Nadine Lehner ‘05

January 2018
I’ve heard it countless times: “How did YOU grow up in New York City?”  In Chilean Patagonia, where I’ve worked most of the time since college, I sleep in a tent more often than a bed. You’ll find zero stoplights in the nearest town, but plenty of people riding their horses through the streets.  Shoe choices: hiking boots or Crocs.  Un-New-York-ish as this existence looks, elements of Brearley have accompanied me on this wild journey.

At Brearley, I learned to seek out and emulate women following their convictions and charting their own paths.  Eight years ago, I moved to Patagonia to work with entrepreneurs-turned-conservationists Doug and Kristine Tompkins to create new national parks, which now protect over 10 million acres in Chile and Argentina. Kristine, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc., models empathetic leadership through challenging conditions.  Her mentorship pushed my growth within the Tompkins organization and later propelled me to start my own wilderness and conservation education company, called Chulengo Expeditions. 
Brearley gave us confidence that our ideas mattered and discipline to hone those ideas.  Beginning in high school, I have sought out intersections, of one form or another, between outdoor travel and environmental commitments.  For me, experiencing and caring for our world build on each other—although often, these practices exist in separate spheres.  A year ago, I dove into an experiment that is Chulengo, aiming to use the wild landscapes protected through these new national parks as classrooms for inspiring connection to wild nature, grappling with the complexities of conservation and committing to work toward a healthier future.  Daily, we face a comic range of challenges but I enjoy working on the frontier of fields I believe are essential.  While Patagonia’s vast classroom of glaciers, grasslands and forests bears little resemblance to those of 610, I am grateful for how Brearley encouraged us to develop our ideas and chase them, however far afield.