Reports to the Board of Trustees

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  • Monday, September 16, 2019 6:29 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA Report

     David Durant

    President, NOLS Instructor Association

    October 2019


    NIA Mission

    To communicate and advocate instructor views, and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values.


    WELCOME, TERRI WATSON 


    On behalf of the NIA and all NOLS instructors, and from one President to another, I’d like to warmly welcome Terri to her new role.  I’ll stop short of saying “welcome back,” because, of course, Terri never left.  She’s been teaching Wilderness Medicine courses each year since 1999, which is long before she worked her last Expedition in 2008, and even before NOLS purchased what was then known as the Wilderness Medicine Institute.


    At Terri’s welcome party in Lander we learned from Greg Avis that more than 400 potential candidates were contacted in the search process.  No doubt this number included many appealing potential presidents without NOLS experience.  We at the NIA applaud the Board of Trustees’ hiring of Terri.  We take it to be self evident that the students arethe mission, and that the instructors are the keepers of the student experience, and therefore what serves instructors well ultimately serves our students well.  We believe that with her background as an Expedition instructor, Wilderness Medicine instructor, Program Supervisor, and Branch Director, not to mention her recent role as the CEO of a nonprofit unrelated to NOLS,  Terri is exceptionally well positioned to approach the real problems confronting our instructor corps with empathy. 


    The Directors of the NIA and I all look forward to Terri’s official start date in 2020, and sincerely hope that this will usher in an era of increased cooperation between NOLS instructors and NOLS management.  In fact, for the good of the school, it hardly seems like it could be otherwise.  I don’t need to enumerate for you the challenges that face the school today.  Against this backdrop, I find it helpful to remember that we’re all on the same team, and that instructors and administrators alike share the same basic goals of excellent student experiences and being part of an organization that can credibly claim to be “The Leader in Outdoor Education.” 


    AND WELCOME TO LANDER, NOLS TRUSTEES


    The fact that the October Board Meeting is held in Lander each year provides our Trustees with a unique opportunity to experience some aspects of the field instructor lifestyle.  I’d encourage each of you to come a day early or stay a day late in order to better do so.  Take a hike around Sinks Canyon after work and chat with NOLS folks in pairs who’ve headed up to climb a few pitches before dark.  Rent a mountain bike at Gannet Peak Sports, and head out to Johnny Behind The Rocks to participate in another favorite time off activity.  Stop by the Lander Bar for Happy Hour on Friday, and have a beverage with the motley assortment of program staff, instructors, HQ employees, interns and fellows that congregate there for an hour or two at the end of each work week.


    Take some time to really explore the Noble Hotel.  Here, you’ll see numerous services that NOLS provides for instructors that are often under-appreciated. These include a well appointed workout facility, a laundry room, bike hangers, boat storage, long term lockers, a faculty-only space on the third floor, and a dedicated faculty WiFi lane that is fast enough to perform “life maintenance” tasks in between contracts.  


    But look closely in the Noble, and you’ll notice some other things, too.  In the third floor kitchen, the air compressor on the fridge cycles between brief moments of silence and long minutes of noise that make it hard to carry on a conversation.  The windows next to the dining table have been broken for months or years in a manner them makes them impossible to open.  Without air conditioning on the third floor, this means that from June to August the temperature in the kitchen can approach 100 degrees.  In these conditions the air compressor won’t cycle, but runs constantly, day and night, at maximum volume.  Instructors struggling to be heard over the ambient noise keep instructors who are headed out to the field early the next morning up late.


    You’ll notice something else as you patronize local non-NOLS establishments as well.  Before Old Town Coffee became Crux Coffee, the barista was often an HQ worker picking up extra shifts in order to make ends meet.  The Crux, owned by the Catholic College, seems to hire entirely from within their own community, so these days NOLS employees who need to supplement their income can often be seen running food from the kitchen in the Gannet Grill.  Walk to the back of Gannet Peak Sports, and you might see an AFP Instructor picking up a shift doing bike maintenance.  (Fewer than than 2% of NOLs Faculty work under the auspices of the “Annual Faculty Plan,” which makes them “full time” with a guarantee of 25 weeks of work per year.)


    In October I suspect that City Park, where anyone can camp for free for up to three nights, will be pretty quiet.  But visit in mid-summer and you might see a small impromptu community of NOLS instructors and interns.  During this season an instructor whose contracts aren’t perfectly back-to-back will find that there isn’t space for them to spend an extra night in the Noble, and therefore won’t have any indoor housing option.  Likewise, our interns, who receive stipends that are modest by any standards, often get by in Lander by staying in the Hotel.  In the summer this option typically isn’t available.


    People should draw their own conclusions from an in-depth tour of Lander, an no doubt you will, even if the only tour you have time to take is the virtual one provided here.  I would like to submit one thing for your consideration, however.  It occurs to me as I write this, and not for the first time, that an organization laying claim to the title “The Leader in Outdoor Education,” should challenge itself to do better by its faculty and staff.  As one of those faculty, I know I’m here to serve our students.  But I serve them best when I’m not worried about where I’ll sleep between contracts, when I’m not using any of my mental bandwidth to figure whether or not I need a second job to meet my annual expenses (even as an AFP instructor), and when, during my briefing, I can enjoy all the spaces NOLS kindly provides for me, not just the ones with functional windows.


    PLEASE ACCEPT MY REGRETS


    Finally, I’d like to express my regrets that I wasn’t in Gabriels to greet you in June.  I had recently left that campus to teach a two-week Adventure course in our beautiful Adirondack classroom.  Likewise, I won’t be in Lander in October to greet you as I was planning to do.  I’ll be in Salt Lake City, where I picked up some last minute work teaching a Wilderness First Responder course.  Such is the reality for NOLS instructors.  Barring some non-job source of income (which 56.7% of expedition instructors report having), we need to take what’s offered, when it’s offered.  


    I very much looking forward to reconnecting with all of you in San Diego, February 7th & 8th, 2020.



  • Wednesday, September 04, 2019 11:23 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA Report

     David Durant

    President, NOLS Instructor Association

    June 2019


    NIA Mission

    To communicate and advocate instructor views, and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values.


    Welcome to the Adirondacks 


    On behalf of the NIA and all NOLS Instructors, I’d like to warmly welcome our Trustees to the Adirondacks.  Having attended a summer camp in Adirondack Park from the age of nine, this place occupies a special space in my heart.  The Adirondacks were the backdrop for all of my formative wilderness experiences.  This is the first place I carried a backpack, set up a tent, caught a fish, and felt awed in the presence of nature, whether that was looking out from the summit of a high peak or tolerating the adversity of a spectacular summer thunderstorm.  It was as a 16 year old camper in the Adirondacks that I first heard about NOLS, and it was to the Adirondacks that I returned after my NOLS student experience in Patagonia, feeling empowered to step forward and run the counselor-in-training program at the camp I had attended.


