Partnership creates outdoor education opportunities

UMW News Bureau

University of Montana Western sophomore Cody Cavill will be gaining experience and college credits in a Wilderness Emergency Medical Training (WEMT) class at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyo. in early 2012.

“There are only a small number of campuses affiliated with NOLS,” Montana Western Professor of Geology Rob Thomas explained. “They chose to affiliate with UMW because we were emphasizing experiential learning and using the block system, which they saw as compatible with their educational philosophy and approach.”

The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) was established in 1965 by Paul Petzoldt, a legendary mountaineer and environmentalist whose prior efforts included helping to set up Outward Bound in the United States in 1961, which focused on outdoor adventure through hands-on learning. Petzoldt took his experience at Outward Bound and started a leadership school with the intent of giving students technical and recreational training paired with an understanding of ecology and conservation.

Cavill, an environmental interpretation major at Montana Western, will spend 20 class days enrolled in the NOLS Wilderness EMT course, which is part of the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) of NOLS.

“I decided on Wilderness EMT school for its backcountry medical aspect,” Cavill relayed. “I work in wildland fires in summer and will be staying in fire for a good five  years and want to do something outdoor related. I enjoy everything outdoors, hiking, climbing and camping.”

The backcountry medicine aspect of the EMT school includes an outdoor and curricular focus, combining backcountry medical skills along with a portion of time spent in Lander area hospitals. Students participate in clinical rotations in the hospitals receiving emergency patients, mostly observing, although they also receive experience taking vitals. Some students complement this experience by riding in ambulances.

“The clinical rotation of the NOLS Wilderness EMT course is required for students to complete their certification for the National Registry EMT-Basic,” explained Debra East, WMI admissions supervisor. “Paired with the backcountry medical training aspect, these skill sets and experiences result in certification of WEMT that can then be applied to volunteer or employed service in emergency situations.”

Cavill learned about NOLS through a friend on campus and from two of his professors, Montana Western Professor of Chemistry Steve Mock and Professor of Geology Rob Thomas.

The partnership between NOLS and Montana Western began eight years ago when Thomas stopped into the NOLS office in Lander during a field trip with the Geological Society of America. Thomas inquired about the establishment of transfer agreements with universities. Because Montana Western was headed toward a block schedule system, Thomas thought the partnership would be a great opportunity for environmental science and environmental interpretation students to take a NOLS class during a block for credit to fulfill their wildland skills course requirement.

Montana Western is the only public university in the country to offer a block system in which students take, and professors teach, one class at a time.

“There are only a small number of campuses affiliated with NOLS,” Thomas explained. “They chose to affiliate with UMW because we were emphasizing experiential learning and using the block system, which they saw as compatible with their educational philosophy and approach.”

The Wilderness EMT course is one of several offered at NOLS that fulfill Montana Western’s skills course requirements. Other outdoor recreational courses include backpacking, rock climbing, ice climbing, winter camping and backcountry survival. Winter ecology and geology content courses are also offered.

NOLS began in June 1965 with 100 students and now runs classes in wilderness education from 14 international locations with almost 200,000 worldwide graduates to date.