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Report to the Board of Trustees, October 2017

Thursday, October 26, 2017 12:13 PM | Sean Williams


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

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