    I firmly believe that Adirondack Park is a perfect setting for NOLS courses, and that NOLS is the perfect program for the Adirondacks.  I was excited when our base here opened, and have been overjoyed to watch the program grow.  I am disappointed that I won’t have the chance to interact directly with all of you in Gabriels, but this disappointment is tempered by how thrilled I am to be instructing the classic NOLS Northeast Course, ADK 6/20/19, a two week adventure course. 


    My departure for the field just a few days before the summer Trustees’ Meeting is indicative of a larger phenomenon at the NIA.  Just as NOLS is ramping up for its busiest season, the NIA is preparing for our annual period of relative quiet.  Of our 11 current Directors, nine are active field instructors who will spend most, if not all, of the next two months far from the website, Facebook Group, and Google Hangouts that have become some of the main tools we use to communicate with our constituents and advocate for positive change at the school.  The tenth director will keep busy instructing nearly back-to-back Wilderness First Responder courses.  


    Of course we treasure our time with students and co-instructors, away from all of the screens and immersed in the mountains and rivers.  But we also know that we’ll return in August to a mountain of NIA-related tasks that need tackled.  Given the time of year, I’d like to use the opportunity that this report presents to familiarize all of you with the NIA’s Platform.  The full text of all of our Platform Planks is, of course, always available at nolsinstrcutorassociation.org


    THE NIA Platform


    The NIA Platform reflects our stances on key selected issues at the School.  Platform planks are drafted by NIA members and adopted by the NIA Board.  They are written to reflect the thinking of our voting membership. Our positions are dynamic; they're revised as situations at the school change. 


    Faculty Engagement

    A fundamental part of the mission of the NIA is to help guide NOLS from the faculty perspective. We believe that instructors are the primary bearers of the NOLS mission through our direct work with students. From this unique role, working faculty have an essential perspective on school-wide decisions. Our goal is to further integrate this perspective into the work of the NOLS administration.  Current work and future goals in this area include, but are not limited to:

    • The inclusion of faculty on all committees making major decisions at NOLS, from the BoT and ET to headquarters departments and branch operations. 
    • Direct involvement of faculty, at minimum on a consultative basis, at the time of the selection of any new ET member.
    • A seat at the table for the NIA President or their surrogate at all Board of Trustees meetings.  As of May 2019 a petition calling for the reinstatement of a permanent NIA seat at Trustees’ meetings has garnered over 120 signatures from current NOLS employees. 


    Advocacy for In-town Employees

    The NIA recognizes the essential role that in-town employees play in supporting excellence on all NOLS courses. Students and instructors alike benefit from stable, well-trained and well-compensated support staff.  We recommend NOLS:

    • Create a system for recognizing hours worked in-town with field weeks. This will allow Expedition faculty who take in-town positions to continue to build seniority and will ease transitions from in-town back to the field and back again, resulting in longer, more sustainable careers and more experienced staff.
    • Increase transparency of by including the level (C, D, E, etc.) and pay range for each job when it is posted.
    • Make in-town job schedules more flexible so that Expedition faculty are able to have stable work while continuing to work in the field.


    Advocacy for Wilderness Medicine Instructors

    The NIA has represented Wilderness Medicine instructors since August 2014.  On behalf of these constituents, we advocate for NOLS Wilderness Medicine to be treated as a full pillar partner, on equal footing with NOLS Expeditions, as well as for specific changes in how Wilderness Medicine Instructors are staffed, paid, and reimbursed.  These changes include, but are not limited to:

    • Wilderness Medicine Faculty who take the Professional Instructor Course should be awarded ROPE weeks for their time already spent teaching NOLS Wilderness Medicine courses at a 1:1 ratio.
    • Wilderness Medicine Instructors should be paid on the last payday before the end of their contract, as Expedition Instructors are.
    • The NIA advocates for closing the wage gap between Expedition and Wilderness Medicine Instructors.  This should be accomplished by annual raises in Expedition pay that outpace future raises in Wilderness Medicine pay.  Among other desirable outcomes, this will create a greater breadth of realistic work opportunities for Wilderness Medicine Instructors within NOLS.


    Instructor Pay

    The NIA applauds the budgetary efforts that resulted in major compensation increases during the last strategic plan, and calls for a stated long-term goal of a living wage for all employees and a middle-class income for senior faculty and staff, without reference to the low comparables in U.S. outdoor education. Faculty would feel deeply valued and supported by the school’s adopting an aggressive goal in this area, even if that goal may not be met for many years.


    Expedition Instructor Travel Reimbursement

    The NIA supports a long-term goal of reimbursing 100% of average travel costs for all Expedition instructors. In addition, we recommend paying faculty members half their daily wage for all travel days, providing a per diem rate for food, and providing a per diem hotel rate for all overnight layovers. We also recommend creating an electronic system through which TEJs and receipts are processed for reimbursements.


    International Expedition Pay

    The CTF has announced that come September 1st, 2015 all international field instructor pay scales will be adjusted to annual exchange rates. These wages will be re-evaluated every January 1st. It was reaffirming to see the CTF’s solution fall in line with the drafted solutions written by the NIA as well as both Chilean and Indian Instructors.


    Proctorships

    The NIA advocates for the staffing of proctors on all semesters with I-teams larger than two, and whenever possible on two person I-teams. We applaud the NOLS Administration and Board of Trustees for approving a budget in June of 2014 that includes a return to I-level wages for proctors to aid one section per semester. We believe that this NIA's efforts to keep this issue in the spotlight since 2008 were integral to this victory.   


  • Saturday, January 12, 2019 9:04 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA Report

     David Durant

    President, NOLS Instructor Association

    February 2019


    NIA Mission

    To communicate and advocate instructor views, and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values.


    At the end of 2018 we bid farewell to NIA President Sean Williams, who completed his second term on December 31.  I can confidently state that Sean left the NIA a larger, more professional, and more articulate organization than he found it.  He’ll remain involved as President Emeritus, but his designated leadership will be missed.


    It is my great honor to assume the NIA Presidency for the next two years.  I first came to NOLS in 2004 as a student on a mountaineering course in Patagonia.  Three days into my course, I told my mentor that I had decided to pursue a career as a full-time NOLS instructor.  In 2008 I took a Wilderness Upgrade for Medical Professionals and a Spring Instructor Course.  I took my Wilderness Medicine Instructor Training Course in 2011, and in 2014, ten years after my life-changing experience as a student on a NOLS Expedition, I was able to realize my dream to become a full-time instructor when I was accepted into the 50/50 Annual Faculty Program.


    What We Hear From Instructors 


    It has been my pleasure to serve on the NIA Board of Directors since 2013.  During that time I’ve interacted with hundreds of instructors around the campfire, in the classroom, and in NIA meetings from Driggs to Gabriels, Whitehorse to Tucson.  I am consistently impressed by our faculty.  I have found them to be very nearly universally passionate about education, wilderness, and supporting their students.  All of them could choose to tolerate less adversity, have a better work-life balance, and earn more compensation by working elsewhere, yet they choose NOLS each day.  


