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From the NIA Board of Directors

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

  • 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 nolsinstructorassociation.org/board.  




    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, http://nolsinstructorassociation.org/mentors.


    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, http://nolsinstructorassociation.org, NIA leadership created a mentorship tab. A first call was made through email and the NIA Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/nolsinstructorassociation/, 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 

    akdivine@gmail.com | (928) 853-3913


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

    NIA 2016 YEAR IN REVIEW

    DAVE DURANT, SENIOR FACULTY & NIA BOARD


    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.

    June

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

    July

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

    August

    • Meeting held in Vernal, UT.

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

    September

    • 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.

    October

    • 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.

    February

    • 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.

    March

    • 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.

    April

    • 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 nolsinstructorassociation.org/directory.

  • Thursday, January 21, 2016 2:26 PM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    FIELD WEEKS: STILL THE BEST SYSTEM FOR SENIORITY?

    AN IMAGINED DIALOGUE THAT RAISES SOME REAL QUESTIONS.

    DAVE DURANT, SENIOR FACULTY & NIA BOARD MEMBER


    Please note that these are my opinions only, and don’t represent an articulated NIA position.  There is no consensus amongst the Board or Membership of the NIA on this thorny issue.  This article was submitted for inclusion in the February 2016 NOLS Staff Newsletter.

    * * * * *

    It’s the second to last night of a backpacking course, and the students are on ISGE.  Conversation in camp turns to work.  My co-instructor, who is working his first course, makes eye contact with me across the campfire.

    “How many field weeks do you have?”

    I let out an audible sigh.  “Well, it’s complicated.”

    “What could be so complicated about remembering the number of weeks you’ve spent in the field?”

    “Well, for starters, the number of ‘field weeks’ I have doesn’t include all of the time that I’ve spent in the field with NOLS.  It doesn’t include my student course, or my instructor course, or any of the four field seminars I’ve taken since then.  I’ll have 88 weeks at the end of this contract, but if all of my field time were counted, I’d be somewhere north of 100 weeks, which would bring a nice pay bump.”

    He mulls this information over for a bit, staring into the fire.  Then I can see him counting on his fingers, and I realize that he’s applying this same logic to him own situation.

    “Huh.  This is my first course.  So I’ll have about four weeks.  But I took a full semester as a student, which definitely made me into a better outdoor educator,”

    “That is the point of what we do,” I agree.

    “…but then I took the Sea Kayak IC, so I had to take the Paddlers’ Hiking Seminar before I could work this course.  So if you counted all of my field time, I’d be somewhere around 22 weeks.  That’s a lot closer to 30.” 

    “Mm-hmm,” I agree.

    “Well, I suppose it all makes sense if you accept that we only get weeks for the time we spend teaching,” he adds.

    “Well, not really,” I say.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, we get weeks for the time we spend briefing and de-briefing.  And we get weeks for time spent traveling.  For example, some Canyons courses out of the RM spend three full days on the bus.  Work two of those in a year, and bam, that’s another ‘field’ week.  And that’s not all.  On Winter Courses out of the Teton Valley, instructors get field weeks for days they spend sleeping at the branch and free skiing at Targhee while their students are in lessons.”

    “Well, you wouldn’t want those things to stop counting towards your seniority, would you?”

    “Not really,” I say.  

    “But if those activities, which don’t take place in the field can count towards weeks, it be nice if all of the time I spent actually teaching did too.”

    Now I’ve lost him.  “What’dya mean?”

    “Well, I have 40 weeks spent teaching NOLS courses that don’t count towards my weeks at all.”

    “How can that be?” 

    “16 WFRs, six W-EMTs, three WFAs, three WFR Re-certs… you do the math.”

    “Well, those don’t count,” he says.

    “It’s hard to see why not,” I say, grinning and shaking my head.  “They are NOLS courses.  They’re advertised in the View Book and on the website, and my paycheck for these courses says NOLS on it.  Plus, teaching these courses makes me a way better teacher, something my students in the field benefit from, not to mentioned much better equipped to deal with medical emergencies in the field.  It’s particularly interesting when you consider that most NOLS courses are Wilderness Medicine courses.  That means that NOLS instructors - cause NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructors are NOLS instructors, after all - don’t get any seniority for most of the courses they teach.”

    “Wait, wait, wait.  There are more Medicine courses than Expedition courses?”  

    “There were 832 Wilderness Medicine courses in FY2015.  I don’t actually know how many field courses there were.  But I can tell you that there were 4,698 students in the field and 18,804 in the classroom.”

    “Ok, whatever.   NOLS Wilderness Medicine has it’s own way of calculating seniority anyway, right?”

    “Well, sort of.  At NOLS Wilderness Medicine you can get a raise based on merit, and based in part on how many of a certain type of course you have led.”

    “So, what’s the problem, then?”

    “Well, one problem is that we have all sorts of field courses that require a Wilderness Medicine instructor, and not enough WM instructors who are willing to work in the field to be able to staff them easily.  When you take a WFR Lead who makes $197 a day while they stay in hotels and eat in restaurants and ask them to camp for $78 while eating grits and couscous, it’s no wonder that it’s a non-starter.  The least we could do would be to recognize the amount of teaching they’ve already done for the school.”

    “Wait a sec.  WM instructors make $197 a day?”

    “Well, Lead Instructors do, but that’s a conversation for another time.  This isn’t just a Medicine versus Expedition thing.”

    “Sure sounds like it to me.”

    “Well, there are NOLS Custom Education classroom courses that don’t accrue field weeks either.  In fact, there are NOLS Custom Education seminars for field instructors, like the FADs, LEADS, and iLEADS, where the instructors don’t get weeks.  Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s a NOLS Custom Ed course called the Robertson Scholars Leadership Expedition where the instructors sleep in cabins and lead day hikes, but do get field weeks.”

    “Ok, ok, I got it,” he says excitedly.  “How about this.  If you’re getting paid to teach for NOLS, then that day should count towards the seniority system we use to determine pay for field courses.  Since most courses we teach aren’t in the field, we’ll have to call this something other than ‘field’ weeks.  And since it won’t be ‘weeks in the field’ anymore, then it won’t seem like you should get credit for time you spent in the field while not working, like student courses, ICs, and seminars.”

