Why I Moved 1,600 Miles to Intern at NOLS

Posted by: Sarah Zimmerman on 4/6/16 8:00 AM

Ice waterfall in Sinks Canyon

When I decided to travel about 1,600 miles from home to the middle of Wyoming for an internship in public relations and marketing, my friends and family wondered why I couldn't do the same type of thing a little closer. Coming from a full-time position at a full-service PR and marketing agency in Tennessee, people also couldn’t see why I would choose an internship for my next career move. But what they didn’t understand was that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of PR and marketing within the frame of the outdoor industry, from the leaders in wilderness education.

Not only would I discover a plethora of valuable lessons in PR and marketing, but also many other skills and a thriving, active community in a beautiful location for outdoor recreation. That’s not something you can find just anywhere, which is why I chose the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander, Wyoming.

Here are just a few examples of what I have gained:

Valuable Industry Lessons in PR and Marketing

As you might expect from the title of my internship, I learned a good bit about media relations. I got a lot of practice crafting press releases about courses and interacting with journalists to share our students’ impressive stories with their hometown papers. It is always gratifying when the story gets picked up and shared by a newspaper and you get to hear the excitement in a student’s voice when you tell them to get ready to sign autographs. ;)

I also had several opportunities to assist with local media interviews about NOLS on topics including avalanche safety, hypothermia prevention, and NOLS courses for NASA. I learned about all of the elements that make a newsworthy story and the little things you have to prepare to make them happen. These interviews also exposed me to experts in several departments of NOLS who shared their best advice and most interesting stories.

Filming in Sinks Canyon Photo courtesy of Sarah Zimmerman.

Skill Development through a Variety of Projects

In order to get releases picked up and for interviews to go well, I had to work on some pretty obvious PR skills. But those were just a few of the many projects I was assigned. I also worked on a lot of writing projects, which were used on several different platforms.

To start, I was asked to write a few film descriptions that would go in the NOLS Exploration Film Tour pamphlet. It was fun to review the stirring outdoors videos our marketing team would share across the country. I also got the chance to write a book review for The Leader, an alumni publication that reaches more than 65,000 people. It was cool to know that my voice was being heard through these exciting print pieces, not to mention several of the blog posts I produced for the NOLS Blog.

Exposure to Other Departments at NOLS

Because the marketing and PR intern gets to work on projects with several other departments, I developed skills in many other areas too. Through some of my writing pieces, I learned a lot about the importance of weaving risk management into the culture of an organization and the way other groups across the country manage risk.

For a bit more hands-on work, I spent several mornings working at NOLS Rocky Mountain down the street, issuing gear to students and preparing them for courses in the mountains of Wyoming. I love welcoming the students during one of their first interactions with NOLS, answering their questions, and getting them excited about spending time in the great outdoors.

To take that hands-on work to a whole other level, I participated as a “patient” in a Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) scenario to help the Wilderness EMT students test out their newly-learned skills. The students had to find me in a canyon and determine how best to care for my head injury which I faked pretty well, if I do say so myself. This helped me understand what exactly the student experience is like on a WMI course.

I am also working with the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Department to organize an Earth Day celebration for NOLS and the community. I’ve had a great time preparing an evening of entertainment and education on the importance of the outdoors for our community, and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

If you can’t already tell how much I enjoyed my work-related activities, check out some of the things I’ve discovered in my free time:

An Active Community with Outdoor Recreation at Its Finest

The first week I arrived, I was happy to find that my coworkers would soon become friends and would help me find more than enough to do outside. I’ve discovered so many different ways to play in the cold weather from a hike in Sinks Canyon to a beautiful ice fall, to cross country skiing the trails at Beaver Creek and camping in a yurt. When the weather is nice, it’s pretty common to have several groups of friends meeting up to rock climb in the canyon, too.

And if you ever have your fill of the area, there are plenty of incredible places to visit on the weekends. Some of my favorites have been the hot springs and petroglyphs around Thermopolis and downhill skiing in the Tetons.

And best of all...

Pictographs in Thermopolis Photo courtesy of Sarah Zimmerman.

The internship is six months long, which means I’ve had a couple of months to learn the ropes and find my way around, and now I have a few more to sharpen my skills and explore a little farther. I’m getting to see the seasons change Lander from a snowy wonderland to a sunny paradise. Because the region is totally different from my home in the Southeast, I’m learning just as much from the weather and terrain as I am from my work in the office.

And when it gets a bit warmer in June, I get to go take off on a NOLS Whitewater River Expedition course. I know that from both the time I’ll spend learning on the river and at Headquarters, I will take away a multitude of lessons and stories that will last a lifetime.

Learn more about internships at NOLS here.


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