    In all of my conversations with instructors in my capacity as an NIA representative, two themes stand out overwhelmingly: Instructors worry about their precarious financial positions, and are seeking avenues through which they can participate in school-wide decision making.  These conclusions are borne out by the NIA’s data-driven approach.  In a poll question embedded in our 2017 Ballot, our membership selected “Calling for a stated long term goal of a living wage for all employees and a middle class income for Senior Faculty and Staff” as the most important thing the NIA could advocate for in 2018.  The year before, faculty voted for “Working to ensure that Instructors are represented at all Board of Trustees meetings.”


    Sean described this latter desire eloquently in his very first report here in February of 2015, when he wrote, “One of the most consistent ideas to come up in Branch meetings, and one which elicits the most excitement, 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 evaluations, or having informal conversations with well-connected individuals. Faculty want to work to help make major decisions, and well-chosen representatives would be willing to put in the time to do so.”


    The Path Forward


    While conversations about compensation run the risk of becoming emotionally charged or divisive, we on the NIA Board are bound by the mission of our organization to pass on what we hear from instructors to the Board of Trustees.  Our intentions are to advise, not to demand; to collaborate, not to antagonize.  We recognize and are deeply grateful for the annual cost-of-living increases that have been made to the Faculty pay scale on a regular basis since I came to the school in 2008.  


    With that as our point of departure, we are in the late stages of revising an in-depth Position Paper that calls for NOLS to treat compensation as a long term strategic goal, rather than a year-by-year decision making process.   We believe NOLS should tackle this problem with the same good intentions and strategic foresight that the administration has brought to growing the NOLS endowment and placing the school as a whole on firm financial footing.  Our hope is that this paper, which will be released later in 2019, can be used to inform the next Strategic Plan.  It is our belief that setting an ambitious goal for a living wage will be essential to retaining a professional, well trained, and highly motivated instructor corps for the next 50 years.   


    Finally, we believe that an opportunity currently exists for the NOLS administration to build significant goodwill with faculty by addressing their widespread desire for greater representation in school-wide decision making.  From 1975 until 2014, faculty were represented by the NIA each time the Board of Trustees met.  From 2014 until the present, an NIA representative has only been invited to one Trustees meeting each year.  This recent development has not been widely publicized.  When Faculty learn of it, they are typically both surprised and disappointed.  The cost of including a member of the NIA Board - democratically elected by hundreds of their peers - at each Trustees meeting would be far outweighed by the sense of engagement in decision making this would give many Instructors.


    Changing of the Guard


    The NIA holds an election at the end of each calendar year to select Directors who serve two year terms.  We are particularly proud of this, as it is the only large scale democratic decision making process at NOLS.  

    For 2019, we are welcoming Clemencia Caporale and Paul Calver to our Board.  Clemencia, exclusively a Wilderness Medicine Instructor, is the third instructor from outside of the Expeditions pillar to serve on the NIA Board since 2014, when we held a referendum to open membership to all NOLS Instructors.  In addition to her viewpoint as classroom faculty, we’re excited for the geographic diversity that she brings to our Board as an East Coaster, representing some of the many faculty who rarely make the trip to hard-to-reach Lander, Wyoming.  Paul has a deep resume with NOLS Expeditions as well as in administrative positions in Headquarters.  He has already enriched our ongoing internal conversations with his historical perspective.


    My sincere thanks for the invitation to attend your February meeting.  I look forward to interacting with all of you there.  Please don’t hesitate to approach me with questions about the instructor experience and instructor priorities. 


  • Friday, October 12, 2018 10:53 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA REPORT

    SEAN WILLIAMS, NIA PRESIDENT

    NOLS INSTRUCTOR ASSOCIATION

    OCTOBER 2018


    NIA MISSION

    NIA’s mission is to communicate and advocate instructor views and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values.


    Like many others around the school, we on the NIA Board of Directors are wrapping up a busy summer season of working in the field, personal trips, and preparing for more courses in the fall.


    The NOLS Summit in May was an exciting time to gather with instructors and hear input across the school. This year’s summit generated discussion about topics that were both stimulating and challenging. At our Annual General Meeting at the summit, we were pleased to welcome more than 35 instructors to a discussion of priorities and goals for the coming year and a number of instructors becoming Lifetime Members. One notable outcome of that meeting was the decision to draft a plank on inclusion to add to the NIA’s platform, which is in progress now. The plank aims to support NOLS’ efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion and

    demonstrate our support for making NOLS a place where everyone feels valued and respected.


    We look forward to having several NIA board members present at the upcoming Wilderness Medicine Staff Meeting, which will have taken place by the time this report is published, as we continue to support both faculty who teach only wilderness medicine courses as well as crossover staff. In that vein, we applaud the recent agreement between wilderness medicine and expedition Staffing departments to not de-prioritize instructors who teach wilderness medicine courses in the summer for first-round shoulder-season work.


    We look forward to seeing you all in Lander in October. Thanks, as always, for everything that you do for NOLS, to make all the magic that happens in the field and the classroom possible. The faculty have the deepest appreciation for your support.

  • Friday, June 01, 2018 4:31 PM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    NIA REPORT 

    SEAN WILLIAMS
    PRESIDENT, NOLS INSTRUCTOR ASSOCIATION


    Mission

    The NIA’s mission is to communicate and advocate instructor views and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school’s mission and values. 


    The most important work for us at the NIA during the spring is preparation for the Faculty Summit, which will have already taken place by the time you read this report. We hold our Annual General Meeting, our largest meeting of the year, in Lander, on an evening during the Summit. In recent years this has been a good time to share with faculty members and others in Lander what the NIA has been working on over the past year, what goals we have for the coming year, and most importantly, to solicit input and feedback, both for ourselves, and to pass on to Headquarters as needed. Instructors now seem to expect a major NIA meeting to go along with the Summit, and we coordinate with the Summit organizers to find a time that will not conflict with Summit-related events. This year the meeting will be at the Lander Bake Shop, a convenient and fun location for those staying at the Noble or living in Lander. 


    The NIA has had significant turnover on our Board of Directors this year, with only a few Board members remaining who have been on the Board for four years or more. The current Board is highly engaged, organized, and motivated, and has particularly good representation among younger, newer instructors, and among instructors based outside of Lander. I view this as a positive change from years past, when there was a conception that membership on the NIA Board was only appropriate for very senior faculty members. We will have an almost completely new team in Lander for the Summit and running our General Meeting, with only one Board member present who was also present last year. This is an exciting time at the NIA, with changes in faces, personalities, and ideas. I am proud of the work our Board has done over the past four years, and simultaneously happy that we will now be showing new faces and providing new perspectives to our membership. We try to recruit potential Board members to create a Board with a balance of priorities and skills: age, seniority at NOLS, nationality and presence at various NOLS locations and pillars, organizing and management skills, continuity and experience on the Board, organizational knowledge of NOLS, and reliable motivation. The energy and confidence with which our new Board members have jumped into their roles speaks to a bright future for the NIA over the next few years. 