    “I’m smelling what you’re stepping in,” I acknowledge, “but there’s just one problem.  Well, two problems, actually.  There are at least two instances where someone is definitely teaching for NOLS, but isn’t getting paid.”

    “Huh?”

    “When you aide a technical course, you’re still teaching ES, leadership, etc., but you’re not being paid a daily wage if you’re aiding more than one section per semester.  And when you’re working as an instructor in training, you’re not getting paid, either.”

    “Do aides and IITs get field weeks?”

    “Yup.  Which is as it should be,” I say.

    “Well, how about NOLS just pays aides and IITs?”

    “And interns, too, while we’re at it.  If you work, you get paid.  But let’s focus on solving one problem at a time.”

    “Ok, what do you suggest?”

    “How about this.  If you’re on contract, you get weeks.  Everyone continues to get weeks for the things they do already, whether that’s teaching in the field, briefing, traveling while on contract, aiding or IITing.  You’d also get weeks for teaching classroom courses.  Since these are weeks you get for time spent on contract, we’ll just call them “contract weeks.’  Field weeks will be a thing of the past, like… AOL.  Or leaded gasoline.”

    “It’s an elegant compromise, Dave.  Since they won’t be ‘field’ weeks anymore, it won’t make sense to say student courses, ICs, and seminar participation should count.  There’s just one problem.  What’s in it for me, as a field instructor who doesn’t work in the classroom?”

    “Well, for starters, you’re certainly not any worse off than you were already.  You don’t lose any weeks, which would be a result of some ways of dealing with this problem that we can imagine.  The plus side is that now you’re incentivized to become a classroom instructor.  Take that ITC and start teaching WFRs or WFAs.  Now you’ll not only be more likely to get offseason work on WMRs and classroom courses, but you’ll also make it to that next pay bump faster.  You’ll also never have to take a WFR Re-cert again, as long as your working for NOLS Wilderness Medicine.  Actually, you could get paid to teach them!  Those sound like steps towards a more sustainable career, to me.”

       

    * * * * *

    What do you think about field weeks as the system for measuring seniority?  E-mail me at david.r.durant@gmail.com.  I’ll synthesize responses and pass them on, anonymously, to the administration.  

  • Wednesday, December 16, 2015 10:08 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    Board: Results

    This year we elected six Board Members to terms ending in December 2017.   (NIA Board terms are two years long.  To see who is currently on the Board, click here.) 



    There were nine self-nominated candidates, including four WMI instructors (Dave, Drew, Allie, Ryland), a Brazilian (Ed), an Indian (Gaurav), and a Patagonia PSup (Drew).  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.


     Board: Analysis

    • Due to how our voting was conducted (pick six of nine) the minimum threshold of support to make it onto the Board was above 60%.  Ryland had 59.76% support, yet came in 7th.
    • All five incumbents (Dave, Drew, Allie, Annemarie, Abbie) we're re-elected, essentially creating a four-way race between Ed, Ryland, Mike, and Gaurav for the seat vacated by long time Board Member and Treasurer Daren Opeka. 
    • The race would likely have been even closer, had Gaurav entered on day one.  (He nominated himself after a significant number of people had already voted.)
    Poll Question 1: Results

    Poll question 1 read: What do you think the NIA's top priorities should be for 2016?  Participants were asked to rank the seven choices given in order of importance.



    The choices were:

    1. Championing continued increases to travel reimbursement.
    2. Working to ensure Instructors are represented at ALL Board of Trustees meetings.
    3. Expanding our mentorship program for new Faculty.
    4. Advocating for a Sal-Fac Faculty Chair to represent Instructors to the Executive Director Team.
    5. Pressing NOLS to create 10 Semi-Annual Faculty Positions (SAFP), a 12 week mutual commitment.
    6. Facilitating discussions about curriculum.
    7. Making the case for time spent teaching classroom courses to count towards "Field Weeks."
    Poll Question 1: Analysis 
    • The only option given that addresses improving compensation ranked first amongst respondents priorities.
    • Options that addressed taking steps towards a more Instructor Driven School ranked 2 and 4.
    • 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.
    • I (Dave) believe that choice #7 ranking so low is a reflection of the NIA's membership still being predominately Field Instructors.  This isn't surprising, since Membership has been open to Field Is since 1975, and Classroom Is since just 2014.
    Poll Question 2: Results
    Poll question 2 read: "What do you think the NIA should do in 2016 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:
    1. Advocate from time spent Program Supervising to count towards "Field Weeks."
    2. 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.
    3. Advocate for continued increases to in-town compensation, even if the means fewer or smaller increases to instructor compensation.
    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 "field weeks."  This stands in contrast to the relatively low support given above for time spent teaching to count.
    • The strong support for options one and three may be an indication of how many in-town staff are already NIA members, in virtue of having worked a course (field or classroom) in the past two calendar years.
    • 48.78% of respondents favor a vote on opening NIA membership to nearly all NOLS employees.  I was surprised by how high this number is. 
    Poll Question 3: Results
    Question 3 was anything else you'd like to say to your NIA Representatives?  (Note: for the sake of brevity, I've deleted many, many responses which essentially just said "Thank you NIA Board Members for representing us, and for all of your hard work!")

    The most important theme for me right now is that in-town (specifically p-sups and managers/directors) people are in a support role for instructors. Therefore, SPE's and other forms of support should be focused on gratitude and highlighting strengths. The point is not to focus on learnings and constructive feedback. Instructors are working hard and doing a great job all over the world and so we should maintain an open, trusting, supportive atmosphere to make the job rewarding in town and not just rewarding in the field. This is how we continue to create exceptional student experiences.

    12/9/2015 12:34 AM 


    -The building of committees to have field staff to be involved with programming/decisions in the administrations. -More support for new staff as they traverse the muddy waters.

    12/1/2015 3:13 PM 


    I would love to see the NIA spearhead an aggressive field cleaning plastic bag program to bring back and reuse plastic bags at NOLS RM and other locations. it would be great if this sustainability measure was initiated and perpetuated by instructors since sufficient structure won't likely be provided from branches. NOLS brazil had an impressive system that could be a model.

