Adapting to Mother Nature: Interview with an AmeriCorps & NOLS Alum

Posted by: Molly Herber on 5/17/15 3:00 AM

Maureen Murphy is an alumna of both NOLS and AmeriCorps, and she used her AmeriCorps award to fund her NOLS Pacific Northwest Trip Leader Seminar in the Pasayten Wilderness in 2012. She found some time between running her dog walking business and playing with her family to ask a few questions about how NOLS and AmeriCorps worked together and helped her become the successful woman she is today.

maureen-murphy-maps-pnw Navigating through the underbrush. Photo by Greg Price.

Why did you pick NOLS?

During my season with the Backcountry Trails Crew through the CCC, my supervisor, Steven Addison, hiked in with a NOLS catalog one day. I spent night after night in my tent reading each course in detail, dreaming of taking them all. I dog-eared the pages I was most interested in and kept the catalog with me so that I would be able to register once I returned to civilization.

Everything about NOLS seemed fitting for me…and there is no better place [to learn] than the mountains. I didn't want to continue my education in a classroom. I wanted to continue to continue to travel, learn, meet new like-minded people, and adapt to whatever mother nature decided to bring my way.

Did your NOLS course tie in with what you learned during AmeriCorps?

Absolutely. My position with AmeriCorps was on a backcountry trail crew in the Klamath National Forest. We lived in tents for 5 1/2 months, navigating further and further away from civilization, building and maintaining trails in the mountains. We worked 5 days a week and had weekends off to explore our surroundings…My love for that lifestyle and type of work was what made me decide to take the Trip Leader Seminar. If I could make it my job to bring people into nature and show them how powerful it was, I'd die a heck of a happy woman.

As amazing as my backcountry experience was, I needed to have a "louder presentation"… and that's where NOLS came in. Taking the course and being hands-on, having to cook your own meals (we were fed by an amazing backcountry cook with AmeriCorps), share a midi tent, and play the leader role was a great experience.

maureen-murphy-group-pnw Enjoying a break with some good friends in the Pasayten Wilderness. Photo by Greg Price.

Can you tell us about an experience from your course that impacted you?

I love hiking and I do a lot of it, but my weak spot is river crossings—especially when they're rapid or deep. There was this one crossing we had to do on the way to work when I was with the CCC that I would fall into without fail almost every day. I never trusted myself to make it to the next rock or to get the right footing. During the NOLS course, we practiced risk assessment and checked for all potential ways across the river before deciding which one to take. If the options were limited or uncomfortable, we were taught how to do it safely. I act that out on every hike I take and I can honestly say that I haven't taken an accidental dip since!

The course helped boost my confidence and taught me how to be assertive. It was intimidating at first, being around a group of people who were experienced leaders while I was just striving to become one. The constructive criticism, awesome skills learned, and positive group of people around me were exactly what I needed to excel.

How did your experience with NOLS shape what you did after your course?

It made me speak up more, prepared me for hiking with kids and not-so-keen-to-hike-friends of mine, to travel with animals that may be fearful of heights or water, and gain more confidence overall.

What are you up to now? Do you use lessons you learned from NOLS in your daily life?

maureen-murphy-family Family time outdoors.

I own and operate a dog walking business in Cleveland, Ohio. It actually happened as an accidental thing! I was trying to rake in some extra cash so that I could try to move back out to the west coast and continue pursuing outdoor education, but 5 dogs quickly turned into 15 and so on. Once I had more dogs than I could handle, I had to become a boss. Hiring a staff and (nicely) ordering them around, managing clients, invoices, and scheduling was pretty wild, but I was prepared to be a leader because of NOLS.

Get more information on how to use your AmeriCorps award or other federal scholarships to fund your NOLS course on our Financial Aid page.

Read more from AmeriCorps alumni: Becky Mares talks about Why I Used My AmeriCorps Award for NOLS to take an expedition to the wilds of Alaska.

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming.