Linda, you’ve recently become the Diversity Director at NOLS and just hired a Diversity Coordinator. Why is diversity important for NOLS?
Linda: NOLS’ purpose is to positively impact society and to serve wilderness by influencing all backcountry visitors with the NOLS curriculum. The broader our constituency, the greater the impact. We can increase the quality of our education by learning and working with more diverse populations. The demographics of the United States are changing, so we need to change with it.
Flip: Diversity is good business for NOLS and good for the protection of wilderness. If we don’t engage a more diverse populace, we won’t have an army of green voters who will help protect our wilderness classrooms.
What strides has NOLS made towards fostering a more diverse community?
L: In 1985, we had a scholarship budget of $30,000, about 1% of our revenue. We’re going into 2007 with $800,000 in scholarships, or 5% of our revenue. That’s huge. In 1997, 30% of our field instructors were female. This year we have 39% that are female, and that beats our goal of 37%. Our ultimate goal is to have a woman instructor on every mixed-gendered course.
F: I had the great opportunity this past year to go to the Wilderness Risk Management Conference. NOLS, SCA and Outward Bound collaborated on an agenda where instructional pieces related to risk management in terms of cultural competency skills. If we’re recognizing diversity in the aspects of risk management and safety, we are certainly looking at it in the broader swipe. We’re trying to make sure that our leaders have their tool kit to be successful when they’re in the field.
How will the new Diversity Coordinator contribute to the success of our goals?
L: The person will be working internally, whether it’s with our curriculum or diversity training, and also externally by strengthening our partnerships.
How does NOLS have to change in order to meet our diversity goals?
F: If you look at the environmental, conservation and wilderness arena, it’s not hard to see that we’ve got some work to do at changing the face. In order to do that, you need to change how you do your business. There are lessons of what I call “cultural competency” that we have to ascribe to.
L: We need to have education within house, such as diversity training, to make sure that NOLS is an inclusive environment. We also need to look at our curriculum. NOLS uses certain language about communication and expectations. Is that encompassing to all the different styles out there?
F: We should see Expedition Behavior in NOLS diversity. If we applied that tenet to our diversity goals, we would be on the right track.
What should we expect during the process of change?
F: There are sometimes two steps forward and one step back: that’s the ebb and flow of how organizations evolve and grow. We, as an organization, will go through these transformative behaviors. Anyone who knows something about the cycle of development recognizes that as you go through it, you complete the circle. When you complete the circle, it’s time to re-assess. That’s where we are at NOLS. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s something that requires us to be willing to invest time, effort, resources and patience.
In terms of diversity, why is NOLS important for students?
L: We hear through evaluations and directly from our diverse students that NOLS is a valuable experience and a valuable education for individuals across cultures. We are a leadership school. Successful leadership means leading, learning from and working with diverse populations. Our leadership curriculum enables all populations to work together.
How do we assess our accomplishments and gauge our progress?
L: We have a great opportunity to learn what’s successful and what’s not from our diverse candidates. We are going to have to make changes if we’re going to be an inclusive organization.
F: NOLS should look at its history. Think back to when we first came to Lander. It has taken more than a generation to get to where we are today. There are lessons in our own history in terms of how we were able to build a successful organization here in Lander.
The Wind River Indian Reservation is in NOLS’ backyard and in one of our favorite wilderness classroom’s shadow. What is our relationship with the reservation, and what can we do to strengthen it?
F: If we could strengthen our ties to the tribe, then it would be a win-win for NOLS, a win-win for the nation, a win-win for wilderness. That’s our primary classroom and the stronger those ties would be, the better off we’re going to be in the future.
L: We’ve had various successes there in the past. So how do we move forward with it? We just got an email from a gentleman who’s working with a tribe and very interested in getting Native Americans to re-connect with their land. Is there a partnership there we can establish?
Flip, how does your work with SCA complement your work with NOLS?
F: Just as NOLS has celebrated its 40th anniversary here within the past year, SCA will be celebrating its 50th this coming year. In its strategic plan and in its vision, SCA has vowed to engage a more diverse population. NOLS and SCA are not dissimilar in any way. I find them to be very, very compatible. And it actually makes my work here as a trustee for NOLS quite satisfying, allowing me to practice what I feel is not only a professional belief but a personal belief as well.