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Mentoring at NOLS by Aaron Divine

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

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