    11/23/2015 1:38 PM 


    Psup should make 75% of their CL wage. No field weeks. 3 day briefings across the board to support developing curriculum while on the clock. NOLS Rocky Mountain is frighteningly whack

    11/19/2015 8:16 PM 


    I would urge those with access to NIA funds to prioritize frugal and conservative use of those funds, even to the point of saving almost all in preparation for future needs.

    11/19/2015 4:36 PM 


    Re mentoring- pushing staffing to do their job re mentoring and career development and holding branches accountable for balanced and timely feedback

    11/19/2015 3:10 PM 


    I would like to see the NIA push for more equitable compensation for international faculty/staff, as well as advocating for ways to provide more predictable work/creative field/in-town work agreements for new instructors, so as to retain I's who can't afford to just "stay open and wait" for a contract

    11/19/2015 2:15 PM 


    We need to start a debate on the appropriateness of the gain share payments as opposed to using that money to support other needs eg Travel compensation for I's. If the gain share system is to continue it must be made more equitable i.e an equal payment for all staff not based on their actual salary. At present those who earn more at the school, esp the EDT, are receiving huge bonuses because of the gain share payment. Gain share payments should be a way of recognizing everyone's equal contribution to the success of the school.

    11/19/2015 12:38 PM 


    Thank you for working hard to cultivate a strong community of NOLS instructors, which includes instructors who have both opted to join the NIA, along with those who have not.

    11/17/2015 5:13 PM 


  • Thursday, December 03, 2015 11:27 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    With 2015's election underway, it's interesting to look back on last year's results.  While the current President and Board has been posted here since the beginning of the year, this is the first time we've made the answers to the poll items on the ballot public.  The questions asked were:


    "What do you think the NIA's priority should be for the upcoming term?" and 

    "Anything else you'd like to say to your NIA representatives?"


    Scroll down to read the results.  It's clear that while some things have been resolved in the past year (International Pay Scales come to mind), other issues, such as travel reimbursement and Instructor involvement in school-wide decision making, seem to be perennial.


    President and Board of Directors

    Board Member Sean Williams was elected NIA President, term ending December 2016.  Fabio Raimo de Oliveira, Aaron Divine, and Jon Kempsey were re-elected to the Board, term ending December 2016.  Branch Representatives Andy Clifford (New Zealand) and Summers Eatmon (Rocky Mountain) were elected to the Board, term ending December 2016.  Instructors Tim Dorsey and Abbie Wehner tied.  Abbie volunteered to fill a vacancy on the Board for the term ending December 2015, and was appointed by the Board to do so, paving the way for Tim to become the first WMI-only Instructor on the NIA Board of Directors.  His term will expire in December 2016.


    "What do you think the NIA's priority should be for the upcoming term?"

    Note: respondents were only allowed to make one selection.




    The highest number of votes here went to the one option provided that touches on Compensation.  Cleary this is a priority issue for our members.  That said, options two and four above both fall under the broader category of working towards an Instructor Driven School.  In retrospect I wish I had combined these into one line item for a cleaner comparison.  The waters are muddied further when one takes into account the write-in responses.  By my count 9 of these directly address compensation.  Perhaps the most accurate formulation would be: NIA members are equally concerned with representation and compensation.


    Here are the "Other" responses:


    advocating for staff/faculty compensation of all types

    12/27/2014 7:10 AM

    review and changes on international pay scale

    12/27/2014 6:40 AM

    Equal pay and travel reimbursement for Indian and South American instructors (e.g. Work out problems with currencies, pay South Americans more to get to AK

    12/24/2014 9:46 AM

    Contracts in Dollars or fair exchange from Dolar to CLP...no more Chilean Pay Scale

    12/23/2014 7:26 PM 

    It seems like getting more instructors involved/active is the foundation which allows the NIA to affect change. Without more substantial participation on our part it seems unlikely we will be able to influence meaningful decisions.

    12/23/2014 6:40 PM

    Increase membership and participation to solidify our credibility

    12/20/2014 11:12 AM

    Increasing overall compensation

    12/8/2014 3:44 PM

    Find ways to reduce turnover and increase staff retention, this includes field staff and NOLS wide positions.

    12/5/2014 8:48 PM

    advocating for Instructor quality of life by helping to ensure that course cancellations are done in timely manners and instructors are not offered contracts when in all likelihood, the semester will be cancelled and thus having instructors be reassigned with different dates and locations. Perhaps in that case also advocating for a buyout option of contracts when they are cancelled.

    12/3/2014 12:30 PM

    De-emphasize compensation as the main NIA priority, and celebrate the 7% gain share in 2014 and the creation of the compensation taskforce by the EDT/BOT to address issues of comp. (We all know comp is the #1 issue on everyone's mind, but let's diversify our dialog and become more dynamic.) Community-building, helping NOLS get a more diverse community of instructors, branch improvements from flamingo fund.

    12/1/2014 10:54 AM

    Pay discrepancies for international instructors

    11/30/2014 9:18 PM

    Both pay/travel and representation at board meetings

    11/28/2014 6:05 PM

    Professionalization of the Field Instructor position. This means 1. increased wages (comparable with the industry standard for professional mountain guides), 2. travel reimbursement, and 3. moving towards the NOLS Field Instructor position as a more long term, sustainable position. On that last point, this could mean guaranteeing a minimum number of course contracts (especially after taking a $4000 IC), a defined path to becoming more full time or at least seasonal full time instructor, or any number of routes to becoming a more full time field instructor. Its pretty weak to have a prospective instructor pay $4000 for an interview/IC and then give them 4 weeks or less of work, sometimes for several seasons without a pay bump realistically on the horizon. The entire instructor pool becomes institutionalized to be ok with being "dirtbags" in order to make their lifestyle work for them. NOLS (and the outdoor ed industry as a whole) literally and figuratively operates its program on the backs and at the expense of its instructors. In mainstream, professionalized industries (for profit and non profit alike), this is considered taking major advantage of the employee. Take some notes from the AMGA and professionalize the trade.

    11/25/2014 10:03 AM

    Sean's two "dreams"

    11/24/2014 8:36 PM 

    To seek out relevant information and ask informative questions before reacting publicly.

