BY TOM REED
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 1999
It's Dutch, in case you are wondering. It's an answer to a question that comes a half dozen times a day. And as the alumni programs coordinator at NOLS, Lynn Zwaagstra gets a lot of phone calls.
Zwaagstra, 29, came back to NOLS this past winter after spending several years and most of her college education wrapped up in outdoor recreation and education. Today, Zwaagstra helps to book the trips that NOLS offers to alumni. She also does the planning, logistics, marketing and registration, to mention only a few of her duties.
Zwaagstra came to NOLS in 1988, but had long been familiar with the school because her uncle had taken a course way back in 1970. So in 1988, she got a NOLS trip as a high school graduation present. She chose a horse course. Coming to Wyoming to ride in the mountains was, "it sounds corny to say this, but it was like coming home," she remembers. "I just loved the west."
On that first course, she admired her course leader, Sarah Krahl, who was patient and interested, strong, yet soft spoken. So impressed was Zwaagstra with the West and its people, that in 1991, she came back again, this time for a Wind River mountaineering course. As with many NOLS grads who return to the school again and again, she says she came back to "learn new skills, improve my leadership and teaching skills and warm up for the instructors course."
That course helped her choose a path for life, which turned to outdoor recreation. At Illinois State University, Zwaagstra joined the school's outdoor program and was soon leading the group. She also chose to have an emphasis in outdoor education in her profession.
She almost immediately put her skills to use with the U.S. Air Force, working at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, where she oversaw programs in scuba, canoeing, fishing, water skiing and more. The base had a ropes course, stables, swimming pools, retail and rental operations, and a lot of opportunity for outdoor activities. After that stint, Zwaagstra decided a Masters was in order, which led her to the University of Utah for a M.S. degree in outdoor and therapeutic recreation.
As part of that degree program, she spent five months working as an intern in the alumni department at NOLS; a job where she learned a lot and prepared herself for the next leap in outdoor education . . . Georgia Tech. At Georgia Tech, as head of the school's outdoor recreation department, she set up and coordinated logistics for five week, non-credit courses in backpacking, caving, rock climbing, whitewater boating, and more. "It was a challenging job and an exciting one," says Zwaagstra, "I was gone almost every weekend on trips."
During her Georgia Tech job, she couldn't stop thinking about the West, about Lander, and about coming back to NOLS. So, this past winter, she did just that when she came aboard in the alumni department. It's a move that she hasn't regretted even for a moment. Zwaagstra enjoys the interaction she has with alumni. "It's really a pleasure working with so many enthusiastic and motivated people. They are always so excited about NOLS and about helping out the school."
Although she never took that mountain instructors course, she did complete the river instructors course this past spring. An interest in whitewater that she gained in Georgia has increased her enthusiasm for rivers and boating. Later this summer, she hopes to take several more seminars to improve upon her skills. In the meantime, she'll be booking NOLS grads and friends on trips and explaining how to pronounce her name and its origin.