By Pip Coe, NOLS Alumni Relations Manager
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1
NOLS grad Mike Schiller recently started the Western Pennsylvania Field Institute (WPFI), a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness and appreciation for the environment. As Executive Director, Schiller says WPFI "wants to get more people outside doing outdoor recreational activities." He notes that Pittsburgh has the image of being a smoky, polluted city, but that this is no longer true. WPFI aims to change that perception by getting people outside to enjoy the wilderness.
Schiller, a Princeton and Stanford graduate, spent much of his early career in the technologies industry. After selling his portion on Confluence Technologies, Inc. to his partner in 1997 he headed back to the outdoors, a place he had missed since college. During this time he participated in an Alaska Outdoor Educator course at NOLS and realized that the outdoor experience can be a powerful tool. Schiller wanted to share this with others in his local community of Pittsburgh. He claims his NOLS course was a major inspiration in starting the WPFI.
After writing a business plan in July 2000 Schiller started looking for funding. The initial funding for the institute came in the form of a $250,000 two-year grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The goal now is to have WPFI self sufficient, in terms of operating costs, in three to four years and look toward grant money to raise capital for new projects.
WPFI hopes to increase awareness of and appreciation for the environment in three main ways: acting as an activities clearing house where people can look up all the outdoor activities being sponsored by any organization in the region; training more leaders so that all local organizations have more qualified outdoor leaders; and finally sponsoring activities that fill in the gaps of outdoor recreating that no one else is doing.