    11/24/2014 1:27 PM

    advocating the instructors' challenges working for NOLS


    "Anything else you'd like to say to your NIA representatives?"

    Note: I've omitted answers that we're some variation on the theme: "Thank you, NIA folks, for everything you do," of which there were many. 


    It goes, boys! obrigado por represertarnos, velejando por nesses mares turbulentos!

    12/27/2014 6:40 AM

    Thank you for the work you do. I would like to see NIA local meetings to be about more than just travel reimbursement and increasing pay. While these are important topics, it would also be great to talk about strategies people have developed for living a transient life style, creative ways on budgeting for living this transient lifestyle, how to find great deals on travel & places to stay, curriculum development, how to effectively manage semesters without proctors, how to develop continuity in supervision/mentorship since that is difficult to provide for instructors...for example...

    12/25/2014 9:49 AM

    We should be a bargaining organization which thoroughly surveys ALL instructors about their interests and then represents those interests (benefits and pay, curriculum, etc.) to NOLS leadership. This wouldn't be hard - a number of instructors have survey research experience and/or advanced degrees and would be happy to help (including myself). The dues are excessive for folks living on poverty wages for membership in a non-union. Lack of union status contributes to the mission and stance of the NIA remaining unclear to many.

    12/24/2014 9:46 AM 

    We should ensure that the re-allocation of health insurance reimbursement funds via the travel reimbursement scheme is done fairly and with due consideration of how this change will affect instructors expenses differently, depending on whether they are working domestically versus internationally.

    12/8/2014 3:44 PM 

    I feel that while continuing to have our voice heard, on many different levels including the board and strategic planing committee, I think that increasing overall instructor awareness of NIA and the work we do is of the utmost importance.

    11/26/2014 1:30 AM

  • Sunday, September 27, 2015 2:13 PM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    The NIA has been administering a survey to gather feedback on the field travel reimbursement system for the last three years.  If you haven't taken the survey yet, you can do so here: Travel.


    In addition to gathering some very specific data (time spent traveling before each contract, expenses incurred, etc.), the survey asks respondents: "Any additional comments you would like to share with the NIA regarding your travel expenses or any other concerns you would like to have voiced to Administration?"


    The responses have been fascinating.  Here is a selection of some of the more thought provoking and eloquent ones.  I would be happy to provide all responses (anonymously) upon request.  



    In doing my taxes this year, two issues popped up in regards to compensation - Domestic Travel Reimbursement is taxed as income, and so is health insurance reimbursement. I find this to be an unfair financial burden on the instructor. I think it would be more equitable if instructors were given a pre-paid debit card with a given amount of dollars to spent on travel and travel related costs. Instructors could still turn in receipts to account for these expenses. Benefits include taking the burden off of instructors to front the costs of travel, and the travel subsidy wouldn't be counted as income.

    4/18/2015 2:38 PM


    US travel riembursement is paid to us as salary, not as a reimbursement, which means it is taxed. My take-home reimbursement amount is less than amount indicated in the travel plan because I have to pay taxes on it.

    3/30/2015 4:21 PM 


    Full and equal travel compensation for ALL instructors is of paramount importance! Without question or exception. If 3500 dollars can be awarded in scholarship to prospective instructors, why can't NOLS look after their instructors in the same way? After all... isn't it the instructors who are the foundation and frontline of NOLS?

    2/25/2015 9:21 PM 


    I think the above numbers speak for themselves. But as I fought and begged staffing for help they gave me an additional $600 to help with costs. I requested work where the cost to me would have been less but enrollment changed so I was sent to NZ and was basically told I was getting more work so I shouldn't complain. In two words: Not Professional.

    2/25/2015 2:20 AM


    I would prefer reimbursement up to the amount of the ticket staffing would buy, rather than staffing buying the ticket - that would give us the option of paying a little extra for more convenient flights. I wonder if NOLS could work harder to find a way around the taxation system for US travel reimbursements. This seems like a double-tax - tax on original income used to pay for travel, then tax on reimbursement for travel.

    11/8/2014 10:08 PM


    Who on the EDT or HQ administrators pay for their travel with their personal money to get to any NOLS location?

    11/2/2014 7:36 PM


    Air fare is significantly more expensive travelling from a Canadian city than an American city. In order to even come close to the reimbursed price, I must get from my home to the nearest major US city (more than $100 round trip), if I could afford to fly from the closest major Canadian city this would save me at least a half day of travel. I will work over 2 days on my next contract "for free" to pay for air fare to the branch.

    10/21/2014 6:45 PM


    I don't think wages during travel are necessarily called for, but certainly there should be full reimbursement for actual travel costs incurred (based on receipts). I've never heard of an organization that requires travel but doesn't fully reimburse for it.

    10/19/2014 6:03 PM


    Thanks for taking up this important issue of travel reimbursement! Another area I think NIA can investigate is the cost of the IC. I think that NOLS field instructors could be paid back whatever amount they paid for their IC (out of pocket), based on the number of field weeks they work post-IC. This would incentivize IC graduates to work for the school (an not another organization) right away and would ensure excellent candidates, possibly from more diverse (socio-economically) backgrounds. For example, perhaps each 30 days I work in the field after my IC, I would get some percentage back of what I paid for my IC until my IC was fully paid off. First 30 days, I get 25% back, second 30 days, I get 20% back, third 30 days, I get 20% back, fourth 30 days, I get 20%, fifth 30 days I get 15% back... just a thought!

    8/17/2014 4:57 PM 


    I think it is impractical for NOLS to reimburse every instructor for all travel. I do think that the above quoted "WMI style" travel reimbursement could be somewhat applicable to certain locations and with contract limitations i.e. work two contracts in AK in the summer and get travel paid, if AK is not their home branch or if a last minute staffing addition. Travel to home branches could be compensated but most employers do not pay their employees to GET to work.

    8/13/2014 3:27 PM 


    At the very least, NOLS should consider a way to account for total expenses that go un-reimbursed and count these as staff gifts towards the mission of the school. NOLS would have a 100% "staff giving" rate.

    8/10/2014 3:22 PM


    If money has been spent in good faith traveling to a contract and contract is cancelled, that money should be reimbursed at full value (see WMI standards).