    After a several-year hiatus, we have re-launched the Flamingo Newsletter a one-page email newsletter we will be sending out to our members several times a year, with updates on NIA activities and information about what we have been doing to represent and support NOLS faculty and staff. The Flamingo Fund, our donation- and dues-based fund for projects to improve life for faculty and staff at NOLS campuses, has been busy recently, supporting the purchase of a small fleet of whitewater kayaks for staff to use at the Patagonia campus. (In the past, the Flamingo Fund was 100% donation funded. The flow of donations was quite low, so last year we decided to provide the Fund with regular cash-flow by directing 10% of NIA member dues towards it every year, making more projects possible). This was a nice story of a single instructor and NIA member, Mike Dooley, finding the support and funding to add an often-desired perk to life on the Patagonia campus, one that will also support instructor technical skill development in the whitewater and sea kayak programs. What began as a simple request for a few hundred dollars from the NIA to buy an old used boat grew in scope and ambition, and ended up combining NIA Flamingo Funds, individual donations, and Patagonia campus funding to purchase three high quality boats that will be available for faculty and staff to use on the excellent whitewater near Coyhaique, and all around Aysen (the Chilean province where our Patagonia campus is located). In addition to being fun, this will help Patagonia sea kayak instructors develop their skills in challenging conditions without having to organize a major sea kayaking expedition to the remote Patagonian coast, and should also help encourage NOLS river instructors to keep contributing their skills to the sea kayak program, by giving them an easy way to pursue their passion on world famous whitewater without having to transport a boat to Patagonia. 


    Good luck with the budget, and other topics at the June meeting! We look forward to seeing you all in Lander in October. Thanks, as always, for everything that you do for NOLS, to make all the magic that happens in the field and the classroom possible. The faculty have the deepest appreciation for your support. 


  • Monday, February 12, 2018 4:45 PM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    the field faculty compensation survey


    background and methods


    As mentioned in the last NIA report, we spent part of 2017 continuing our efforts at data-gathering. Our hope was to build on the 2016 Lifestyle Survey to further improve our statistical picture of today’s NOLS instructor. In the pure spirit of data collection, and without a view to any change or new strategy at this point, we decided to brave the ever-fraught topic of compensation.


    As we all learned in last June’s meeting, it is challenging for NOLS to gather data on the compensation levels offered at organizations that we compete with to attract instructors, for the simple reason that most organizations don’t want to share that information, presumably for reasons of competitiveness. The most recent analysis of the industry conducted by NOLS (presented last June) relied, for the “field instructor” category, on information from 11 other organizations, seven of which were Outward Bound schools. We hoped to complement this information by looking in another direction for data:  to NOLS instructors themselves.


    Our intent was to build a statistical picture of the jobs that are actually attracting current NOLS instructors. To that end, we asked field instructors to fill out a 13 question survey in which they shared information about current or previous jobs they had held in the outdoor industry. We asked respondents to share information about as many jobs as they had held or been accepted for (we asked them not to include any they had only heard about, or not been able to get). As a result of this method, we could receive multiple responses from the same instructor, and in a few cases, we received multiple responses about the same organization. This provides a potential statistical advantage, in that our averages and medians better represent the actual influence of each competing organization on the “NOLS instructor job market”: the few organizations that are attractive enough to be used by multiple respondents clearly have a greater weight in pulling instructors away from NOLS, while others that only produced one respondent would appear to have a less than 1% effect on the market. We included questions about the individual’s current or most recent wage, the organization’s starting wage, the maximum possible field wage, the for- or non-profit status of the organization, and the currency that was used. We also asked respondents to compare the job in question with their work at NOLS in four terms: the level of technical skill required, the risk management responsibilities, the time spent with students or clients on a daily basis, and the breadth of past experience needed to get the job. Our hope with the last four questions was to learn not only how NOLS compares in terms of compensation, but whether competing jobs are more or less difficult than working as a NOLS field instructor.


    The obvious advantages of our method are the number of data points (107 jobs), and the guarantee that, by going directly to instructors to gather data, we are comparing jobs that NOLS instructors actually get and accept. The obvious disadvantage is that we rely on the accurate memory, and honesty, of the respondents. Since we have 107 data points, any individual data point that is not accurate has only a minor statistical influence on the results as a whole.


    profit status

    We made an intentional choice to gather data on for-profit organizations, in addition to non-profits. A common perception among field instructors is that it is easy to make more money guiding, or working for a for-profit company, than teaching (usually for a non-profit like NOLS). Because for-profit organizations have a different economic model that NOLS, and sometimes lack the sense of social mission that NOLS has, it makes sense to say that they can’t be compared economically. They do, however, clearly affect the job market, since 57 out of 107 responses to our survey, over 50%, were from for-profits. By asking respondents about profit status, we were able to analyze the numbers both with and without the for-profits included. We were happy to be able to include them, in order to better understand the job market, and also happy to be able to exclude them from analysis, in order to compare NOLS with the non-profit world alone.


    We expected to see a big difference here, with compensation levels much higher in the for-profit world. This was not the case. Average starting, current, and top wages were only 3.6%, 10.6%, and 8% higher in the for-profit than in the non-profit world. When for- and non-profits are combined, wages were 1.5%, 5.6%, and 4.6% higher than when for-profits were excluded. (The upper limit of pay levels is clearly higher in the for-profit world; our survey included nine responses with top pay levels over $400/day, all of which were from for-profits. This may partly explain the popular impression that for-profits pay much more, but this appears to be true only on the extreme upper end of the scale.) A more nuanced analysis, or more data, might be able to determine if the supposedly high wages available in the for-profit world do in fact affect specific populations of NOLS instructors (there could be substantial variation between skill types, for example, which our survey did not cover), but there appear to be enough low-paying for-profits to pull down the average.


    Since the differences were so small, this report includes only data only for the combined list of for- and non-profits. If you wish to consider numbers that exclude the for-profit world, you can just subtract 1.5-4.6%.


    nationality and currency

    Compensation ranges in the outdoor industry vary substantially among the countries NOLS operates in, and exchange rates obviously affect comparison with compensation in US dollars. We received twelve Canadian responses, and one each from Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden (as well as five with the currency unspecified, which we deleted). The Canadian data might present some anecdotal interest for the Canadian job market, while the other five, with only one response each, clearly have no statistical power in their respective markets. When these international responses are removed, US-only responses show compensation levels 0.7%, 2%, and 6% higher for starting, current, and top compensation levels.


