Evan Coulson

Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education and Bro Professor of Sustainable regional Development

Down-Sized: Life and Learning in 120 Square Feet

There are not many things more rewarding to me than traveling and learning with students—those like minded emerging professionals who share a love of wild places and who seek to harness the power of our natural world to effect positive outcomes in the lives of others.

My experience teaching in higher education includes instructing a variety of outdoor education courses ranging from technical outdoor skill development and outdoor stewardship to group dynamics and development to the planning, risk management, and leadership of extended outdoor expeditionary travel. I have served as the coordinator for Southern Illinois University’s outdoor leadership and management major, as the coordinator of outdoor pursuits at Stephen F. Austin State University, as the outdoor education and camping services director at Camp Ondessonk, as well as an instructor in various adaptive adventure, wilderness therapy, and outdoor education programs across the country.

My professional service activities include work with the Wilderness Education Association, the Association for Experiential Education, the Association for Outdoor Recreation and Education, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and the Access Fund.

As a faculty member, I am passionate about developing students to become thoughtful, compassionate, and skilled outdoor educators who balance good judgment with the transformative powers they wield.

My academic interests exist within the sphere of human ecology, the reciprocal relationship between the impact of humans on the environment and the effects of the environment on human wellbeing.

As a scholar, my active research agenda focuses on recreation ecology, the study of ecological interrelationships between humans and natural resources in recreation contexts; and on the human dimensions of natural resources which seek to understand, predict and influence human thought and behaviors related to natural resources. These two disciplines form much of the science behind the principles and practices of Leave No Trace.

My first true wilderness experience took place in the Boundary Waters as a student on a twenty-one-day outdoor leadership course. I brought along some reading materials to learn about the course area and thus began my philosophical education through the voice of Sigurd F. Olson. Those twenty-one days awakened within me a deep passion for wild places and for their power to enhance the lives of those who slow down and truly listen.

That first course, followed by a rich career in the outdoor industry, established in me a commitment to living intentionally in support of my core values. Northland College’s commitment to experiential learning and environmental stewardship aligns completely with these values. I am both honored and thrilled that my professional journey has led me to serving as a faculty member in an outdoor education program that I have admired for many years, an admiration informed by the high caliber of Northland grads that I’ve encountered in the field.

My work with the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute provides meaningful and relevant opportunities to involve Northland College students in rich and vibrant hands-on learning opportunities that enhance professional development and expand professional networking. As an educator, I embrace William Butler Yeats’ observation that “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Drawing from educational philosophies promoted by John Dewey, Kurt Hahn and others, I strive to create learning opportunities that embrace student-centered, problem-based, experiential, and collaborative elements. I believe in the power of discovery, experimentation and direct experience with the world; in learning enhanced by the integration of our senses and our environment; and I know that cognitive development is best supported by intentional and thoughtful reflection. Further, I believe that learning is social and enhanced by dialog, discussion, and immediate feedback. In keeping with the rich educational tradition at Northland College, I involve students in the igniting of fires that light the way for discovery and effecting the change they wish to see in the world.

My happiness is derived most from time spent in the out-of-doors, in particular trail ultra running and paddling. I find myself most at home on the water or sinking into the rhythm of an all-day run. I like to balance opportunities for wilderness solitude with time spent exploring and celebrating our natural world with my sweet, sweet wife, Gabrielle. And, from time to time, with our two cats.