA representative to all three of these Board meetings each year.  This was standard practice for almost 20 years, from 1995 until 2014.  The additional expense would be relatively minimal, since the October meeting is traditionally held in Lander, where there are numerous NIA Board Members in residence, and the June meeting typically takes place at a NOLS campus, which would allow the NIA representative to combine their travel with their summer season commute. 

    This change appears to us to be low hanging fruit.  If nothing else, at a minimum it would serve as a gesture of good faith from the Trustees and Administration to Instructors, and I assure you, this would land well with our faculty.

    In reading Anne Magnan’s report on NOLS Custom Education in the current Notebook, I noted her solicitation of “thought partners.”  NOLS Instructors are ready and willing to serve as your thought partners on a more regular basis, if you’ll have us. 

    Keeping instructors engaged with NOLS will keep instructors at NOLS, and this will serve both our school’s mission, and our students.

    Sincere thanks for your time and consideration.          


  • Sunday, March 18, 2018 5:18 PM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    Dear NOLS Instructors,

    I finally found the time to read the most recent Report to the NOLS Board of Trustees.  These documents, which are published in January, June, and October each year, are the best source of information for the instructor who’d like to understand how the school functions.  This NIA believes that working instructors should have a voice in school-wide decisions.  We are, after all, by far the largest group of NOLS employees.  The more informed the Instructor Corps is, the easier it is for us to make this case.  Towards this end, we recommend that all instructors spend some time looking through each of these reports.  (You don’t need to read the whole report to glean valuable knowledge.  Some sections obviously don’t apply to non-Trustees.)  You can find the full report here on Iko Wapi.

    If you don’t have time to look through the full report, or you still need convincing, here are a selection of excerpts that I found interesting, with some light analysis given in italics.  Of course some of these may not be interesting you you.  On the other hand there is a lot more pertinent info in the report that I chose not to highlight here, for the sake of brevity.  The excerpts are grouped topically.  


    Excerpts from the January Report to the Board of Trustees

    NOLS Rocky Mountain

    P.33: “NOLS Rocky Mountain educates nearly 2100 students vs. 3470 for all other NOLS locations combined. Forty-one percent of all student days occur at the five locations in which NOLS Rocky Mountain operates.”  These stats speak to expedition student days and don’t include most classroom student days.  Still, it’s interesting that the RM is almost as large as all of our other Field bases put together.

    Dollars and Sense

    P.32: “While we don’t have perfect comparison data we know that 15 years ago that employees’ satisfaction with pay and benefits was about 1%. Now, satisfaction is at about 40% (with 50% being the national average).”  This seems like a remarkably positive spin to put on a 40% satisfaction rate.  Nevertheless, the point remains that NOLS has consistently, if incrementally, raised wages over the last 15 years, with the cumulative result being significantly higher compensation today than at the beginning of this period. 

    P. 132: “Work-Life Balance – Benefits and pay are a real struggle for this group. If we are not able to make improvements in these areas, we should work to provide maximum flexibility in regards to work-life balance, which may cause people to consider the non-monetary reasons for staying with the company.”  The group in question is Field Faculty.

    P. 38: “It appears that we could be on the brink of nationwide increases in inflation and compensation. Unemployment is also low enough that it could influence our ability to retain and attract employees.”  As John Gans points out here, NOLS compensation structure doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It seems possible that satisfaction with NOLS compensation could stagnate or even decline, despite increases, if these increases don’t track or better compensation increases in the countries in which we operate.

    P.77: “$102,237,000” NOLS’ Total Assets as of December 31, 2017.  NOLS has a lot of money.  To be sure, this isn’t exclusively “cash on hand.”  This figure includes endowment funds, the value of capital assets, and even receivables - money NOLS is owed but hasn’t collected yet.  Nevertheless, the point stands: NOLS has become a very large company with very significant assets, and these assets are growing rapidly.  By way of comparison, in October of 2005, the number was $41,668,000. 

    Profit versus Sustainability 

    p.34: “With the change in the administration in the White House we have some legislation that has a better chance of passing now than it has in the past regarding larger group sizes.”  We don’t need to do a complex economic analysis (although I suspect someone at NOLS has) in order to know that a larger group size makes it easier for NOLS to net more income from a given course.  We also know that larger groups have a larger environmental impact.  Where is the balance point between increased income and maintaining our environmental ethics? 

    Instructor Development

    P.34:  “Regarding accreditation: universities are checking the academic level of our instructors. Consider using scholarship funds to send some of our faculty to get Masters of Education degrees.”  This was a comment from an individual trustee.  A nice idea, to say the least.

    Conceptualizing Enrollment and Revenue 

    P. 67: “Revenue from our Expedition programs is lower than at this time last year and we also project that we will fall below our budget target for the year. In addition, we are projecting that Wilderness Medicine revenue will fall below budget due to lower than expected enrollment in the Wilderness Medicine and Rescue Semester. (It is of note that Wilderness Medicine classroom enrollment is tracking ahead of budget. This is leading us to project that total operating revenue will be lower than budget, though higher than last year.”

    P. 83: “The Wilderness Medicine and Rescue Semester (WMR) is not the semester silver bullet we had hoped. In past years it has seemed to be the one “sure” thing for semester enrollment. Sadly this spring that is proving to not be the case, with the WMR significantly under-enrolled.”

    P.122: “Wilderness Medicine may be the one exception. It confronts a hefty challenge to meet its revenue target this year. Despite significant growth in classroom programs (students, student days, and courses), disappointing forecasted spring enrollment on the Wilderness Medicine Rescue Semester creates a challenging financial gap to bridge through the rest of the fiscal year. Wilderness Medicine is looking at options to create additional classroom capacity in the Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician program to offset some of the loss in revenue.”  