    Since currency, like profit status, had less affect than expected, and since 86% of responses were from the U.S., the analysis below is based simply on the combined totals.


    comparing the nols wage

    NOLS’ compensation for field instructors varies substantially by position, seniority, season, and course type. Pay is 25-30% higher for the Course Leader, and about 10% higher for everyone in the summer. There are possible bonuses of $5-$23 per day for various course types and positions in various seasons. For purposes of comparison, we used the following pay rates as typical for NOLS:


    For Starting pay, we used the pay rate for an “Instructor” or “I” level instructor in the summer. This rate is $90/day. (Almost all instructors work one to three courses as an “I” before moving on to work as a Patrol Leader (PL), and most instructors work their first course in the summer. Off-season “I” level pay is only $85/day. The rare instructor who works his or her first course as a PL will earn $109/day in the summer.)


    Current pay is more difficult to compare, since NOLS’ 12 seniority levels (up to 500+ field weeks) and the various seasonal and position bonuses and rates make it hard to determine how much the “average” instructor is being paid. From last year’s Lifestyle Survey, we know that the median response for seniority was 30-60 weeks in the field (known as Intermediate Level), so we used this level for comparison. Some instructors at this level will work as CLs some of the time, and the most common instructor team has one CL and two PLs. So for comparison purposes, we used a number one-third of the way between Intermediate PL pay and Intermediate CL pay.  As for the seasonal bonus, we split the difference between summer pay and off-season pay. All of this gives a rate of $115/day.


    The top pay rate on the summer pay scale is $208/day. (Technically, an instructor with over 500 weeks in the field, working a few specific course types, could accumulate a number of bonuses and reach $260.50. Such a combination of bonuses is so rare as to be negligibly significant, and the vast majority of courses do not include these bonuses, making this number seem more hypothetical than realistic.) We can safely assume that such a senior instructor would CL most of the time, so we used the average of the Senior Staff Level 10 CL pay rate for summer and off-season, which is $203/day.  As we know from the Lifestyle Survey, only 9% of instructors have reached even 200 weeks in the field (Senior Staff Level 4), so such wages are far from most instructors’ likely career path.


    the results

    Enough explanation, here are the numbers. Figures are in US dollars per day.

                   

         


     


           







                                  

    For starting wages, the industry median is 45% above the NOLS wage, and the industry average is 57% above. For current wages (our statistical “average” wage at NOLS), median and average are 40% and 63% above, respectively. For top wages, NOLS is 1.5% above the median, and the average is 21.6% above NOLS.


    Why is the top wage at NOLS slightly above the industry median, and closer to the industry average, while the current and starting wages are farther below? It could be because NOLS has been around for so long, and has retained a small number of instructors for decades. This has led us to establish higher pay levels, to account for the seniority of a relatively small number of individuals. Perhaps few competing organizations have instructors with over 500 field weeks, for whom they might choose to establish higher top wages. We have no way of knowing objectively if this is the case, and there could be some other explanation as well.


    For the four questions about the difficulty of work at other organizations, respondents rated the job in question on a scale of 1-5, where “3” was “equal to NOLS”, “1” was “much less than NOLS”, and “5” was “much more than NOLS”. Here are the average scores for each question (keep in mind that NOLS’s score is, by definition, 3).


    What level of technical skill is required, compared to NOLS work?:                             2.63


    How demanding are the risk management responsibilities compared to NOLS?:        2.72


    How much time and energy are you expected to devote to students/clients compared to at NOLS?                                 3.04


    How extensive must your professional background be to get this job?                         2.6


    It appears that, on average, slightly less technical skill, risk management responsibility, and professional background are required in the industry than at NOLS, and the devotion of time and energy to students/clients is about the same.


    Since we only asked current NOLS instructors to respond to the survey, our responses do not include information from those who have moved on from NOLS. This may skew the “current wage” data set slightly down: our respondents are reporting their wages either when they last worked at the organization in question (if they no longer work there), or currently (if they still work there, combining that job with NOLS), but no one is reporting wages at jobs they have held since leaving NOLS – presumably for a job that would pay more. We also asked for the year at which the respondent last worked at the job in question. We threw out responses from more than 10 years ago, but did not adjust the other responses for inflation or changes in the industry. This also might skew the average and median down slightly.


    At this point, that is all we know. As usual, I am eager for feedback on this survey and analysis, and especially for ideas about future NIA data-gathering efforts. I am looking forward to seeing you all in Santa Monica! Thanks for all you do for NOLS, and for your time and attention, both to myself and to past NIA representatives over the years.


  • Thursday, October 26, 2017 12:13 PM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    NIA REPORT


    It has been another successful summer for the NIA, with high membership, lots of interest from instructors in joining and learning more the NIA’s role at NOLS, and consistent positivity from instructors and members of the administration. Summer is the time when most NOLS faculty are in the field and many branches are busiest. For the NIA this is primarily a time to focus on our members, because this is the time when they are most available and most engaged with NOLS. That means running meetings, having conversations, recruiting new members, and making sure that instructors understand the key role of an independent faculty organization at NOLS. The NIA’s other tasks – long-term strategic planning, working with the NOLS administration to hash out particular solutions, gathering data to better inform NOLS’ strategic thinking, and putting energy into our own administration – can wait until the long NOLS winter. From late August to late May, when the snow is flying in the northern hemisphere mountains and fewer instructors are in the field, we re-focus on the longer term.

    Maintaining NIA membership, like recruiting students and instructors to NOLS, is a never-ending project.  Instructors move on from NOLS, and new arrivals have yet to hear that the school even has an independent faculty organization. NIA Board Member Ira Slomsky-Pritz led a successful membership drive this summer, moving the NIA’s membership back to 300. We also hosted an NIA meeting or information session for every IC, helping to make sure that new instructors have a clear resource for learning about NOLS’ leadership and decision-making, and that they feel that their voice is heard.


    Another focus has been learning more about the needs of our still-relatively-new body of members, NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructors. The NIA opened membership to this group in 2014, and about 20% of Wilderness Medicine–only instructors (i.e., those who are not also Expedition instructors) have since joined. Considering that few Wilderness Medicine instructors even knew what the NIA was before this, and that, like Expedition faculty, they are spread all over the world and interact with NOLS, as an organization, mostly through email and phone, we think this is pretty good progress. Four out of the thirteen current NIA Board Members are Wilderness Medicine instructors, and one is a Wilderness Medicine-only instructor, so we have had some insight from within about how the NIA might be most useful to this group, whose job, needs, and problems are in many ways very different from those of Expedition faculty. Anecdotally, Wilderness Medicine instructors seem more likely to choose to join the NIA when they learn about it for the first time or are reminded of it than are Expedition instructors. We speculate that this is because these individuals are less afraid to part with $20, more desirous of a deeper relationship with and sense of inclusion in NOLS as a whole, and more aware of the importance of professional associations and professional advocacy, given their connection to the highly professionalized medical field. The NIA is in the final stages of adding another “Plank” to our Platform, outlining our vision for the needs of Wilderness Medicine instructors. Many of these needs revolve around a sense that Wilderness Medicine and Expedition instructors are all NOLS faculty, and should have as similar an experience at NOLS as possible, given the obvious differences in our jobs. Some of these items are practical or procedural, for example, online systems for viewing and understanding contracts and pay stubs, and a payment cycle that ensures that instructors are paid before their contract is over. Other items are more strategic, or vision-oriented. We will be calling for eventually closing the wage gap between Wilderness Medicine and Expedition faculty, to strengthen the viability of instructors working in both pillars of the school, and on the  view that all faculty members at NOLS, despite their various specializations, should be equal.