    8/10/2014 7:57 AM 


    I currently live in Lander to avoid travel cost at NOLS RM. I incur a certain opportunity cost by this choice, including making myself less available to work at other branches or outside of NOLS. In future years, I anticipate traveling to other branches for work, and I feel that the standard reimbursement plan does not reflect expenses incurred by instructors to travel to secondary branches for work—especially international branches. I do not think WMI-style reimbursement is necessary or realistic. Field instructors can cover some travel expenses if they choose to work far from home. However, I believe that the reimbursement plan should afford more flexibility, and that the maximum reimbursement cap should be raised to reflect average travel expenses of instructors. Certain cases warrant a plan that can cover the cost of cross-country or international travel, including airfare.

    8/9/2014 7:58 PM 


    While I would like full reimbursement for travel, I can see the challenges that exist with field staff that only work one course at a particular branch per season. It might also make more sense to maintain a cap given that some instructors don't have a home base. Thus full travel reimbursement might lead to some abuse. I think WMI instructors have a home base from which reimbursement and also hiring is determined by.

    8/7/2014 5:42 PM 


    At the pay level of a new instructor, it costs me half of one contract pay, to pay for travel to the contract/base.

    8/1/2014 3:26 PM 


    NOLS needs to compensate instructors for their travel, bottom line. Regarding my own travel expenses, I am a full-time Sal Fac employee and only live several blocks from my home branch, NOLS RM. I didn't fill out question 6, "how long spent in travel time", because I basically live at my home branch.

    8/1/2014 8:45 AM 


    NOLS has dodged this issue for the entire span of my career (27 years). In particular i am annoyed by the inequity under the current plan. Administrative staff and WMI staff get full reimbursement whilst instructors get a small fraction of their travel costs covered (if any!). Having the first three days of my contract disappearing to cover travel costs does not seem just.

    8/12/2013 7:40 AM


    Treveling form the east coast of Aus to Broome costs more to travel to than it does to the New Zealand branch. It would be great if we could somehow bump up the travel reimbursment for australians traveling in australia! it is at least to 9 hours of travel from the east coast to Broome

    7/31/2013 7:41 PM 


    I wonder if the p-sups, managers, etc. were only offered 50% of their travel costs if they would agree to go visit branches to debrief or attend meetings for short periods of time, maybe take the food stipend away as well and put in-town and instructors on an even footing if that would shake things up and promote real change.

    7/29/2013 12:19 PM 


    I like the travel plan in terms of its organization and overall allocation of resources. I think all of the amounts need to be increased, especially the within-continental-US reimbursement. Thank you NIA for bothering to figure out how much people actually spend!

    7/28/2013 2:13 PM 


    Travel expense (airfare) had gone up almost double in last 4/5 years and the reimbursement is the same. As an foreigner if i am coming for one course a year to US i mostly won't save any money.

    7/24/2013 2:26 PM 


    NOLS instructors should be seen as donating $ to the NOLS mission by way of subsidizing their own travel. I "donate" hundreds of dollars to get to NOLS courses in order to work here and still get emails all of the time about how much money I should "give" in order to make donors attracted to our mission/vision. How about counting travel as my submission?

    7/19/2013 9:20 PM 


    I wish there was recognition/consideration of reimbursement for: - time and travel costs associated with obtaining work visas

    7/16/2013 8:33 AM


    In the above survey, I estimated my expenses based on round-trip calculations. For me, living in the Jackson Hole area, the travel reimbursement seems adequate. However, when I was living in San Francisco and then New York, the reimbursement was laughably small and, I felt, inadequate. Air travel alone was frequently upwards of 5 or 6 hundred dollars. This did NOT include transportation to and from airports (in SF and NYC, as well as from RIV to Lander and back), not to mention baggage fees for checking my gear, regularly getting stuck in the Denver airport due to over booking by Great Lakes and needing to purchase additional meals, and basic grocery expenses in order to try and avoid purchasing food on air planes and in airports. While I am grateful for the reimbursement and I think it is a great start, I would love to see the reimbursement program expanded upon for folks who are traveling half way across the country -or further. Thanks for taking the time to put this together- and thank you in advance for reading through my feedback!

    7/15/2013 2:39 PM


    adding to my travel expense I also have to travel 500miles round trip to get my J1 visa and that expenses (travel + accomodations + food) are not reimbursed.

    7/14/2013 8:16 AM 


    It would be nice to have more travel covered. Especially when I am going from the RM to the SW branch. That is a loooong way from Lander. I don't feel like the carpooling travel reimbursment is actually an incentive to carpool because it still costs so much to drive.

    7/10/2013 5:48 PM


    The amount is completely fair!! Thanks!! However, I feel the way the travel reimbursement is handled tax wise could be improved. It should not be considered taxable income as it was last year. Of the $425 reimbursement I only received $245 after taxes, that is not a $425 reimbursement. It costs the school additional in payroll taxes as well. I addressed this with Terry Marcus and she suggested bringing it to the attention of the travel committee. Marco suggested bringing it to the attention of Dave Kalgren which I did as well. Thanks!!

    7/8/2013 10:42 AM 


    My travel is paid now as I have an HQ job. I have always wanted NOLS to pay for instructor travel to where they working directly with students. I always suggest this on my program feedback. NOLS will pay for full travel reimbursement for a marketing intern yet not pay for travel for instructors who are working directly serving students. Is there a way to trim at the top of our organization? My understanding is that NOLS has not had any growth in catalogue courses during the past 6 years. It would be interesting to know how much money NOLS...spends on hotels, car rentals, meals, flights... How does NOLS justify paying COMPLETE travel for parts of our organization but not other parts? Are the travel reimbursement decision makers all getting their travel paid for? Fair and equitable are words I would not use in terms of NOLS travel reimbursement and who at the school gets reimbursed. There are many ways to show that an employee is valued, payment of ones travel to work with students is one area to show value. If NOLS does not think this is an issue due to not many voices speaking up, it could be partly due to instructors feeling as though their voices are not heard. Action is needed. Thank you for asking to hear my voice and I do not have much faith that the norm of this institution will ever be willing to treat instructor travel in a way that the decision makers cover their own travel. It is not just paying a flight expense, it is shifting a paradigm. I do not want my name shared with this feedback to Administration.

