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 certainty—the 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 members—a 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.