    The NIA’s goals for the fall include brainstorming a way to gather good data on the compensation offered for fieldwork at other organizations, and finding a way to support NOLS’ marketing efforts by asking faculty to articulate the value of a NOLS semester. Enjoy Lander in October, and I will look forward to seeing you all in Los Angeles in February. Thanks, as always, for your time, and for everything that you do for NOLS.


    Sean Williams

    President, NOLS Instructor Association

  • Thursday, October 26, 2017 12:11 PM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    NOLS Instructor Association Report

    Sean Williams, NIA President

    Spring, the slowest season for NOLS field instructors, has been humming along as usual at the NIA. We have held branch meetings in Patagonia and the Pacific Northwest and a women’s specific meeting at the Rocky Mountain campus, which included discussion of women’s progression to Course Leader and family planning for field instructors. The Annual General Meeting, scheduled for May 15th at the Faculty Summit, will include a presentation of the Lifestyle Survey results (as did the Pacific Northwest meeting).


    The NIA Board has continued to refine and organize our internal operations, spending time this winter organizing a clearer structure, with working groups and lead positions on key tasks, and instituting a regular budgeting process. We have spent considerable energy brainstorming and exploring new avenues for fundraising. Twenty dollars per member per year from 300-odd members does not go a long way in funding the kind of professionalism and productivity needed by the faculty organization for a school of NOLS’ scope. Hopefully the future will lead us to some solution; in the meantime, we will soldier on just as NOLS did for decades, with our strongest assets not located in the bank.


    We are continuing to explore options for another survey in the near future. One idea would focus on compensation received or offered at other outdoor-based organizations, while another is to find a way to use faculty voices to articulate the value of NOLS semesters whose enrollment has recently suffered. Yet another is to gather lessons from successful senior faculty about how to make a NOLS career work, to share with newer instructors in a statistical, rather than anecdotal, form.


    On a similar note, NIA Board member and NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructor Adam Baxter is exploring a pilot version of Morgan Dixon’s “Teach for America idea,” (although he thought of it on his own). The goal would be for NOLS to harness the industry power of its alumnus faculty to provide career assistance outside of NOLS for current instructors. Several contacts in the rock and alpine guiding industry have expressed interest in inviting NOLS faculty to “shadow” their guides or take on other apprentice-type roles, which might lead to a more lucrative and sustainable post-NOLS career for those instructors. Other organizations, which operate primarily in NOLS’ off-season, rely heavily on out-of-work NOLS instructors to staff their courses, and might be eager to establish this relationship more definitively. The NIA may be able to serve as a semi-formal clearinghouse or contact center for these career relationships, helping underemployed instructors to fill the gaps in their schedule and helping senior instructors to successfully leverage their NOLS experience into other careers. As discussed during the NOLS Branding Initiative, both of these outcomes could help expand NOLS’ positive presence on the market by ensuring a steadier supply of satisfied former instructors, the kind who move on from NOLS gracefully and happily and would be more likely to spread the word to potential future students or faculty. As with the NIA Mentorship program, the NIA may actually be in a better position than NOLS to fill this role.


    Finally, as in the past several years, we included a survey of priorities for the NIA to focus on in our 2016 Board elections. Voters ranked seven priorities in order of importance. The most chosen was “Ensuring instructors are represented at all Board of Trustees meetings”, and the third most was “Advocating for a salaried Faculty Chair to represent instructors at the EDT level” (the second most popular was “Championing continued increases to the travel reimbursement”). Inclusion of working faculty at the highest levels of NOLS decision-making is clearly a priority and an area of concern for instructors, and is a core element of the NIA’s philosophy of Faculty Engagement.


    We at the NIA have been working from the ground up to establish better conditions for such an outcome: educating ourselves and faculty members in general about how NOLS works and how and why decisions get made, so that their comments and contributions are better informed, and providing ideas, solutions, advice, and teamwork at the administrative level that is more than just advocacy for the faculty’s “interests”. There has been good success with this at the mid-level of administration (for example, I am on the Faculty Assessment Working Group, which could easily have been organized without a member whose primary role at NOLS is in the field). I believe NOLS is making progress in using the experience and knowledge of the faculty in school-wide leadership. I would be happy to hear any feedback and ideas on how the NIA and myself could be more useful to the Board of Trustees in the future.


    Thanks again for all your hard work, and for your eagerness to listen. I will be at the meetings in Alaska, which has been my NOLS home for thirteen summers, and is quite a special place. Looking forward to seeing you all there!

  • Friday, January 06, 2017 10:25 AM | Sean Williams (Administrator)

    NIA Report

    Sean Williams, NIA President

    January 4, 2017

    This report is devoted entirely to a presentation and very brief analysis of the results of our Field Faculty Lifestyle Survey, conducted from mid January to mid December 2016. As some of you may remember from my report a year ago, we conceived the Lifestyle Survey as a way to gather hard data about the financial, career, and lifestyle choices that NOLS faculty make in order to maintain and build their careers at NOLS. It is often said that working in the field is the best job in the world, in terms of the work itself. Creating the environment for exceptional student experiences, working with passionate, creative, and motivated colleagues, and being part of a truly unique global community makes for an incredible workday, every single day we are on contract. Among the faculty, it is also a truism that working for NOLS is quite difficult in terms of financial realities, job security, and career advancement. Anecdotal evidence and urban legends abound to demonstrate how this is so, and how individual instructors organize their lives with impressive ingenuity, in order to be able to work in the field. Our goal with this survey is to present a statistical picture of these realities. We would like to replace the myths and legends with data, and start to build a picture with numbers of how faculty members support the mission of the school, not just with their work itself, but with their willingness to arrange their lives for what is, by most standards, a very unusual job.


    I present the basic survey responses in the next two pages, followed by a few highlights of data points that I find particularly interesting or surprising. The survey consisted of fourteen questions with multiple-choice answers, covering topics related to seniority and longevity at NOLS, income, job security, career advancement, and housing situation. We have the ability to filter results based on the answer to any one question. I hope to be able to do this in real-time during my presentation, if needed, and am also happy to provide any of this information by email in advance, or to share the data in a spreadsheet form or a Google Forms widget, if anyone wants to pull specific queries themselves. The basic presentation is also available on the NIA website at http://www.nolsinstructorassociation.org/bod/4507050


    I have opinions about every question on the survey, which I will, mostly, refrain from sharing at this point. I am more interested in gathering information, and in hearing the responses and impressions of everyone at this meeting, in order to build a more nuanced and informed opinion for the future. There is some inevitable interpretation even in the form of the questions themselves, and in any analysis, but my goal is to keep this as objective as possible. We at the NIA believe that NOLS needs an accurate, data-driven understanding of the faculty’s experience working for the school, and we offer these survey results as a step towards that.