    These three quotes together provide an interesting case study in how NOLS administration conceives of concepts such as “expected enrollment” and “loss of revenue.”  The way these terms are used is non-intuitive, at least to me.  To read these quotes, you would think that WMR enrollment had collapsed catastrophically.  This is, in fact, not the case.  WMR sections have a capacity of 15.  In previous springs NOLS has run two sections of the WMR.  In 2018, a third was added, bringing capacity up to 45.  As of the writing of the Report to the Board of Trustees, there were 32 WMR students enrolled in Spring semesters - more students than had ever taken a Spring WMR in the past (see p. 96).  As far as I can tell, “loss of revenue” doesn’t actually mean earning less money than in previous years, it just means earning less than the goal NOLS had set for itself.  (It’s worth noting that NOLS can literally lose money on a course if that specific course is under enrolled.  It’s also worth noting that as I write this, both sections of the Fall 2018 WMR are, I believe, fully enrolled.    

    The Changing Face of NOLS

    P. 90: “High-school segment growth is masking core college segment declines.”


    P.121: “We have an incredibly robust IC applicant pool this year with roughly a 4:1 ratio of applicants to available roster spots.“ 

    Employee Retention

    P.127: “I have reported over the last decade the fact that we are consistently challenged by high turnover in our support positions. In FY17 our turnover rate was 35% and predominantly in positions below the management level.”  From the Wilderness Medicine Report.

    P. 129 “More than one third of this office has turned over within the last six months;”  From the Field Staffing Office report.

    P. 150: “All team members are performing well and seem to fit at NOLS and in Lander, which has not always been true with IS hires. The compensation changes that we made in September, 2015 and have recently tweaked have definitely contributed to our ability to recruit and keep programmers.” 

    P. 130: “Find ways to effectively develop and retain the instructors we need for a shortened, heightened peak, as off-season work continues to decline.”  An alarming sentence.  The more field work becomes compressed into a mid-summer peak, the less possible it will be to make a living as a NOLS field instructor.

  • Friday, January 26, 2018 9:03 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    2017 NIA Election Results

    Dave Durant, NIA Board of Directors

    The recent NIA Election (November 17th - December 17th) gave members a chance to weigh in on six new Board Members, what the NIA’s top priorities should be for 2018, and whether or not NOLS Employees who aren’t active instructors should be able to join the NIA in the future.  Read on for results and analysis.

    Board: Results

    Incumbent Board Members Dave Durant, Drew Seitz, Annemarie Vocca, and Ira Slomski-Pritz were re-elected.  Expeditions Instructor and NOLS Wilderness Medicine HQ Staff Member Mike Froehly was elected to the Board.  Expeditions Instructor and NIA Northeast Branch Representative Hannah Darrin was elected to the Board.  All of the above are for terms ending in December, 2019.

    Mike’s mini-bio on the NIA Board page reads: Mike was a student on the Semester for Outdoor Educators in 2011 and fell in love with NOLS. He took his IC in the Southwest in 2014. He works hiking, mountaineering, and climbing courses in the SW, RM, and PNW. Mike currently splits his time between being a field instructor and a Staffing Coordinator for Wilderness Medicine.

    Hannah’s mini-bio on the NIA Board page reads: Hannah took the sailing IC at NOLS México in 2012. She balances sailing in the spring and fall with hiking and canoeing out of NOLS Northeast in the summer. Hannah got her first taste of the NIA in the Coulter Loft in 2015, and has been the Northeast branch rep ever since. Problem solving and collaboration that yield positive change are her passions.

    For our first act of the new year, the Board of Directors appointed Expedition Instructor Julia “Pieps” Pieper to serve out the remainder of Casey Pikla’s term, which runs till the end of 2018.  (Casey stepped down, citing insufficient time to fulfill NIA duties.)  Pieps’ mini-bio on the NIA Board page reads:  Pieps first came to NOLS as a student on a Year in Patagonia in 2007. After a brief hiatus to study engineering, she returned for an IC in 2013. Since then Pieps has worked Backpacking, Canoeing, Canyoneering, and Winter courses. When not working in the field, she resides in the Teton Valley and spends free time aspiring to become a packrafter. 

    On behalf of all the returning Directors, I’d like to welcome Mike, Hannah, and Pieps to the Board.  We are truly excited for your energy and contributions.  Volunteering your time to represent your fellow instructors is much appreciated.

     Board: Analysis

    • We are pleased to once again have a full complement of 12 Directors.  Although the Board has been full every year since I joined in 2013, this hasn’t been true throughout the NIA’s 43 year history.  Read about all 12 Board Members, and the NIA President here:
    • Incumbents continue to be highly favored in the Board election.
    • Over the past two years voters have consistently rewarded candidates who work across pillars (e.g. Expeditions and Wilderness Medicine) or who work both as Instructors and in HQ.
    • As excited as we are to welcome our new Board Members, we will miss the concrete contributions of those Members who chose not to stand for re-election.  In particular, we appreciate the hard work over the past several years of Abbie Wehner, who served as Treasurer, and Allie Maloney, who as Visibility Coordinator oversaw our efforts at the Faculty Summit.

    Poll Question 1: Results

    The first poll question read: “What do you think the NIA’s priorities should be for 2018?”  Participants were then prompted to rank six potential priorities.  Here they are, in order of popularity:

    1. Calling for a stated long-term goal of a living wage for all employees and a middle-class income for Senior Faculty and Staff.
    2. Continuing to gather data about instructor cost of living and wage comparisons across the outdoor industry in order to support a "white paper" that will be submitted to the Board of Trustees to inform the next strategic plan.
    3. Championing Expedition travel reimbursement equal to 100% of average travel cost.
    4. Working to ensure Instructors are represented at ALL Board of Trustees meetings.
    5. Advocating for a Sal-Fac Faculty Chair to represent Instructors to the Executive Director Team.
    6. Filling out the NIA Platform so that we can better articulate what we stand for.