    7/1/2013 10:53 PM 


    The travel plan for Alaska paid for only half of my round trip travel. If I worked a second course there, it'd be nice if the entire travel was covered.

    7/1/2013 8:03 PM 


    Afp covers my full travel cost. My partners was covered by pro for a 7 day contract. This disparity with others who are putting in a full season of work needs to be addressed

    7/1/2013 3:48 PM 


    Based on what I know about the travel plan it seems to be a fair distribution of dollars available.

    7/1/2013 10:00 AM


    Giving instructors the option of being a NOLS employee or an independent contractor would allow instructors who choose to be recognized as independent contractors the option of deducting the portion of expenses in excess of the NOLS travel reimbursement against their income and thereby reducing their tax burden.

    7/1/2013 8:58 AM


    I came for 1 contract and will work 3 here in ak. The cost to flight from Brazil to AK is significantly greater that flight br to lower48. In other words, I get paid less money working here in AK than if I go work in the lower 48. Also, I bought my ticket more than 4 months ago, I dropped my travel journal 40 days ago and I didn't get my reimbursement yet. If the idea is to pay only part of your travel expenses, it would be much more fair to pay it before you spend this money or at least as soon as you travel. Thank you. 

    7/1/2013 8:49 AM 


    At my level I earn $95 per day and travel ABQ/Lander appx 1500 miles RT with appx $100 travel reimbursement. In comparison, I do the same kind of field work for a school here in New Mexico that pays me $140 per day and reimburses me $89 for 250 mile RT from my home to the school. I feel NOLS under compensates instructors in terms of wages and travel. But, I LOVE working for NOLS!

    7/1/2013 8:31 AM


    I'm only working 1 course for the whole year, so getting $ (though it only covers 75%) is pretty great. I like that carpooling is encouraged and funded.

    6/30/2013 10:55 PM

  • Friday, February 13, 2015 6:55 PM | Sean Williams

    The survey has been completed as of Friday 21 February, the final version is below.  Thanks everyone who helped and thanks for all the supportive comments!  NIA members, feel free to continue adding comments under Members/Forums/Big Ideas.  The survey is over but we'll keep working on the issues, and we need to know what you think.


    This self-audit is being run by Jeff Buchanan, EDT member and Director of Finance at NOLS. The goal is to gather creative responses on a wide variety of topics which could lead to very big changes in the structure of NOLS. The survey is so detailed that reading the responses of all employees would be a huge task, so NOLS branches and Headquarters were divided into "Working Groups", in which the leader of each Working Group would collect input and decide exactly how the survey was to be filled out.

    Originally, faculty were not to be included in this survey, because there are so many of us and it seemed difficult to coordinate the input of over 800 people. The NIA Board, noting that faculty are a large and important "Working Group" at NOLS, offered to fill out the survey on behalf of faculty, doing our best to come up with answers that are likely to be supported my most instructors. With this goal in mind, I'm posting our provisional responses here, in a forum in which NIA members can post responses and ideas. After a week (next Friday, February 20), I'll go through all the responses and adjust our answers as necessary.

    We are aware that it is very hard to accurately represent 800+ people on very specific questions, but we believe the NIA is more able to fill this role than any other part of NOLS. Please be patient and forgive us if our answers are different from what you would have liked, and realize that the workload of collecting this level of detail from all instructors would be very high, so this is the best we can do.

    The more people read and respond, the more our answers will be taken seriously. Please just post something simple like "YES!" if you mostly support our responses. I will give Jeff the total number of people who posted, and the higher it is, the more convincing our representation will be.

    Also feel free to email me (sean_williams@nols.edu) if you don't want to post publicly, or if you are not an NIA member.


    Please keep in mind that this represents an attempt to gather opinions that are widely but not unanimously shared.  It is not a formal NIA position, nor the public announcement of any individual's opinions.  

    Systems and Services Optimization Audit
    NIA  Survey - Final Version

    1) Provide two specific examples of how our organizational structure creates frustration for your work group.


    Faculty feel a lack of consistent, long-term mentorship with one or a few individuals. CLs and Program Supervisors vary too much course-to-course to provide long-term mentoring, while the staffing office is more continuous over time, but not individually connected, having so many people to keep track of. Faculty report needing mentorship both on how to be a better instructor in the field, and on how to navigate NOLS as an organization, and on how to build a career.


    The staffing system creates frustration for faculty due to confusion about how to get enough work, widespread underemployment, and lack of clarity about a path to a sustainable career. Many instructors, especially in North America, feel a negative power dynamic with the staffing office in particular, as they are seen as the gatekeepers to contracts. The expectation to stay flexible and accept late contracts as a means to advancing one’s career is frustrating and makes it more difficult to maintain other work outside of NOLS.  Faculty from outside North America feel less frustration with staffing, and more with the perceived Lander-centrism of the NOLS system.


    2) Which three workgroups do you wish had more to help meet your needs?


    Branch staff could meet faculty needs better if they enjoyed better retention, more consistent work, and higher compensation. This could be expected to improve the quality of branch operations and thus support faculty members' work. The same is true for program supervisors.

    Staffing might be able to meet more of the mentorship needs discussed above if they had more resources, but would also be limited by a lack of in-depth personal connection with most instructors.


    3) What function would you remove from your workgroup that might be better managed elsewhere? Why should this function be changed?


    Travel arrangements to get to NOLS branches, and the difficulty in receiving reimbursements after finishing work. Faculty note that most other organizations, and the non-field part of NOLS, that require long-distance travel for work make travel arrangements for employees and pay fully for them. In addition to making travel plans, faculty spend a lot of time and energy tracking down late or too-small travel reimbursements and negotiating with staffing or NOLS Pro over the reimbursement amount.


    4) Currently NOLS is divided into 5 areas: Admission and Marketing, Alumni and Development, Finance and IS, Operations, and Faculty and Studies. If you were to restructure NOLS under just 4 areas what would they be? Under 7 areas?


    4 Areas: Combine Admissions and Marketing with Alumni and Development in order to coordinate alumni for word-of-mouth marketing.


