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Leadership Through Fearless Learning


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From a very early age, National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) president Sandy Colhoun had an interest in the outdoors but he realized he didn't quite have the skills to go out and explore on his own. That all changed with a summer camp trip to New Hampshire where he did a lot of hiking, climbing and connecting with nature. 

Sandy’s New Hampshire hiking experience inspired him to pursue outdoor exploration further from an academic standpoint. Ultimately he headed off to college and enrolled in classes at National Outdoor Leadership School. (NOLS)

Sandy’s Transformative Experience

Through courses at NOLS, Sandy was not only transformed emotionally but also physically. The self proclaimed “chubby” student knew it would be challenging but he didn’t realize it would also provide exercise that allowed him to shed excess weight.

For 30 days in the middle of Wind River Mountains of Wyoming Sandy not only learned collaborative leadership skills but most importantly he says that he learned to believe in his own capabilities along with gaining knowledge for surviving in remote places.

The experience transformed his life and career and proudly years later he became the school’s seventh president.

How Sandy Gives Back As The President of NOLS

As President of NOLS Sandy draws from his own time as a student when he creates programs for today’s students. Just as he did, students can learn wilderness skills and leadership skills with a deep understanding of traveling in remote environments. Not only do they learn how to set up a tent, but also how to read a map and compass and find their course where there's no trails, even when it's cold, wet, rainy, or very dry conditions. 

Attaining those competencies elevates the leader in everyone. As president of NOLS Sandy’s ultimate mission is to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills which in the process creates strong leaders who make a difference in the lives of those they encounter — in any environment.

Lessons Sandy Learned — from Alaska to Japan

Sandy explains how after college he really put all his studies of exploration and wilderness training to solid use as he found himself in Alaska working in a cannery located in a remote area.  His self development at NOLS allowed him to have reliance on himself while so far from home. 

From Alaska Sandy went to Japan where he taught English as a second language for two years. And that all led to another year of traveling, mountaineering and biking all across Asia. He biked on a 21 day journey in the Himalayas from the capital of Tibet  to Kathmandu,  — all years prior to the digital age in which culture is immersed today.

It is this sense of resilience and self-reliance, merged with academia that NOLS takes pride in developing in their students. As the NOLS president Sandy is a shining example of how effective the programs are and how transformative they can be. 

Listen to this episode to learn about...

  • How Sandy thrived in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming
  • How understanding nature inspires more gratitude
  • The leadership skills learned from wilderness travel

Tune in to the Members Only episode to learn what Sandy hopes for the future of NOLS