NOLS: National Outdoor Leadership School Home


Spring 2005 Issue
    Cover Article
    Message from the Director
    Alumni Trailblazers
    Alumni Profile
    Wild Side of Medicine
    NOLS on Top of the World
    Summer Search
    Surviving the Tsunami
    Issue Room
    NOLS On the Road: A Well-Oiled Crew
Leader Archives
  Address Update Form

Donate to NOLS

Contact Us

Looking Back
Way back when: NOLS Executive Director John Gans (middle) dons a colorful tie to teach a weather class to NOLS students in the early 1980s.

I am writing this letter on March 23, 2005—a significant day for NOLS. Forty years ago today, Paul Petzoldt started our wilderness school. The life of NOLS has been an adventure, made up of adventures. Our issues of the Leader this year will focus part of their content on this milestone, with a look at our past and what it means for us today.

Looking back over the past 40 years, I am struck by how much has not changed at NOLS. Our core curriculum is still centered on teaching wilderness skills, leadership and conservation. Our classrooms still inspire awe in our students and provide experiential lessons with real consequences that develop skilled wilderness visitors and great leaders. Our mission and values are nearly identical to those Paul Petzoldt described in 1965. And while we live in a changing world, our continued focus on our core purpose and curriculum has likely been our key to success.

While the school’s core mission has not varied, the world in which we operate has changed significantly. A quick look at photos of our students in the ’60s drives home that hairstyles and fashion have changed a great deal in the past four decades. For that matter, if we issued gear today that we issued then, our students would think we were kidding. But what I find most interesting are the changes in our society that have only made a NOLS education more relevant to our students and the world.

The increasing threats to our wild lands create a more compelling need for leaders with a wilderness ethic. A more complex world also requires leaders with good expedition behavior, judgment, communication skills, self-awareness, and the ability to tolerate adversity. As you know, a NOLS education provides an excellent classroom to develop all of these leadership pillars.

Our increasingly urban world has raised the value of wilderness recreation skills, making them an important antidote to our technology-filled and physically-deprived lives. NOLS also provides great opportunities for young people to grow and develop, away from a world that seems to focus too much on schedules and security. In many ways, our changing world has reinforced a need for what Paul Petzoldt set out to accomplish when he founded NOLS.

Of course, there have been areas where NOLS has changed along with the changing world. While our 1965 home in Lander, Wyoming and the Wind River Range is still our home today, we live in a far more global world 40 years later. In response, NOLS has followed that trend and now offers courses on every continent but Antarctica. The increased level of professionalism in outdoor education is what prompted NOLS to acquire the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) and to more recently start NOLS Professional Training. It is noteworthy that WMI is also celebrating an anniversary—their 15th year offering wilderness medicine certification programs.

In this issue of the Leader, our Trailblazer section features a few NOLS staff who were instrumental outdoor pioneers during our history. We had infinite candidates for this list, from Paul Petzoldt and Tap Tapley who don’t require mention, to Lucy Smith and Kevin Mahoney. Our list is a miniscule subset of the many staff and graduates who have been leaders in outdoor pursuits and wilderness education. As another example, just this last weekend, NOLS graduate Peter Athans received the Tenzing Norgay Award at the annual Explorers Club dinner in New York. Whether they are reaching the summit of Everest, crossing the oceans, exploring outer space, or on The Long Walk, our graduates are the 21st Century’s leading explorers. They are inspiring the minds of the world with the spirit and values of exploration and wilderness.

In the 1960s when Paul talked about creating outdoor leaders, it is unclear if he envisioned that our graduates’ contributions would extend far beyond the wilderness. Today our graduates are leaders in business, education, government, land management, the arts and many other endeavors. They are active, quality, experienced and ethical leaders with great expedition behavior and a wilderness ethic. Our alumni are leaders of whom I am proud, and leaders of whom our world can be proud. What an outcome for a small non-profit school founded 40 years ago in the foothills of the Wind River Range.

John Gans, NOLS Executive Director

If you're not getting The Leader in the mail and you want to, click here.

NOLS Top of Page
NOLS Home About Us Courses Wilderness Medicine Institute NOLS Professional Training Alumni Store Donate Account NOLS Home Parents Press Room School Resources Photos NOLS.TV Events WRMC The NOLS Blog Introduction About Leadership History Mission & Values Profiles Partnerships Frequent Questions Find a Course Skills School Locations School Locations Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit Find a Course Skills School Locations Course Types Leave No Trace Financial Aid Academic Credit NOLS Pro Home 1-3 Day Courses 7-30 Day Courses Risk Management Staff Clients Design Your Course Contact NOLS Pro NOLS Pro 1-3 Days 7-30 Days Risk Management Clients Contact Us NOLS Pro Design Your Course NOLS Pro Staff Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Overview Outcome-based Curriculum Faculty Case Studies Overview Administrative Training Staff Training Consulting Conference: WRMC How to Apply Apply Online Download an Application Admission Policies WMI Home About WMI Courses Schedule FAQ Photos & Movies Curriculum Updates Employment Sponsors WMI Home About WMI Admissions Courses Schedule Host a Course Resources Gallery Alumni Home Trips and Events The Leader Alumni Chapters Employment Staying in Touch Volunteer Photos & Videos Home NOLS Photos NOLS.TV The NOLS Podcast NOLS on Flickr Leave No Trace Overview Leave No Trace Principles Leave No Trace Master Educator Courses Host a Course Contact Map of Events Dream Expedition Leadership Week Press Room Images for the Press Archives