    Analysis and highlights

    I believe the large sample size for the survey, 41% of faculty, presents a statistically significant picture to represent the body of faculty as a whole. Considering that NOLS faculty work by contract and are not obliged to fill out random surveys when not at work, we were very happy with the response rate, and we received an enormous amount of positive feedback from respondents about the questions themselves and the NIA’s interest in gathering this data. What follows, again, is simply a few highlights that piqued my interest; feel free to make what you will of the data itself, and to take issue with any aspect of my interpretation below.


    First, I am surprised by the large number of respondents with relatively little seniority (about one third had less than 30 field weeks, while measuring by years with the school, 27.1% had less than two years of experience and 52.4% had less than five years of experience). However, since more senior instructors are often offered more contracts, it is probably the case that more courses are worked by a smaller number of more senior instructors; for example, a single question data query reveals that for instructors with less than 15 weeks of experience, 63.5% worked 0-5 weeks last year, while of instructors with 100-150 weeks, 46.7% worked 5-15 weeks, 20% worked 15-25, and 10% worked more than 25 weeks in the last year.


    A large percentage of faculty worked only a few courses per year: 36.9% worked 0-5 weeks, which is one standard month-long course or section or a shorter course, and another 43.2% worked 5-15 weeks. Only 4.2% worked more than 25 weeks per year, leaving only 15.7% to work 15-25 weeks in 2016. Again, statistically, more of the actual courses will be worked by the instructors who work a lot in a single year, or to put it in another way, more student days will be with instructors who work more than a few courses a year than these numbers indicate. Regardless, it is very clear that only a small proportion of NOLS faculty work in the field on anything like a full-time basis, or even on a significant part-time basis.1 This is born out by other responses; for example, 61.9% of respondents report that their current work balance at NOLS is less than 25 weeks per year, plus another job. Only 3.5% work more than 25 weeks per year, and only 0.7% work more than 25 weeks per year and also hold another job. Income statistics present the same picture: 54.9% of respondents receive only 1-25% of their yearly income from NOLS fieldwork, and only 6.9% of respondents earn all of their income from fieldwork.2 86.1% of respondents report that they have more than one job.


    Despite the fact that most instructors work relatively little, and bring in a relatively small proportion of their income from NOLS fieldwork (only 26.3% receive more than 50% of their income from fieldwork), a higher proportion, 41.1%, report NOLS fieldwork as their top work priority, with another 45.3% rating NOLS as their second work priority. It seems that NOLS’ importance in many faculty member’s lives and career priorities significantly outweighs its contribution in terms of amount of work or income. 


    We included several questions about housing, non-job income, and total annual income, in order to build a picture of how other financial arrangements contribute to the yearly maintenance of our “statistical instructor.” Clearly, even making conservative spending choices and willingly adopting a simple lifestyle, a certain amount of money is required to maintain a person throughout the year, and since most faculty members work so little for NOLS, only a small part of that money comes from NOLS in most cases. A common technique among faculty members to reduce spending is to eliminate what, for most households, is the largest yearly expense: housing. Indeed, 38.9% of respondents either lived at NOLS branches, camped, and traveled, or stayed rent-free with friends or family last year. Only 27.3% owned their own home, and of those, rather impressively given the young average age of NOLS instructors, almost a third owned without a mortgage.3

                                                   

    1  What constitutes “full-time” fieldwork is unclear. Annual Faculty Position instructors must work 25 weeks to qualify for group health insurance at the ¾ time rate. Eligibility for retirement contributions, which begins at 200 weeks in the field, is calculated using a 10-hour workday, which would equate to about 28.5 weeks per year; a more realistic 14 hour workday would equate to 20 weeks per year.

    2  Respondents were asked to consider in-town or Wilderness Medicine work as separate jobs.  13.6% of respondents combine fieldwork with in-town or Wilderness Medicine work, and 8.4% combine both of these with a third job in addition.

    3  This seems to be a little higher than the national average, which itself is boosted significantly by retirees, of whom there were presumably very few in this survey.



    An impressive 56.7% of respondents enjoyed income from non-job sources such as investments, gifts, family support, or living in a rent- and mortgage-free home. This is an especially notable number, considering that this type of income is typically under-reported. While 17.3% of respondents received less than $1,000, 17.6% enjoyed $5,000 - $25,000, and 5.3% benefited from more than $25,000. Even $5,000 is quite significant, considering that the upper levels of attainable income from fieldwork are in the $20,000s or low $30,000s. This combined 22.9% of respondents would likely have an easier time living with an unpredictable income source such as NOLS fieldwork, while still feeling secure and enjoying some of the consumption and spending habits expected by most Americans. They may also have the freedom to avoid committing to other jobs in order to take last-minute NOLS contracts, thereby taking advantage of opportunities and advancing their NOLS careers more rapidly.


    One way or another, an impressive proportion of faculty manage to live on very little money, wherever it comes from: 34.7% have an annual income of $10,000 - $20,000, another 22.9% rely on $20,000 - $30,000, and 7.6% squeak by below the poverty level with less than $10,000. 8.7% are comfortably above $50,000, and 26% are squarely aimed at the middle class, with $30,000 - $50,000.

    The take-home point from these income responses, to me at least, is that our “statistical instructor” is simultaneously creative, willing to make sacrifices, and lucky, in finding the financial support and strategy to make a NOLS career possible. Whether it comes in the form of free housing, no housing, simple living, family wealth, or a lower priority second career that produces more income, all of this constitutes an indirect form of support for the NOLS mission. Our statistical instructor also pulls all this together despite being in a state of some confusion about his or her career: 31.6% report struggling to build a long-term career, and 20.1% report having no idea where their careers are going. The good news is that, adding the struggling 31.6% to the 33.7% who believe their NOLS career is going well and has excellent long-term prospects, and leaving aside the 14.5% who see NOLS fieldwork as only a short-term interest, 65.3% see themselves to be in for the long haul with NOLS. 29% hope to work for NOLS for their entire working life, and another 16% are going for at least another 10 years. However, if the past is any indication, they may change their mind: only 17.7% of respondents reported working for NOLS for more than ten years already, and according to Director of Field Staffing Marco Johnson, only about 20 field faculty out of 694 total, or 2.8%, have worked in the field for more than 25 years.


    These are the points, with, hopefully, a minimum of interpretation, that seem most relevant to me. Please feel free to get in touch if you would like me to pull any specific queries (it only takes a few seconds) or if you would like the data in a spreadsheet, or access to the Google Form in order to make the queries yourself. We are eager to continue the survey in 2017, and I would very much appreciate any feedback. We could change the questions slightly, add new questions, eliminate questions that don’t seem useful, or use a different surveying and data analysis tool. I welcome any suggestions.


