NOLS Presidential Announcement

September 4, 2019

To the greater NOLS community,

I am excited to announce that the NOLS Board of Trustees has selected Terri Watson as our next president. She will be the sixth person to lead the school since its founding in 1965, and is the first woman to do so. Terri will start in her new role on January 1st.

terri-watson.jpgAfter a 9-month search during which we considered more than 300 candidates, the board unanimously concluded that Terri’s background, skills, and experiences are exactly what the school needs to continue as the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.

Terri comes to NOLS from LightHawk, a national conservation nonprofit based in Colorado, where she has served as CEO since 2015. Her deep experience in nonprofit management, education, and conservation in multi-faceted organizations with international reach have uniquely prepared Terri to address the complex needs of the school today. 

Terri started her NOLS journey as an instructor in 1990. She worked full time in a variety of operational roles until she departed NOLS as the Southwest Branch Director in late 1997. She became a NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructor in 1999 and continues to teach a few courses each year. It is this unique combination of external nonprofit success and first-hand understanding of the NOLS culture and core values that will help her shape success at the school. The Board looks forward to envisioning the future of NOLS with Terri at the helm.

I would personally like to thank our presidential search committee chair, Greg Avis, and all members of the search committee for their tireless effort and contribution to this important next step for the school. I am also appreciative of the support provided by our partners at the national search firm, Issacson, Miller, who brought their mission-driven ethos to our search process and delivered a quality pool of candidates.

Over the coming weeks, there will be a lot to do as we prepare for Terri’s arrival. To ensure that our transition to Terri’s leadership goes smoothly, the Board has asked John Gans to postpone his departure by a few additional months. At the same time, Terri has offered her availability prior to her official start date to facilitate this transition. To give us a head start on welcoming Terri in her new role, there will be a Town Hall and Community Reception on September 12 in Lander.

With our 55th anniversary on the horizon, this announcement marks an exciting and extraordinary time for the school. Please join me in welcoming Terri (back) to the NOLS family!


Marc Randolph

Marc Randolph
Chair, NOLS Board of Trustees



Bio: Meet Terri


On January 1, 2020, Terri Watson will become the sixth president of NOLS. 

terri-watson-sailing-01.jpgWatson brings 28 years of corporate and nonprofit leadership experience. She currently holds the position of CEO at LightHawk, a national nonprofit based in Colorado, that supports significant conservation initiatives with a network of volunteer pilots and aircrafts to advance environmental causes. Watson started as a volunteer pilot at LightHawk in 1997, later becoming a board member and holding a number of management positions before taking the CEO role in 2015.
Under Watson’s vision and leadership, LightHawk rebuilt its business model to focus on longer-term collaborative projects with significant conservation outcomes. The organization leverages a network of 300 volunteer pilots serving 282 missions annually in support of 121 conservation partners. From the transportation of endangered species to collecting data through surveys and aerial photography, LightHawk provides unique conservation expertise in using aircraft to achieve important outcomes for organizations without that expertise or ability to afford flight services.
In addition to her 23 year history at LightHawk, Watson served as executive director of the Pearl Harbor Institute of Pacific Historic Parks and The Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association in San Francisco. She has also served in numerous consulting roles to nonprofits, federal resource agencies, and small businesses. Her extensive nonprofit leadership background along with hands-on international experience set her apart from the search field. Watson’s track record for growth and turn-around achievements in past roles also contributed to her selection by the Board.

Watson started her NOLS journey as an instructor in 1990. At the time, she was the founder and owner of Lander-based Winds Aloft Aviation, Inc. which conducted natural resource management flights across the Rocky Mountain states in support of federal and state agencies. Her work included on-demand airplane charter, EMS helicopter pilot services for the Wyoming Medical Center, support for the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the Northern Rockies, and risk management consulting.
In 1996, Watson took the reins as director of NOLS Southwest located in Tucson, AZ where she managed a staff of nine and oversaw over 40 instructors. She became a NOLS Wilderness Medicine instructor in 1999 and continues to teach a few courses each year.
Prior to NOLS, Watson served in the U.S. Army in active duty service from 1985 to 1990 as well as active and reserve service from 1990 to 1997. She held a number of command and leadership roles as an aviation intelligence officer.

Terri and her family are excited to return to Wyoming and call Lander home again. 



In Appreciation


Thank you to the presidential search committee chair, Greg Avis, and all members of the search committee for their tireless effort and contribution to this important next step for the school. 

NOLS Presidential Search Committee - Revised June 5, 2019