    Poll Question 1: Analysis

    • Three of six options given touched on compensation in some way.  These three options were ranked first, second, and third.  The conclusion that compensation remains at the forefront of instructors’ minds is inescapable.  
    • Voters seem more enthusiastic about ambitious, broad goals rather than those which are narrower or attainable in a shorter time frame.
    • Submit your data on wage comparisons across the outdoor industry here:

    Poll Question 2: Results

    The second poll question read: Article III, Section A of the NIA Constitution states that active Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Instructors are eligible to be Members in full.  There is no equivalent organization to represent other NOLS employees, such as in-town or HQ staff.  Should the NIA hold a vote in 2018 to amend its Constitution in order to open membership to anyone who draws a paycheck from NOLS? (Note: this is an opinion poll to inform future action, NOT a referendum to amend our Constitution.)

    55.22% of respondents were in favor of opening up NIA membership to all NOLS employees. 46.27% were opposed.

    Poll Question 2: Analysis

    • This is a striking change of opinion in just one year.  On the 2016 ballot, 44% favored expanding NIA membership.  Here, the proportions have inverted.
    • Anecdotally, this does seem to represent a trend, rather than a blip.  There was considerable interest by in-town employees in the Annual General Meeting last May (20% of attendees were NOLS employees who were not instructors), and in-town employees had a table at the Faculty Summit where they gathered ideas for organized representation.

  • Sunday, June 11, 2017 2:13 PM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    The June 2017 Board of Trustees meeting just finished at NOLS Alaska. Here are some highlights from the open sessions, including an explanation of the Compensation Comparables study, recently conducted by Linda Lindsey. These are only highlights; the official minutes will be published, as usual, in the next Board of Trustees Report in October. The Board Report, available online at the link above and in paper copies at every NOLS location, really is good reading, and is easy to navigate if you look at the Table of Contents and find the sections that interest you.



    The Marketing Committee


    The Marketing Committee discussed, among other things, some exciting developments in how NOLS plans to use scholarship money to strategically support enrollment in key areas, such as on semesters. The detailed analysis by Joe Ostlund, found on pages 91-95 in the Board report, is really worth reading:

    In short, after thoughtful discussion at the February Board meeting (and at previous ones) ended with the impression that NOLS could be more intentional with our goals and priorities in awarding scholarships, the Admissions and Marketing department got to work crunching the numbers and creating a nuanced strategy.  


    • The shorter and cheaper IC ($2,900 vs. $5,000+) will free up $100,000 of scholarship money, which will be put towards fall semesters.
    • NOLS Patagonia, which has received a disproportionate amount of scholarship money almost since its founding to support the development of Chilean instructors, will give up a few of their many scholarships, including those for mountaineering courses and the PY. The $64,000 to $100,000 saved will also go towards fall semesters (Presumably, Patagonia semesters will still have one Chilean scholarship student, as they always have).
    • There will be fewer scholarships for summer courses ($50-75k total).


    The overall goal is to support enrollment on semesters, which has been declining for years. Semesters provide a very large proportion of NOLS’s total revenue, operate with much greater operational efficiency than shorter courses (see Jamie O’Donnell’s report on 7-9 day courses, pages 53-58 of the board report), provide off-season employment for faculty and in-town staff, and extend NOLS’s mission in a deep and full way, due to their length. Declining enrollment on our longer courses means that, even while total numbers of NOLS students are slowly increasing, total student days spent at NOLS are slowly going down. Turning around the decline in enrollment of semesters is, for all these reasons, a key strategic goal at the school. The NIA supports this goal in particular, due to the positive effect of semesters on off-season employment, and thus on long-term, year-round job security for instructors.


    Analysis of the Systems and Services Optimization survey, responded to in 2015 by many groups at NOLS, including the NIA, is yielding a set of priorities for short- and long-term changes in NOLS’s organization and systems (see page 97-99 of the Board report). One particularly exciting element is a total revamp of Rendezvous, most likely using Google Sites, on budget for FY18. This has been discussed and requested for many, many years, and it is exciting to see a plan and forward progress.


    The Students Staff, and Studies Committee, including the Compensation Comparables Study


    Linda Lindsey conducts a “comparables” study every three to four years in order to determine how NOLS’ payscales stack up to other organizations in outdoor education. She explained in detail how these studies work, including where the data for comparison comes from (and why, for field staff and wilderness medicine staff, data is very difficult to find).


    First off, NOLS’ goal, since the 1990s, has been to slightly exceed the median pay rate for non-profits in outdoor education in the U.S. (i.e., neither to have the highest pay nor the lowest pay, but to stay slightly ahead of the middle). So, the Comparables Study described how NOLS compensation for in-town, field, and wilderness medicine staff compares to the median among comparable organizations. Each area also included detailed analysis of different seniority levels, and changes from the last study in 2014; these details won’t be summarized here.


    The available data for comparison is very different for in-town, field, and wilderness medicine staff. For in-town staff, Linda uses the Non-Profit Times study of 300 non-profits across the nation, specifically for 22 non-profits of a similar size to NOLS in terms of revenue. She also compares NOLS to the Fremont County Wage Survey, which surveys mostly for-profit business in Fremont County, Wyoming, where Lander is located. This information puts NOLS in-town compensation well below the median, generally 70-90%. In addition, NOLS employees at mid- and upper pay levels tend to have more seniority than those in similar positions at comparable organizations. This ought to put the NOLS employees’ compensation even higher, but in fact it is lower. Linda said NOLS has been below median for in-town compensation ever since she has been doing these studies.


