Students and staff at NOLS spend weeks at a time shedding the trappings of modern comfort, unplugging from their iPods and computers, and opting instead to spend time with their fellow men and women in the backcountry.
Get them back to town, however, and NOLSies become some of the most technologically savvy folks around. One can’t walk into a coffee shop in Lander, WY without running into several NOLS employees working on their laptops or talking to fellow instructors around the world via Skype. Nor can one listen to NOLS students converse without hearing mention of their MySpace profiles or something they recently Googled.
Up to this point in NOLS history, students have come together from all over the country and the world, spent weeks in the wilderness together, and, more often than not, lost touch with each other upon re-entering the urban jungle. Enter the internet—and by extension, my new job, Social Network Engineer.
Our new social networking goal sets out to explore the online spaces where NOLSies are getting together, sharing pictures, and talking about their courses—and to do what we can from our end to foster those connections. For those who aren’t familiar, let me explain the phenomenon. Sites like MySpace and Facebook allow individuals to make profiles about themselves, including photos, interests, schools they’ve attended, and a myriad other things. Folks can then connect with their friends, join groups of people with common interests, and leave comments on each other’s profiles.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that NOLS students proudly wear their virtual alumni pin. When searching for “NOLS” on MySpace, the term comes up in hundreds of people’s interests, and there are many Facebook groups dedicated to the school. Some of these are for specific courses, but there are a few groups for alumni of any course. It’s not uncommon to find lists of, “You might be a NOLSie if…” or favorite meals and epic stories from courses on these sites. One of the most exciting things is seeing the pride with which NOLS students describe their courses. Allow me to quote the description of a popular Facebook group called Did You Do NOLS? I Didn’t Think So.
“We’ve packed 60 pound backpacks every morning at dawn. And we damn well liked it. We can tell you off the back of our heads the 7 leadership principles. And cite them in every day life. We’ve been lost in the woods without instructors. We’ve rocked it all. And we can’t wait to do it again.”
These groups provide a venue for alumni to share photos and plan reunions, but they are also a great window into the school for potential students. As always, it’s our grads that are our best advocates, and though the way they communicate may have changed, the messages haven’t. Any potential student searching MySpace for NOLS will find honest, unsolicited feedback from graduates—most of it overwhelmingly positive.
One thing the Admission Office is doing for enrolled students in order to ease their pre-course preparation is placing them in Yahoo! Groups. In these discussion groups, students can introduce themselves to each other, ask questions of their Admission Officer, and make travel plans for before and after their course. We have received quite a bit of positive feedback on these groups and how they are making students’ transition into the world of NOLS a little smoother.
Another site that is receiving a lot of NOLS activity is the popular photo sharing website Flickr (www.flickr.com). To date, there are more than 7,000 NOLS photos on the site, featuring courses, reunions and conferences. Many courses are setting up their own groups on the site to share their pictures, but there are also hundreds of photos being posted to our pages for our specific course areas. Check out the Official NOLS Photo Group at: www.flickr.com/groups/NOLS
There are many other tech projects we’re excited to roll out in the next several months. Keep your eye on the NOLS website for improvements across the board and feel free to get in touch with suggestions or questions!