Fellowships at NOLS Create Pathways to Outdoor Careers

Posted by: NOLS Blog on 9/28/15 1:06 PM

By Molly Hunt, Alumni Relations Intern Summer 2015

Map Reading in Alaska Students master outdoor skills and leadership on NOLS courses. Photo by Tracy Baynes.

For several years, NOLS has worked to provide opportunities for students from all types of backgrounds and financial situations to take courses. Recently, the fellowship program was developed to focus on incorporating diversity into the school in a more permanent way.

The program employs people of color to work at the school's various locations for up to 16 weeks, with the intent of creating opportunities for them to pursue full-time employment at NOLS. Fellows become ambassadors of the school and are able to share their NOLS experiences within their own communities, ideally inspiring more people of color to connect with the outdoors.

The fellowship program is unique to NOLS in that it directly provides training, tools, networks, and assistance to people of color who are interested in pursuing a career in outdoor education.

Past and current fellows believe that there is true value in incorporating more diversity onto NOLS staffs.

Cristina Edwards, the fellow at the Rocky Mountain base for summer 2015, has spent the summer working on projects that she said “provide a human connection, especially with Gateway students.” Gateway students are students from a variety of backgrounds who receive scholarships for NOLS courses.

Edwards said that one of her roles, as a fellow, is to help these students find a sense of belonging as they arrive at NOLS locations that are still predominantly Caucasian. She also believes that her presence can help students feel like the outdoors is accessible to them, regardless of their skin color.

“The more doorways you can provide, the better,” Edwards said.

Edwards has come to realize that the shared experiences on a NOLS course are a great opportunity to foster positive experiences with people of diverse cultures, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

“The differences we separate others by in the real world, disappear in the outdoors,” Edwards said.

Austin Sandoval, the fellow at the Teton Valley base for summer 2015, has spent his summer working on similar diversity initiatives. He has formed a connection with the local Hispanic Resource Center, spoken on behalf of NOLS, informed the public of scholarships, and even helped host a community event.

“I am intrinsically motivated about moving forward in every way possible that I can to work in the outdoors,” Sandoval said.

The fellowship program has accomplished many of its goals since its start in 2011.

Marina Fleming, currently a full-time NOLS employee, was part of the fellowship program, and as a result, has found a pathway to a career in the outdoor industry.

Fleming said that after her course in 2012, she was interested in working for the outdoor industry, but didn’t know where to begin. This is exactly what the fellowship program is designed for. It creates access, specifically for people of color, to begin a career in the outdoor community.

Sea Kayaking at NOLS Alaska Students develop self-reliance as they learn to live in the outdoors, opportunities NOLS works to make available to more communities. Photo by Tracy Baynes.

Fleming was hired as a fellow in May 2013 and spent three months at the school's Alaska location. With that experience and some personal networking, she sought full-time employment with NOLS and is now an Account Manager for NOLS Professional Training and a field instructor.

“Fellowships allow you to network, meet professionals, and get to know how the organization works before you commit to a longer-term position,” Fleming said.

While Fleming remembers that her path to full-time employment was largely self-driven, Rachael Price, the Diversity and Inclusion manager, is making waves to improve the post-fellowship job search process.

Price said that she is working to make sure that the 16-week fellowship program is “linked to long-term planning to develop career paths for [fellows] who decide that they want to work for NOLS.”

As the summer came to a close, Price worked with current fellows to set future employment goals. According to Price, if all goes according to plan, three out of the four fellows will be working in the field as NOLS instructors next summer.

Are you interested in seeking a fellowship at NOLS? Visit our Fellowships page.


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