    For field staff, much less data is available. Because there are no third-party studies, NOLS simply contacts other organizations and offers to exchange information. For reasons of competitiveness, few organizations are willing to make this exchange, so NOLS simply cannot find out what most of our competitors are paying their field staff. For this study, we have data from 7 Outwoard Bound locations, the Wild Rockies Field Institute, Where There Be Dragons, and the National Center for Adventure Education. This comparison puts NOLS field pay above the median, generally 110-120%. Also, none of these organizations continues to increase pay at seniority levels above 200 weeks, while NOLS goes all the way to 500 weeks (albeit with small increases).


    For Wilderness Medicine staff, the data is not much better. WMA, our main competitor, does not share their information, so we use the payscales for adjunct faculty at several community colleges who teach EMT courses. On the NOLS side, we compare only the pay for the Lead Instructor on WEMT courses. On this basis, NOLS is 167% of the median for lower seniority positions, and 106% at the top of the pay scale.


    One of the upshots of all this is that in-town pay appears to be farther from median than field staff pay. Linda offered several theoretical solutions to resolve this discrepancy, including freezing or reducing field pay. However, vigorous discussion, with contributions from your NIA representative and several of the field and in-town staff present, ended with a sense that NOLS needs more information on comparables for field and Wilderness Medicine faculty in order to make decisions on the larger comparison between the three sets (i.e., to try to get them all situated at the same distance from the median). There was general agreement that the data for in-town staff comparables are very good, and clearly indicate that NOLS is not meeting its goal of being slightly above the median, but that the situation is not so clear for field or wilderness medicine staff. There was also concern that the in-town side uses NOLS data mostly for full-time, benefited positions, while the field and Wilderness Medicine sets are almost all contract positions with no benefits, making comparison between these sets even harder.


    Just to be perfectly clear, it did not appear that freezing or reducing pay for anyone is actually in the offing; just that the situation for in-town compensation appears increasingly urgent, and the situation for field and wilderness medicine staff is not as well understood.


    Linda also provided statistics for turnover of full-time in-town staff, which is an astonishing 26% per year (meaning that 26% of in-town staff leave NOLS every year, to be replaced by brand-new people - other NOLS staff also move positions within NOLS every year). Staff members present asked about part-time in-town staff turnover, which appears to be hard to measure, since these individuals technically ‘leave’ at the end of each part-time contract. NOLS also has turnover figures for field and wilderness medicine staff, which are in the teens. It is not clear to the NIA how this is measured, since field staff all work by contract, rarely work full-time, and sometimes return after long hiatuses. Regardless, there was general consensus that 26% for in-town staff is too high.


    The General Session


    The in-town staff presentation during the General Session was made by Kristen Brown, Senior Admissions Officer, who will be the representative for in-town staff at the June meetings for the foreseeable future. Kristen’s main topic was workload and turnover in the admissions office. The salary itself turns away many job applicants, leading to frequent and frustrating searches to replace admissions officers, who rarely last for more than one year. Kristen’s realistic and optimistic goal is for them to last through at least two busy seasons (spring is their busiest time), and an ideal goal would be for admissions officers to stay five years in their positions. Most admissions officers are quite young. Some have never taken a course, but these are usually sent on a short field course so that they learn more about the NOLS field experience. Possible reasons for the turnover, in addition to the low salary, are overwork (50-odd emails per day, 2-3 hours on phone and chat per day), a lack of ‘onboarding’, or clear training and apprenticeship before they jump fully into their responsibilities, and a felt distance from the rewarding experiences of actual student outcomes on courses. Kristen and others in the department are working hard on creative ideas to improve this situation, and have made good progress on improving the onboarding experience. She is hoping that this makes newer admissions officers feel more successful, and thus makes them more likely to stay longer in their positions.


    Sydney Clark, NOLS Diversity and Inclusion Manager, gave a 45 minute presentation on diversity and inclusion efforts at NOLS. A main emphasis was the need for NOLS to more actively reach out to minority communities to show them the value of a NOLS course and show that they could fit in and belong in the NOLS community. It isn’t enough just to expect minority individuals to come to us, and maybe offer them scholarships to make this easier. Sydney gave the example of the exploding phenomenon of social media-driven travel communities for affluent African-Americans, which shows that individuals in this community are seeking exotic, challenging, and adventurous experiences, are willing to join groups and pay for it, and thus might be very interested in NOLS, if NOLS were to actively reach out and make it clear that they can belong here.  Sydney pointed out that scholarship-driven diversity efforts, while important as part of an overall strategy, do not present a sustainable business model, nor a sustainable, long-term model for real diversity and inclusion.  20 minutes of discussion followed, with some enthusiasm from the Trustees for the idea, aptly articulated by David Cohen, that NOLS ought to approach diversity and inclusion as a business opportunity, with a business strategy, rather than as separate efforts to be added to our basic business model.


    John Gans thanked Pip Coe for her sixteen years of service in her current position, and emphasized the amazing success she has had. NOLS is in a completely different situation in terms of development, fundraising, and endowment, largely thanks to Pip’s efforts and direction. John also described the assembly of a search committee to hire Pip’s replacement. He expects to include phone interviews for the candidates with one or two current faculty members, who also have extensive experience in the development field.