    I look forward to seeing you all in San Antonio, and especially to learning from anyone who has more statistical skills and training than me about how to improve this survey in the future and make the data more useful and accessible. Thanks for taking the time to read this longer-than-usual NIA report and for being willing to take a hard look at the numbers.

    Sean Williams

    sean_williams@nols.edu

    503.961.2171

  • Monday, September 05, 2016 8:59 AM | Dave Durant (Administrator)

    5 September, 2016

    Sean Williams


    The NIA has enjoyed a busy spring and summer, as has become the norm over the past few years.  Our Board Members and Branch Representatives kept themselves busy with a string of branch meetings all over the world, and with the regular recruitment of new members.  The “Lifetime Member” category is especially popular, with 47 faculty members so far motivated to put $200 towards supporting the NIA.  Considering the income level of our faculty members, this is an impressive long-term commitment towards involvement with NOLS.  


    Faculty ideas and concerns are consistent, with income level and job security always near the top of the list.  Although this is nothing new, I would be remiss in omitting from my report that this feedback is ongoing.  As NIA President, I have put a lot of energy into grasping NOLS’ long-term strategy and budget.  Based on this, and on conversations with EDT members and with you all on the Board,  I feel confident telling faculty members that although major changes in these areas don’t seem likely in the short-term, there may be some hope in the long-term.  Faculty usually seem heartened when they hear this.


    With a view to more short-term changes that might make faculty members’ working lives easier, the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, the NIA has had some success helping Staffing and HR to investigate smaller changes and improvements in efficiency that would be good for everyone.  The faculty travel reimbursement process is now easier to understand, and we have seen some motivation to improve the time-frame and documentation requirements for these reimbursements.  Paying for expensive airline tickets in advance is a major financial commitment for many faculty.  Jeff Buchanan has helped in investigating a way to avoid contract domestic faculty having to pay taxes on their travel reimbursements (salaried faculty or those traveling internationally do not have to).  Rocky Mountain Assistant Branch Director Andy Blair and the IT department have looked into improving wifi in the Noble, possibly by taking advantage of HQ’s new direct link to a faster fiber optic system (this seems like a minor detail, until one considers that faculty traveling to work for NOLS, often without a permanent home, depend on the internet to organize their lives and communicate with far-away friends and family, and must do all this while they are not in the field).  The NIA has also donated funds directly to make small improvements around branches, including a bicycle for PNW staff and faculty to make the short ride to town, and a kitchen knife rack, food storage containers, and a bike pump in the Noble.  


    Three NIA Board Members enjoyed a productive meeting with Education Director Liz Tuohy about the Training aspect of the current Strategic Plan. We discussed, among other things, the difficulty that faculty often have in seeking out feedback and owning their own need for improvement when job security is such a pressing concern, and when staffing decisions are based more and more on performance rather than seniority.  In short, it can be hard to admit that one is anything less than excellent, and to ask for mentorship and coaching for improvement, when one is afraid that one won’t get another contract if anyone finds out that one made a mistake.  This is especially paradoxical, given that NOLS instructors, as a whole, are passionate about improvement and deeply committed to doing what we do well.  It seems that success in training and in improving faculty performance is tied to faculty members’ feeling that they are supported by the school, including with job security, when they are continuing to grow.  Lack of job security may act as an unintentional inhibitor of good mentor ship and honest communication about work.


    The Branding Initiative has been a big topic of discussion for faculty since it was announced at the Faculty Summit.  I am happy to report that faculty, for the most part, are enthusiastic about the results so far.  Faculty understand the need to improve NOLS’ marketing performance.  It is very clear to most instructors that the problems we experience with job security are directly tied to fluctuating and unpredictable enrollment patterns and to the seasonal enrollment differential.  Most faculty understand, as Valerie Nguyen of Wolf and Wilhelmine pointed out in her Faculty Summit presentation, that marketing is not just about “selling ourselves” or convincing students to sign up for courses, but about our own ability to understand our identity and communicate it to the world.  I have heard nothing but good things about W & W’s impression of our identity.  Faculty often used to say that NOLS taught three things: leadership, environmental studies, and outdoor skills.  This maps very well onto W & W’s idea that we “embolden people to step forward into uncertainty” (leadership), and that our values are “the wild” (environmental studies) and “our elite skills” (outdoor skills).  Adopting this language would mean that we have gained a more eloquent, compelling, and precise way of saying what we already sort of knew about ourselves, but couldn’t quite express.  This seems like exactly what we hoped for in a new brand.


    Faculty have, in general, a reserved opinion about the new naming conventions and potential new logo; something like, “wait and see, it can’t hurt.”  My impression is that faculty hope to see more come out of NOLS’ willingness to make changes in marketing than the aesthetic and semantic changes proposed thus far, as important as these are and as positive as they seem to be.  Harnessing the potential of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of current and former faculty members might be an important future step.  After all, faculty members have the most in-depth and detailed grasp of what goes on in the field and classroom, and have spent the most time (in many cases, cumulative years of our lives) being immersed in the NOLS experience.  Brainstorming and experimentation in this area, maybe even some risk-taking, seems like a worthwhile investment of resources in the near future.


    I am also happy to add that I was personally very impressed, as was everyone who has heard it so far, with W & W’s “bonus” feedback for the school as a whole, and with the administration’s willingness to have this shared openly, in such a schoolwide setting as the Faculty Summit.  I understand that there is a detailed, text version of the eight points of feedback laid out, which I have not seen.  From the oral summary, the most memorable part by far is that we are expert problem-solvers and risk-managers in the field, but basically too comfortable in town.  This resonates deeply for virtually all faculty members, I believe for most branch staff, and for at least some in HQ.  NOLS is certainly a values-based organization, and it feels important for those of us working directly with students that the values we share in the field are echoed in the way NOLS operates as an organization.  Being willing to take risks, make changes, set aggressive goals, and push to meet them is something that any successful NOLS student learns, and that faculty practice every day.  Translating this to a global organization of NOLS’ scale, granted, is not straightforward, but I suppose that is what W & W was trying to get us to think about.  It sounds like the question, for NOLS as a whole and for individuals with their responsibilities within the organization, is, how are we to be emboldened to step forward?


    I am looking forward to seeing you all in California in February (or to someone seeing you there, since I will be running for re-election in December).  At that point we will have concluded the first year of our Field Faculty Lifestyle Survey, and I hope to have as much analysis of the results as time and my statistical ability allows.  I am writing this from an internet cafe in Bajawa, Indonesia, on the island of Flores, where Summers and I are having sort of an adventure honeymoon (we got married in August).  Suffice it to say that this is not the best place from which to direct anything, even such a 21st century internet-based organization as the NIA, but I will be home in Vermont (and also in Patagonia) in the fall and looking forward to some details and projects that summer fieldwork, a wedding, and travel have put on the shelf.  


    Thanks for all your energy and hard work,


    Sean Williams

    NIA President

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