    7 Areas: Separate Admissions and Marketing, so that Admissions could focus on weeding out students for whom NOLS is not a good fit without the pressure to meet enrollment goals. Separate Faculty and Studies into Faculty and “Curriculum and Research.” 


    5) How does NOLS’ current organizational structure limit our ability to respond to opportunities?


    Marketing seems to limits the inclusion of faculty in marketing work and in creating new marketing ideas.  Faculty are very enthusiastic about creating regional marketing representatives who are part-time field instructors.  This would reduce the need for long-distance travel from Lander, provide more instructors with a sustainable career, and provide on-the-ground, locally immersed marketing reps with an in-depth knowledge of NOLS courses.


    6) Currently the school maintains multiple admissions, staffing, purchasing, operational logistics, marketing, and bookkeeping functions. Pick one or two from this list and describe the benefits and obstacles to consolidation.


    Marketing – the benefit of consolidation would be the ability to shift students/clients between catalogue, WMI, and NOLS Pro,  while the obstacle would be creating an even larger, slower, and less nimble department.


    7) If you were required to close or remove two departments, operating locations, or positions at NOLS to improve efficiency and/or resource allocation, what would they be and why?


    In general there is more questioning of the efficiency, necessity, and cost of Headquarters as a whole than of any operating locations or departments.  Perhaps each department is a little bigger and better-funded than necessary, compared to relatively lean branch operations.


    8) What data can’t your work group access that you’d like to access?


    Student files/contact info before contracts start


    A simplified database of the student information which is needed in the field (medications/allergies/injuries/birthdays/behavioral), without the time-consuming necessity of reading through all student applications. A slightly different form for students to input this information, or more clerical work on admissions’ part, might provide a solution.


    9) What new employee training/tasks do you believe should come from a centralized source (e.g. headquarters, an online video?) What standardized trainings should be developed for your work group?


    New faculty would benefit from detailed training on the complex NOLS benefits system: travel, retirement, health insurance, international pay systems. Most faculty are not aware, for example, that they will someday be eligible for retirement contributions. More detailed instruction on how Headquarters works and on NOLS’ organizational structure would also help to create a more informed and engaged body of faculty, and would help to send the message that NOLS values new faculty and is eager to include them in the community.  Perhaps a 1-day seminar after each IC, led by a Branch Director or similar-level Lander-based administrator?


    10) Identify 2-3 ways the supervisor relationship could be improved around the school.


    Long-term mentoring from one consistent source.

    A consistent briefer/debriefer, both over time and for single courses.


    An increase in quality mentoring to complement recent increases in supervision and expectations and the increasing importance of SPEs. Many faculty report a culture of fear around SPEs and job security, and feel that they can give very little consequential feedback to program departments or staffing, while feedback from program and staffing to faculty has very high consequences in terms of future work. Better mentoring would help to maintain a culture of support, which would help to moderate the emotional impact of increased supervision.


    11) What additional support/flexibility does your work group need to respond to enrollment fluctuations?


    Faculty need more job security and consistent employment, and need these to be a higher priority in the enrollment/staffing/retention/long-term planning mix.


    12) List 5 school-wide processes or procedures that are unproductive or obsolete and should be re-evaluated. Please order these from most to least important.


    The IC, hiring, and retention system.  Most IC students do not go on to work more than a few courses, and those who do often struggle for years to get enough work.  It appears to be widely known in the US outdoor industry that NOLS does not offer sustainable careers, and this impression limits quality IC applicants.  Underemployment for both new and senior instructors, as a consistent strategy to respond to unpredictable enrollment, is perhaps not a good strategy to support the NOLS community and maintain the school’s excellence.


    The SPE system, which has changed and grown rapidly since its inception, seems to contribute to a culture of fear around the evaluation process.  This is tied to underemployment and the fear of not getting work.  SPEs seem to have an alarmingly inconsistent quality of evaluation and reporting for a permanent performance record that is used to determine future career steps.  Faculty see unexplained variation between courses, between program supervisors, and between evaluations for different faculty, and are not convinced that the quality of real work in the field is accurately reported.


    The use of unpaid internships, and the differences in pay between national Instructor-in-Training programs (the Chile, India, and new US system appear to be very different and unequal).  In general, NOLS should pay anyone who does real work for us, and we need to carefully distinguish between interns and ITs who provide necessary work and those who are strictly benefiting from training, rather than working.

    The level of detail in cost-savings, budget scrutiny, and attempts to minimize small expenses – perhaps we spend more money paying administrators to keep track of all this detail than we save by such rigorous accounting.


    The Rocky Mountain system of students “grading” instructors as part of the CQS. This seems to be an inappropriate system, especially after students have received their own final grades (this is not done in academia, for example). Faculty are skeptical that “objective” grades are an appropriate or useful form of student-to-instructor feedback, and are concerned that the apparently objective nature of these grades, if they are retained in a database, will lead to inaccurate and over-confident assessments of instructors' performance by program departments or staffing. This is not yet a school-wide system, but many systems start at the Rocky Mountain branch and spread elsewhere, so it seems appropriate to mention it here.  (To read the RM CQS as it appeared in August of 2014, click here.)


    13) What three decisions currently held at the EDT level would you recommend be decided at the department or location director level?


    Branches should be able to make larger budget decisions without EDT approval, having more detailed knowledge and judgment about their local needs.


    The EDT appears to occasionally be involved in more complex non-medical evacuation decisions. Branch Directors should have the skills and confidence to keep these decisions at their level, based on instructors' judgment, good documentation, and first-hand knowledge of the students involved.


    Branches should have more discretion over new course types and course mixes. Faculty have the impression that Marketing is often slow to support new ideas in this area.


    14) What system or structure is most effective for your work group to share and receive best practices at the school?


    Faculty learn the most from our co-instructors in the field. Retaining senior instructors, attracting creative and talented new instructors, maintaining the freedom to run courses creatively and in very different ways, and supporting ongoing education such as seminars and the Faculty Summit all help this system to work.


    15) How should we foster innovation at the school?