    As usual, the meeting was full of passion, energy, humor, and very good ideas. The meeting ended with a spectacular party at the Farm, with 130 attendees who came out of the woodwork from all over Alaska. Several of the Trustees and their family members, along with John Gans and Jeff Buchanan, are now off for a 5-day Board sea kayaking trip to get a taste for one of NOLS Alaska’s primary operating areas, Prince William Sound.

  • Tuesday, May 23, 2017 6:14 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA Summer Membership Drive

    Ira Slomski-Pritz, Field Faculty & NIA Board Member

    Our biggest expedition is the one that takes us zig-zagging across states and continents, in vans and trucks and planes, away from loved ones, rarely with certaintythe incredible journey of making a meaningful life while working for NOLS.

    On this expedition, what do we owe our fellow expedition members?

    NOLS instructors are remarkable expedition mem- bers in the field. However, it seems to me that sometimes the EB gets left behind in the frontcountry. A handful of instructors have volunteered their time through the NIA to better the experience of all instructors by running a Mentorship program, representing the instructor corps to the EDT and Board of Trustess and advocating for fair pay and travel reimbursement, especially for inter- national instructors. It’s easy to take past successes (i.e. seminars, prodeals) for granted, and to think we are on this expedition alone. That may be why only about a quarter of NOLS instructors are NIA membersa fact that can be used to push back against NIA advocacy. Low instructor membership undermines the influence of all instructors in school-wide decision making.

    We work now in a consequential moment in NOLS history: we have rebranded; the ‘standard’ NOLS course is changing rapidly. As NOLS continues to evolve, to what extent will we, who live the NOLS mission, have a voice at the table?

    I don’t think I have ever successfully explained a NOLS course to someone who hasn’t been on one. My descriptions leave out countless moments of awe, adversity, conflict, unity, or hopes achieved or dashed the moments that constitute the soul of a NOLS course.

    It’s hard to put a soul on a spreadsheet. Out of necessity, the people who make big decisions at the school are talented, devoted, and good at running large organizations, but are also quite removed from what a NOLS course feels like. Instructor input is crucial to steering NOLS going forward. 

    We only speak strongly when we speak together. Discordant voices of concern spoken in sta houses or scribbled on program evals amount to little more than white noise, easily overlooked. The NIA proudly keeps membership voluntary. But that doesn’t mean abstention is neutral or without consequence. Choosing to not be a member weakens the influence of all instructors trying to participate.

    Just as we tell the student that sits blankly on their pack while everyone else is studying the map, we must engage. But in this context, good expedition behavior doesn’t mean getting out of the tent in the middle of the storm or carrying extra weight up the mountain. It just means joining the NIA, paying $20 once a year. It’s simple, it’s easy, and yet higher membership will still go a long way.

    To that end, we are launching a summer membership drive. Our goal is to increase membership from 1/4 to 1/3 of all instructors by August 31 (300 instructors instead of 230).

    Take part. Take three minutes and do it now. Current members should contribute by recruiting one more; if each member recruits one new instructor, membership doubles. To sweeten the deal, new members will get a beanie or trucker hat (or a sweet belt buckle if they chose to become a lifetime member).

    Join because you love NOLS, or because you are concerned for the future. Join because especially today when it is easy to feel powerless and resigned, making a di erence begins at a local level: at your workplace, in your town. Join because being engaged is central to what we do. It’s what we teach. 

  • Saturday, March 04, 2017 10:21 AM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    Notes from the February, 2017 Board of Trustees meeting

    Sean Williams, NIA President

                The following notes are highlights and notes from the meetings that your NIA representative attended, from an NIA perspective, rather than a comprehensive summary of the entire board meeting.  Minutes will be published with the June Board of Trustees report, edited by Kathy Dunham.

                The February 2017 Board of Trustees meeting was a success in terms of progress and awareness on issues and ideas that are dear to the hearts of many NOLS staff and to the NIA.  Read on for highlights and details to get a glimpse of how the Trustees and EDT work together and how they respond to the faculty’s input.

                The response from the Trustees and EDT to the results and analysis of the NIA’s lifestyle survey ( was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. The NIA received appreciations both in private and in public for our efforts gathering this data and presenting it in a useful way, as well as offers of advice and assistance on future research efforts. The Trustees and EDT seemed to really appreciate a more nuanced, data-driven, and numbers-focused presentation of the facts presented by the survey. With more data in the future, perhaps on different questions, and with continued emphasis by the NIA on presenting facts and possible solutions, rather than just making demands, I believe we can expect that these issues around income, job security, and career feasibility will become even greater priorities within NOLS’s leadership as time goes on.

                I attended the “Staff, Students, and Studies” Committee meeting as well as the General Meeting. The Staff, Students, and Studies meeting was large, with around half of the Trustees as well as Deborah Nunnink and Scott Robertson attending, and much of the discussion revolved around compensation and difficulties in hiring for various positions. Turnover of in-town staff was 26% in FY16, the highest in ten years (it was 33% in 2007). Several positions, including NOLS Custom account managers, the Alaska Director, and international program staff have been difficult to hire for. Field staff turnover is not as high, but there is widespread recognition that underemployment is a problem for field staff. Trustee Jane Fried asked about the philosophy behind choosing who to give contracts to in an underemployment situation; Scott explained the combination of seniority, performance as documented on SPEs, skill types, and availability that drives Staffing decisions. Scott also clarified that NOLS cannot operate with full employment of field staff, because it needs some flexibility (i.e. instructors willing to take last-minute contracts) as enrollment and other instructors’ schedules change, but acknowledged that the current level of underemployment is hard for many instructors. One Trustee asked if “low pay grade turnover” is a strategy at NOLS, and expressed his relief when Scott explained that this is not an intentional strategy, but that it does have an effect on overall compensation costs as both field and in-town staff leave the school before advancing very far up the payscales. Scott reported that we had 255 applicants for 100 IC spots, and that their quality in his opinion was very high.

