We each have a story that led us to work at Proctor: we went to school here, grew up in the region, were attracted to a specific program or the school’s educational philosophy. For Proctor’s newest member of the community, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator Will Wamaru, his journey began as a nine year old on his first mountaineering adventure with NOLS on a summit attempt of Mount Kenya’s Lenana Peak (16,355 feet), just twenty minutes from his family’s rural farm. This early exposure to the philosophy of NOLS and the notion that learning, relationships, and the outdoors could be inextricably woven together through a formal program, and not just in his daily life in his village, planted a seed that led to his continued involvement in NOLS as a student, and eventually, a teacher over the next two decades.
After spending a portion of his primary school years at a traditional Kenyan boarding school on scholarship, Will pleaded with his family to not return for high school. “I did very well in terms of tests and by all external measures I was successful there, but the overall experience was incredibly challenging for me. To this day, my time at that school serves as a powerful, necessary lens as I think about students at independent schools on scholarship and what their experience is, versus what others think it should be.”
Will’s secondary school years were vastly different at St. Mary’s High School. Run by Lasallian Christian Brothers, the educational pedagogy mirrored that which he had experienced as a child in his village and as a part of NOLS. “In my tribe, the values embodied by the philosophy of ubuntu are used to articulate a sense of community, a belief that we are all in it together, each doing our part to help the greater whole, celebrating together, mourning together, living alongside each other. Utu (humanness) and ‘harambee’ (all pulling together) are words that you feel when you step into a community. I felt it at St. Mary’s, and eagerly anticipate feeling it at Proctor as well.” At St. Mary’s students took care of farm animals, helped with food production, maintenance, housekeeping, library, and engaged in hands-on learning experiences fully integrated into their academic studies. “I came to realize there is more than one approach to education, and this pedagogy resonated with me.”
Following his time at St. Mary’s, Will studied at the University of Nairobi, earning his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology, all while continuing to explore the alpine regions of East Africa, guiding safaris, and seeking outdoor experiences as often as possible. Similarly, he was a member of AIESEC- an international exchange program where he was responsible for cross cultural competence training. Following graduation, Will began working full-time at NOLS in Tanzania and the USA helping students with cross cultural competence, learning Swahili, natural history and leadership skills. “For the past eight years I have been based in East Africa, but have also run summer trips to the American west each year. I found NOLS a place where I could teach and explore the wilderness at the same time and it was an amazing experience.”
In the fall of 2019, Will enrolled in Brandeis University’s Social Impact MBA program and moved stateside with his wife, Katie, for the first time. “As a teacher, I was learning so much, but I realized I wanted to be prepared to serve in a position of leadership where I could not only implement a program, but help design and support programs that will make a difference in the world. I first became acquainted with Proctor two years ago when I saw a job posting for Mountain Classroom. Katie and I were not in a position for me to take that role at that time, but when I saw this position coordinating diversity, equity, and inclusion work at Proctor open, I knew I wanted to pursue it.”
Will and Katie will run Mary Lowell Stone Dormitory (along with their two dogs, Mindy and Rocky) as Will steps into his new role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator. Complementing Will’s role at Proctor, Katie works in equity-focused philanthropy seeking to bring more philanthropic dollars to African leaders and founders. While the move to Andover will certainly be a change of scenery from suburban Boston and the mountains of Kenya, Will notes, “I have spent my entire life living in community with others - in my small village as a child, at boarding schools and university, and for the past decade alongside student groups at NOLS. I thrive in community and feel I am at my best in environments that value people, human connection, and nature. Proctor has this, and values this sense of community and the outdoors unlike any school I have seen.”
Over the past twelve months, Proctor has done extensive work through the NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism survey and exploration groups, and an internal audit of the collective work we need to do to augment curriculums, increase the diversity of our student and faculty bodies, and representation among school leadership. Most recently, Proctor has embraced the individual and collective work needed to better understand the systemic racism and injustice that surrounds us. This on-going work at Proctor has identified priorities for the school moving forward, and as Will steps into the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator, he notes, “I want to support organizations that are actively trying to build equitable and inclusive environments. NOLS taught me this belief that ethical and resilient leaders change the world and education has the opportunity to create these resilient leaders at the grassroots level. I’m most excited about the opportunity to understand Proctor’s rich, deep history, as understanding this history is critical to setting our DEI priorities moving forward.”
“We have to ask ourselves, how can we teach students to be leaders of their own lives first, so they can then approach all experiences as learning experiences? How can we help students feel a sense of belonging, using an equity and justice lens to look at all areas of school life? How can we really dig into diversity work and engage with our admissions team to reach out to new demographics, build affinity groups, and a network for Proctor that will serve the school well into the future, not just in the immediate term. How can we build an internal vocabulary that encourages us to be equity proficient? How can we leverage the amazing experiences Proctor provides its students around the globe to better develop those resilient, ethical leaders we know will change the world in the future? There is much work to do and I cannot wait to get started.”