    Use the $600,000 “innovation” budget to give grants for creative ideas in any area, distributed either to individuals or departments (instructors working in marketing might be a good start). More funds for training/IDF would help faculty innovate and advance their skill set outside of NOLS ($600 or $450 does not go far for an expedition or for professional training, and this amount has not increased with inflation).


    16) What three technological tools would enhance your department’s performance or efficiency? The student and alumni experience?


    E-readers and solar chargers for use in the field, with well-organized contents. In the long-run, the ability to type paperwork might vastly improve quality.


    A shared calendar for individual instructors’ scheduling, to be used with staffing and branches (Cotap, Google, etc.). Apparently AFP instructors are trying this on a small scale.


    17) What facilities needs do you anticipate for your department or location before 2020?


    Consistent budgets for instructor needs at branches, such as housing and reliable internet.


    Increasing the possibility of working remotely for jobs now confined to Headquarters. This would offer more career mobility to faculty who cannot or will not move to Lander in order to join the NOLS administration. It also might save on Headquarters costs, as these individuals would work from home.  This should be increasingly possible as web-based systems become more advanced and NOLS departments become more proficient with them.


    18) Based upon your responses to this survey, prioritize the first three services and systems optimization issues we should tackle.


    Foster greater faculty engagement by employing a half-time senior field instructor to work on the EDT (as salaried faculty).  The role of this individual might be to advise other EDT members on how their decisions affect faculty and the running of field courses, to take part in EDT-wide decisions, and to interface with the Board of Trustees. This would improve the connection of NOLS’s strategic vision and decision-making with reality on field courses and with faculty member’s ideas and feeling of inclusion and value.  Two EDT members working a few, usally non-catalogue, short field courses a year, as we have now, does not meet these goals.


    Foster creative admissions work by putting instructors to work part-time with marketing (as salaried faculty). This would meet two goals: improving marketing by using the people who know the most about NOLS courses (faculty), and offering more sustainable careers to faculty.


    Restructure the IC/hiring/retention/underemployment/enrollment system in order to provide more sustainable careers for both new and senior faculty.  Send a clear signal that supporting and caring for all of the people who work for NOLS is becoming a long-term goal that is just as important as financial stability, student outcomes, and claiming leadership in the field. 

  • Friday, January 09, 2015 2:36 AM | Sean Williams

    NIA ideas from 2014, collated by Sean Williams


    Here are some of the consistent and notable themes and ideas the NIA received from faculty in 2014:

    • One of the most consistent ideas, and one which elicits the most excitement from faculty, is that of playing a larger role in decision-making at NOLS, of participating on committees and working groups, beyond simply answering surveys, filling out program emails, or having informal conversations.  Faculty want to work, and are willing to put in the time, on compensation and curriculum in particular.  Faculty often feel resentment and exclusion when changes are announced which affect our lives and our courses without our input.  “Compensation” and “Increased faculty participation in school-wide decisions” were by far the biggest responses in a poll included with the recent Board elections.
    • Continued confusion with the travel plan, notably for South Americans working in Alaska, and documentation that NOLS is falling far short of the goal of paying 70% of travel expenses.  According to our ongoing Survey Monkey survey on the NIA website, average travel reimbursements stand at about 50% of real expenses.  I would specifically like to thank Marco Johnson, head of Staffing, and Alaska branch director Janeen Hutchins, for taking the time on very short notice to explain these systems to me in great depth, and for encouraging me to pass on that explanation to faculty. 
    • Regular frustration with the amount of time and documentation required to receive travel reimbursements.  Faculty feel that they put substantial unpaid time into this, and that the frequent double-checking and bargaining by phone and email may take too much time and resources at Headquarters.  A clear suggestion is that streamlining the system for documentation and paying out reimbursements, so that faculty regularly receive their reimbursement as soon as they arrive at the branch to work their course, might do more to alleviate frustration at less cost than increasing the overall compensation. 
    • Concerns about the lack of socio-economic diversity in the faculty pool in conjunction with NOLS’s overall diversity goals.  Faculty note that a majority of our number seem to come from more affluent backgrounds, while potential faculty of lesser means may be discouraged from seeking work at NOLS due to low job security, underemployment, and low compensation prospects, which are harder to sustain without the indirect or potential family and class support enjoyed by the affluent.  Faculty see NOLS putting a lot of great energy into economic diversity at the student level and wonder if this should extend to faculty and staff.
    • A very high level of frustration from Indian, Brazilian, and Chilean instructors about the fixed exchange rate used to determine their compensation in local currency, which has resulted in their earning less in dollar terms than their American peers in recent years.  Fabio Oliveira and Jon Kempsey have worked extensively to gather input and present it to Patagonia branch directors and to Marco Johnson, but there has been no change.
    • Appreciation for the prompt and clear communication from Linda Lindsey about the sudden change in the faculty health insurance reimbursement due to the Affordable Care Act, and for the commitment to re-direct this money to the travel plan.  This was mixed with a high level of concern from faculty whose health-care expenses have actually gone up since the Affordable Care Act, and who now can no longer receive support from NOLS. 
    • Concern about the efficiency and affordability of Headquarters.  Many faculty either do not understand the necessity for so many staff in Headquarters, or are skeptical that they add value to the school at the same rate as field instructors or Branch operations.  This is often compounded by a perception that Headquarters staff enjoy better funding for their operations as well as more benefits and job security, while budgets for instructor compensation and Branch operations give the impression of ruthless belt-tightening and permanent scarcity.  Faculty report confusion about whether NOLS is a struggling non-profit that must stay lean to survive, or a solid and permanent organization that can afford to take care of its people and channel resources into non-core activities like research and outreach.
    • Some faculty have suggested that the distribution of future gain shares be based strictly on weeks worked, rather than on a percentage of income, in order to distribute the gain more evenly and better reward staff at lower pay scales. 
    • Faculty share an almost unanimous hope for a firm stance and long-term vision on a living wage for all employees, and for a path to a middle-class income for senior faculty and program staff.  Faculty understand that this is unrealistic in the short-term, and the NIA has tried to make newer faculty aware of the steady improvements in compensation over the past seven years.  Nevertheless, the clear statement of a long-term vision would go a long way in showing faculty that they are valued and cared-for, and that there is some hope for big changes someday in the future.

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