                As seems to happen every meeting, several Trustees expressed concern that compensation continues to rise faster than tuition, and pointed out that this is financially unsustainable unless NOLS has significant other sources of income . This conversation started in the committee meeting and continued in the general meeting. Jane Fried emphasized that NOLS needs a better grasp of its “budget levers,” i.e., where exactly will the money for an increase in one expense come from, if not from an equal increase in revenue? In the General Meeting, John Gans explained that NOLS has released money from the Endowment to Operations for several years ($1.1 million in 2016), and that this significant non-tuition revenue helps to offset increased expenses, such as compensation (which is 55% of NOLS’s overall expenses).

                In this context, the subject of the gain share came up several times. There is some skepticism among the Trustees about whether paying out a gain share at the end of the fiscal year really creates much sense of reward or appreciation among employees. I told them that while an unexpected check is always appreciated, it does not improve the feeling that every other paycheck seems small and that the job feels insecure, and that allocating this money to compensation would probably affect employees in a more positive way since they could then plan on a slightly higher income. The idea of using that money towards scholarships, in the hopes that this would increase enrollment, and thus decrease underemployment, was also raised, but it was not clear if the money could be targeted toward scholarships in a way that would be guaranteed to improve the underemployment situation. There was no clear resolution about the gain share (which is dependent on the school meeting its budget and ending the year with extra money), just discussion.

                In terms of the tuition increase, most of it will occur on summer courses, and there will be no increase on fall and spring semesters - this is to encourage more growth in the off-season, and should help with employment for instructors. Admissions is also experimenting with differential tuition - for example, early and late WRWs will cost slightly less than mid-summer WRWs, to reduce the need for so many instructors at the peak of summer.

                In the Blue Sky session, where Trustees share off-the-wall ideas for discussion later, the idea of a “staff buddy” for Trustees was brought up, in which Trustees would be paired with a NOLS employee to stay in touch and learn more about one aspect of the school. Another idea was offering lessons or seminars in cultural competency for the Trustees, so that they stay up-to-speed with this area of significant change at NOLS. There was a shout-out for the general success of NOLS with fundraising in general: it basically just started 10 years ago, and we now have a $35 million endowment which we are expecting to double in the next big fundraising campaign. In the near to medium future, this will begin to be enough money to significantly affect the school’s operations and finances.

                As usual, the passion and commitment of the Trustees and the EDT to NOLS was on full display at this meeting. Many, many other topics were discussed, and the minutes from each meeting are a good way to get a sense for the whole discussion. The Trustees’ ability to quickly wrap their heads around complex issues at the school, offer solutions, and provide informed critique of decisions is truly impressive. The EDT’s depth of knowledge and the complexity of the decisions they have to make is equally impressive. We are lucky we have these groups looking out for us, and making sure that NOLS is humming away in the background so that we can go out and run great courses.  

  • Wednesday, January 04, 2017 10:17 AM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

  • Saturday, December 31, 2016 4:04 PM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    2016 NIA Election Results

    By Dave Durant, NIA Board of Directors

    This year’s elections included races for Board of Directors and President, as well as a referendum on amending the NIA Constitution regarding eligibility for full Membership.  We also asked the same two poll questions as in 2016: “What do you think the NIA’s top priorities should be in 2017?” and “What do you think the NIA should do in 2017 to support in town staff?”   Read on for results and analysis.

    Board: Results

    We elected six Board Members to terms ending in December 2018.   (NIA Board terms are two years long.  To see who is currently on the Board, visit  

    There were nine self-nominated candidates, including a Wilderness Medicine only instructor (Adam), two Brazilians (Mita and Fabio), a former long time Headquarters employee (Casey), and a current Headquarters employee (Molly).  Of the nine candidates, only two (Summer and Fabio) were incumbents.  Voters were asked to pick six of nine candidates to fill the open spots.  Results are given in the graphic above, expressed as a percentage of voters who picked each candidate.  On behalf of all instructors, I’d like to thank everyone who ran, regardless of whether they were elected or not.

    Board: Analysis

    • Due to how our voting was conducted (pick six of nine) no candidate made it onto the board with less than 58% support.
    • Both incumbents were re-elected, echoing last year’s result, in which five incumbents ran and were all re-elected.
    • Voters clearly favored the single Wilderness Medicine Instructor, as well as candidates who had worked for NOLS for relatively longer periods of time.  (e.g. Molly is a newer instructor, but has worked in HQ for years.)


    President: Results

    We also elected an NIA President for the next two year term.  Sean Williams ran unopposed, despite repeated invitations for a challenger from amongst the 

    Instructor Corps. 

    President: Analysis

    • The results clearly show strong support for the incumbent.  Not only was there no challenger, but the sole write in vote was for “no preference.”  This stands in contrast to Sean’s initial election two years ago, when there were write in votes for the outgoing President, current board members, etc.

    Constitutional Amendment: Results

    Voters were given the following prompt:

    Article III, Section A of the NIA Constitution currently reads: "Any certified NOLS or WMI instructor who has been employed as an instructor by NOLS within the current or past three calendar years or has signed a contract for future work, and who has paid her/his dues shall be considered a member in full."In order to recognize the commitment of time and money that new faculty have made to the school, and to be able to fully advocate for these new faculty during a challenging period of their NOLS career, and to simplify our membership rules, the NIA Board of Directors is in favor of amending this Section of our Constitution to read as follows (language in ALL CAPS is added or amended): "Any certified EXPEDITION or WILDERNESS MEDICINE instructor who has been employed as an instructor by NOLS, OR WHO HAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED AN INSTRUCTOR COURSE AND IS ELIGIBLE FOR HIRE within the current or past three calendar years or has signed a contract for future work, and who has paid her/his dues shall be considered a member in full.” 

