Spotlight: Interview with James O’Connor

James O’Connor, a former White Mountain student recently contacted the Alumnae/i office to share a wonderful job opportunity for White Mountain alumnae/i. For the past two years, he has been guiding at YMCA Camp Menogyn in Grand Marais, Minnesota. At Menogyn they offer six-day to 50-day wilderness canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing trips. James tells us it is a phenomenal place to start a career in guiding or outdoor education! He writes that it is an awesome community and he is honored to be a part of it.  It sounds very similar to White Mountain in terms of philosophy, mission, and programs.

James thinks – and we agree –  this is a perfect job opportunity for many alumnae/i who enjoyed the small community of White Mountain and outdoor offerings! Alumnae/i applying for the job need very little experience as training is done on-site.  Room and board is included. The position provides leadership experience in both a front country and backcountry context, experience working with children and youth from diverse backgrounds, group development strategies and conflict resolution techniques, and relevant certifications: CPR, First Aid, Wilderness First Responder Training, Red Cross Life Guarding or Wilderness Water Safety. The trail guide application should open up in October.  There are also summer intern programs for students 16-18.

 James can be reached directly

From the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota, Menogyn is uniquely situated to provide access to some of the finest wilderness area in North America.  Generations of young lives have been transformed by a Menogryn experience. Through wilderness travel and environmental learning experiences, teens build leadership skills, gain confidence and explore extraordinary places.  MENOGYN (min0-jin) is from Ojibwe, “to grow fully.

The following is from the website:

Camp Menogyn, accredited by the American Camping Association, opened in 1922.  Our mission is simple: To provide transformational experience in a wilderness setting, emphasizing quality, personal growth and relationships.  We specialize in wilderness activities like canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Respect is the foundation of all Menogryn sessions and trips.

  • Respect for self:  Respect begins by believing in yourself and your own capabilities.  At Menogyn we stress taking care of yourself and take responsibility for your actions.  
  • Respect for others: We emphasize goal setting, sharing and working together as a group to accomplish more collectively than would be possible individually.  We honor individual differences, believing that diversity presents many opportunities for learning and personal growth.
  • Respect for the environment:  Travel in the wilderness is conducted using “Leave No Trace” ethics and standards.
  • Respect for equipment:  We stress the importance of taking care of tools and equipment we use in the wilderness track.

“During my time at White Mountain, I was given multiple opportunities that are now the core of what my work revolves around – rock climbing, backcountry skiing, whitewater kayaking, and more importantly the risk management that goes these activities. Additionally, the White Mountain outdoor education programs, WFR (Wilderness First Responder) class, leadership opportunities such as Field Course student lead, dorm head, and the many undesignated roles that come with being a part of a small community.”

He also valued time to practice effective communication in small groups. “Numerous classes and extracurricular activities also helped me look at my life through different lenses and gave me space to be vulnerable and search for understanding. This was especially true when entering into discussions about race, gender, sexuality, and class and how those identities change the way we interpret and interact with the world. In working with people from different backgrounds, I have found it essential to form questions before judgment. White Mountain gave me that space to ask questions and look at my mistakes as learning opportunities.”

Any other information you would like to share?

I want to thank the teachers and staff that made my experience at White Mountain a positive and influential one. They make the School what it is by splitting their time between the classes they teach, other professional obligations, coaching after school sports, facilitating trips and activities on the weekend, and personally investing in students. While at White Mountain I saw many of my teachers as mentors. Spending time in and out of the classroom with them helped me to interrogate and form the life I was most passionate about. I left White Mountain a stronger and more empowered person than the version of me that entered and that wouldn’t have been possible without the support and investment of the teachers and staff. Thank you!

How did you get involved with Camp Menogyn?

After White Mountain, I took two NOLS semester courses to further my education in wilderness guiding, outdoor ed, and wilderness medicine. I knew I wanted to start a career in outdoor ed but I had no clue where to start. Luckily two of my instructors told me about YMCA Camp Menogyn, which had been where they started their careers. The following summer I started guiding for them leading intro-level trips for 12-15-year-old boys. Within a few weeks of being at Menogyn, I fell in love with the community and culture and loved watching the boys I brought on trail grow in confidence with the skills they learned and the relationships they formed. Working at Menogyn is an incredibly fulfilling place to work. As a guide and as a person I have grown and learned valuable skills that affect every aspect of my life.


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