University of Utah professor and department chair wins academic leadership award

November 16, 2020

Kelly S. Bricker, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Utah, was recently honored with the Benton H. Box Award by the Clemson University Institute for Parks in recognition of her academic and instructional leadership in preserving our natural environment and inspiring the next generation of park and conservation leaders. 

2020 Benton H. Box Award Recipient Kelly Bricker, Ph.D.

2020 Benton H. Box Award Recipient Kelly Bricker, Ph.D.

The Institute presents the annual awards program, which is named for George B. Hartzog Jr., the seventh director of the National Park Service, to showcase leading figures in the field of parks and conservation. Specific awards were named after visionary leaders that Hartzog respected and admired. Award recipients are following in Hartzog’s footsteps by making significant contributions to the management of parks and preservation of our natural, historical and cultural heritage.

The Benton H. Box Award recognizes academic professionals that exemplify Dr. Box’s distinguished career as an educator and administrator. Dr. Bricker shares this year’s award with John W. Day Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, and College of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University, for leadership in preserving our natural environment and inspiring in students the quest for knowledge and the development of an environmental ethic.

Matt Brownlee, Associate Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences at Clemson University, said when presenting the award that its description aptly reflects Dr. Bricker’s achievements as a scholar, teacher, and university administrator. 

“As a scholar, Kelly has co-authored and edited seven books focused on sustainable tourism and published several peer reviewed journal articles, yielding more than 2,500 citations,” said Brownlee. “She also has a prolific speaking record, travelling to more international destinations for keynote speeches in a single month than most of us dream of in a lifetime.”

Brownlee added that the encouragement and support Dr. Bricker provides to her students and faculty is also unmatched. “As a teacher and mentor, Kelly effectively guides students with empathy and support, while also challenging them to teach beyond their preconceived goals, climbing to new heights,” he said. “As an administrator, Dr. Bricker is equally kind and tenacious and, like water over limestone, she consistently and patiently perseveres without wavering once strategic goals are collectively identified.”

Bricker and her husband, Nate.

Bricker and husband Nate successfully created a unique conservation-focused tourism program in Fiji.

Over the past four decades, Bricker has focused her career on nature-based recreation and tourism as tools for conservation, sustainable resource management, and rural economic development. Her expertise blends more than 20 years of practical, on-the-ground experience in land management, environmental education, nature-based recreation and tourism, with an academic focus on social science research that examines the relationships between socio-economic, environmental and cultural management. In addition to her Professor and Department Chair roles at the University of Utah, Dr. Bricker serves on the boards of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the Tourism and Protected Area Specialist Group of the IUCN and the Central Wasatch Stakeholders Council. 

In 1998, Bricker and her husband launched an ecotourism program focused on river conservation and community well-being in the Republic of Fiji, called Rivers Fiji. The program is a unique collaboration between several landowning groups, a logging company and the area’s Native Land Trust Board focused on conservation. Together, they established the country’s first conservation area of its kind and its first internationally designated Wetland of International Importance, also called a Ramsar site. In return for their involvement, area partners receive lease payments, user fees and employment opportunities focused on sustainable, ‘leave no trace’ tourism. This creative approach to conservation has protected and preserved 28 kilometers of wetlands and pristine river habitat in the highlands of Fiji for future generations, while also promoting and preserving its people and heritage. 

Brownlee says that Dr. Bricker and her work continues to make a profound impact on the world and on the people she meets. “My life is better because I know Kelly. The fact is, my life is just not better, but it’s been positively transformed because of our collaborations,” said Brownlee. “Anyone lucky enough to interact with Kelly, operate under her leadership or receive her mentorship is better for it.”


Watch Matthew Brownlee, Ph.D., present the award to Kelly S. Bricker, Ph.D. and Bricker’s acceptance speech.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks (CUIP) provides research, education, training, and outreach that enhances the management of the world’s parks and protected areas. It accomplishes this by providing park and protected area managers with innovative research to support science-based decision-making; and by developing current and future leaders in the park movement by providing interdisciplinary and transformative education and training programs. The Institute currently consists of 35 Fellows and 8 Scholars working on park-related research.

Visit the CUIP website for more information about the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Awards program and this year’s recipients.