    86% of respondents agreed that we should amend the NIA constitution, with 14% opposed.

    Constitutional Amendment: Analysis

    • A decisive victory for the NIA Board, who envisioned and supported the amendment for the reasons given above.  The NIA membership process has now been streamlined in a manner in which we hope will allow us to devote more time and energy to advocating for our constituents.

    Poll Question 1: Results

    Poll question 1 read: What do you think the NIA's top priorities should be for 2017?  Participants were asked to rank the seven choices given in order of importance. 

    The choices were (in order of voter preference):

    1. Working to ensure Instructors are represented at ALL Board of Trustees meetings.
    2. Championing continued increases to travel reimbursement.
    3. Advocating for a Sal-Fac Faculty Chair to represent Instructors to the Executive Director Team.
    4. Expanding our mentorship program for new Faculty.
    5. Pressing NOLS to create 10 Semi-Annual Faculty Positions (SAFP), a 12 week mutual commitment.
    6. Making the case for time spent teaching classroom courses to count towards seniority when instructing expeditions.
    7. Facilitating discussions about curriculum.

    Poll Question 1: Analysis 

    •Unlike last year, respondents prioritized Instructor representation over increasing compensation (in the form of travel reimbursements).

    •Options that addressed taking steps towards a more Instructor Driven School ranked 1 and 3, up from 2 and 4 last year.

    •Choice #6 ranking so low is a reflection of the NIA's membership still being predominately Expedition Instructors.  This isn't surprising, since Membership has been open to Expedition Instructors since 1975, and Wilderness Medicine Instructors since just 2014.  It is worth noting that this option ranked 7th last year, and so has moved up a bit as the number of Wildness Medicine Instructors within the NIA has grown.

    •NIA facilitated curriculum discussions typically score low when we ask about what we should prioritize.  This may be because NOLS already has a dedicated curriculum department.  At least one respondent explicitly said in their comments that they felt the NIA should leave curriculum to the Education Department.

    Poll Question 2: Results

    Poll question 2 read: "What do you think the NIA should do in 2017 to support in-town staff?"  Voters were asked to check all that they believed should apply. Results are shown by the percentage of respondents who supported each one.


    The choices were (in order of voter preference):

    1. Advocate for time spent Program Supervising to count towards seniority when instructing expeditions.
    2. Advocate for continued increases to in-town compensation, even if the means fewer or smaller increases to instructor compensation.
    3. Hold a vote to amend the NIA constitution to allow all NOLS employees below EDT level to join the NIA, since there is no organization that represents in-town staff.
    4. Nothing.  In-town staff should form their own organization.

    Poll Question 2: Analysis

    The only option with majority support was to advocate for time spent PSuping to count towards seniority when instructing expeditions.  

    •The strong support for options 1 and 3 may be an indication of how many in-town staff are already NIA members, in virtue of having worked a course (Expedition or Wilderness Medicine) in the past two calendar years.

    •44% of respondents favor a vote on opening NIA membership to nearly all NOLS employees.  

    •Only 14.67% of respondents think that the NIA should take no role in advocating for in town employees. 

  • Thursday, August 11, 2016 11:26 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    Mentoring at NOLS, What Does it Look Like?

    By: Aaron Divine, NOLS Instructor Association Special Projects Coordinator & Senior Faculty

    The NOLS Instructor Association (NIA) has worked to develop a volunteer NOLS Mentorship Program,

    What’s the difference between mentoring and coaching?

    Mentoring and coaching in the workplace are different. There is a broad spectrum of perspectives and opinions about what mentoring and coaching involves, and we definitely cover a wide array of approaches here at NOLS. 

    From my experience and limited research, I’ve found with mentoring:

    • The focus is on personal development and tends to be relationship-oriented
    • Suggests a long-term commitment 
    • Has voluntary membership of both parties (the mentor and mentee) 
    • A mentor often has limited to no official/direct supervisory role of the mentee 

    Whereas with coaching:

    • Task-oriented performance may be the focus 
    • A shorter well-defined duration of time – such as a field contract 
    • Participation of members may be required as part of designated employment roles
    • Involves interplay of feedback/response regarding performance where the coach may also be an immediate supervisor

    Why start a NOLS Mentorship Program?

    In early 2014, Dave Kallgren, NIA President, was unable to attend the February NOLS Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting in Tucson. I offered to attend and Dave and I began discussing what the NIA report should cover.

    A large part of the scheduled two-day meeting was intended to discuss matters relating to the school’s Strategic Initiatives, including Marketing, Students and Studies, as well as Faculty and Staff Retention. We decided to focus on ways the NIA could share ideas to provide positive support to one or more of these foci.

    Improved retention of faculty and staff is a stated goal at NOLS. Suggestions from NIA membership to the NIA Board included more mentoring options outside the means already offered. Dave Kallgren and I reported the NIA was prepared to help work on faculty and staff retention through the development and fostering of a mentorship program. Upon delivering this message, many in attendance provided positive feedback and encouragement for the NIA to take action. An idea was born.

    The following year, spring 2015, under the guidance of new NIA President Sean Williams, representatives from the NIA and the Field Staffing Office began corresponding on what a mentorship program might look like. All agreed, there exists an amazing multitude of mentoring and coaching opportunities built into NOLS’ current staffing model. These opportunities begin with student-instructor interactions on ICs and ITCs, our on-course roles of Aide, Instructor, PL, and CL and the Instructor in Training (IIT) program or the Lead and Assistant Instructor roles. 

    Think of all the program supervisor, manager, and director support at each NOLS location, the many opportunities for mentoring and coaching through the staffing coordinators, faculty training seminars, the process of applying for and receiving assistance from the Instructor Development Fund and our Annual Faculty Positions. There’s also the Women’s Initiative (perhaps NOLS’ truest specifically dedicated mentorship program – read more about that program’s successful history in “What is the Women’s Initiative, Anyway?” by Erica Linnell, NOLS Newsletter November 2009). 

    We also have a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Manager, a Wilderness Medicine Preceptor program, the annual Faculty Summit and Wilderness Medicine staff meeting, the Wilderness Risk Management Conference, and other affiliated gatherings such as the Red Rock Rendezvous. 

    Wow! – That’s a lot of prospects for developing mentoring and coaching relations. 

    What seemed lacking was a voluntary peer-to-peer mentoring program. A program where newer faculty were encouraged to intentionally reach out to more senior faculty, make connections, seek advice in navigating the school’s terrain, and forge longer lasting relationships. This is what the NIA wants to offer; another avenue to assist in developing those meaningful mentoring contacts that carry through the lifespan of a NOLS career and beyond.

    How to become involved?

    After launching the NIA website in 2015,, NIA leadership created a mentorship tab. A first call was made through email and the NIA Facebook page,, to solicit willing and able mentors within the field faculty and program supervisor pool. This call quickly yielded a dozen volunteer mentors.

    The system presently in place is simple and organic in structure. Volunteer mentors have placed short bios, along with contact information, on the NIA website mentorship tab and await prospective mentees to contact a mentor of their choosing. This approach is akin to the motto of “if you build it they will come”. 

    So, what does mentoring sponsored by the NIA look like? Consider taking action and find out! If you’re interested in more information regarding our mentoring efforts to date, if you want to serve as a mentor or become a mentee, or if you have feedback and suggestions for improvement, please feel free to contact an NIA Board member, a Field Staffing Coordinator, one of the many mentors listed on the NIA’s mentorship page, or me.

    Have a great summer season, Aaron | (928) 853-3913

  • Tuesday, May 03, 2016 11:34 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)



    For those of you who missed our Annual General Meeting, here’s a quick update about what the NIA Board of Directors has been focusing on since the last General Meeting.

    May 2015

    • Mentorship Program Launched.  This program matches newer instructors with Senior staff to provide them with meaningful, ongoing guidance about their career path at NOLS.

    • RM Assistant Director and NIA Member Andy Blair attends an NIA meeting at the RMRB in Vernal where the need for additional time to practice swiftwater rescue skills is discussed.  With his advocacy, an extra half day is added to briefings out of this location for rescue practice.  This is a great example of the NIA process leading to a win-win-win outcome.  Instructors win because they get more paid training.  NOLS as a whole wins because it is running safer river courses.  Our students win because their risk is being managed better, and their instructors are that much better able to teach the rescue skills.

    • Ten NIA Members serve as the Faculty portion of the Morehead Committee, meeting with Marco Johnson to consult on behalf of the instructor corps.  The idea of a Semi-Annual Faculty Program (SAFP) is born, and the idea of an endowed Faculty Chair to work with the EDT is resurrected.


    • Meetings held in Palmer, AK; Lander, WY and Conway, WA.  Meeting notes are posted on, which allows for the feedback gathered, and big ideas generated, to be read by the administrators that make the big decisions.


    • Meetings held in Saranac Lake, NY; Lander, WY and Boulder, WY.


    • Meeting held in Vernal, UT.

    • Flamingo Fund purchases bins that can be used in the third floor fridge in the Noble.


    • NIA Board Meeting

    • For the first time ever, the NIA has a formal presence at the WMI Staff Meeting.  A table is staffed throughout the three day event, and an NIA meeting for WMI-only instructors is successful.  We welcome about a dozen classroom instructors as new NIA members.


    • Past President Dave Kallgren and several current NIA Board members represent the NIA at NOLS’ 50th anniversary celebration in Lander.

    • Branch meeting held in Coyhaique, Aysen, Chile.

    November - December

    • Elections are held for NIA Board.  Edmilson Fonseca joins the Board.  Incumbents Drew Seitz, Allie Maloney, Annemarie Vocca, Abbie Wehner, and Dave Durant are re-elected.  Longtime Treasurer Daren Opeka steps down, Board Member Abbie Wehner becomes NIA Treasurer.

    January 2016

    • NIA Board Meeting

    • NIA simplifies membership levels, lowers dues, and switches to an auto-renewal system.  The goal is to spend less time bookkeeping and more time representing instructors.

    • Field Faculty Lifestyle Survey is launched to gather hard data on how field instructors make their lifestyles sustainable.


    • NIA President Sean Williams represents NOLS instructors at the Board of Trustees meeting in Delray Beach, Florida.  

    • The Flamingo Fund purchases a bike pump and knife racks for the Noble, as well as two bikes, bike locks, and a pump for the PNW campus - with matching funds from NOLS PNW.  A great example of the NIA and NOLS administration working collaboratively to support both instructors and in-town staff.


    • Meetings held in Lander, WY and at the Climbing Rendezvous in Red Rocks, NV.

    • Flamingo Fund pays for a reorganization of the gear swap area on the third floor of the Noble.


    • Meetings held in Vernal, Utah and Lander, WY (the latter specifically for Archer iTeams).

    On behalf of the Board, I’d like to thank all of our members for their support over the last year.  Without you, none of this would be possible.  Not sure if you’re an NIA member?  Check at

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