Clemson Institute for Parks honors George McDonald for leadership in increasing diversity in national parks

November 19, 2020

George McDonald, the chief of youth programs for the National Park Service (NPS), has received the Robert G. Stanton Award from the Clemson University Institute for Parks in recognition of his leadership attracting and developing the next generation of diverse park leaders and connecting an increasingly diverse public to the relevance of their national parks.

Picture of Robert G. Stanton Award Recipient George McDonald.

Robert G. Stanton Award Recipient George McDonald.

The institute presents the annual awards program, 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 are named after visionary leaders that Hartzog respected and admired. Award recipients follow in Hartzog’s footsteps by making significant contributions to the management of parks and preservation of our heritage.

The Robert G. Stanton Award is named in appreciation of the remarkable career of  the first African-American Director of the NPS. The award recognizes sustained and innovative achievement in promoting racial or ethnic diversity in the management of North America’s natural, historic and cultural heritage.

Among Stanton’s many accomplishments were the expansion of the interpretation of diverse cultural meanings inherent in national parks and increased participation by racial and ethnic minorities as both visitors and employees. Stanton says that McDonald’s career in the NPS is similarly focused on making parks accessible to all.

“I could cite a number of programs that have been inaugurated under George’s leadership and his unwavering commitment to engaging youth in this noble endeavor that we call conservation,” said Stanton. “George has successfully launched, and indeed increased, youth participation in a variety of programs and was especially focused towards increasing diversity in these programs.”

Throughout his 20-year career in the NPS, McDonald has played a key role in projects designed to enhance and increase the number of underserved, minority and disadvantaged youth participating in park activities and engaging in employment and educational opportunities. He developed a service-wide funding source for the Youth Partnerships Program in collaboration with the NPS’s budget office in 2007, in order to support youth development programming that focuses on education, recreation, volunteer service and employment, and that engages diverse audiences.

“I am thrilled George is being honored with this award. His dedication to expanding opportunities for young people from every background to connect with their national parks has truly changed lives,” said Margaret Everson, Counselor to the Secretary exercising the delegated authority of the National Park Service Director. “His unmatched energy and collaborative spirit have spurred innovative partnerships that provide access and employment opportunities to thousands of young people every year. I can’t wait to see his lasting impact through the new generation of public lands stewards his work continues to empower.”

His career centers on building mutually beneficial partnerships, such as the NPS Boy Scouts of America Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger Program, established in 2007, and the NPS Girl Scout Ranger program started the following year. In 2014, he developed the NPS-YMCA Partner Program, which brings between 9,000 and 10,000 YMCA day campers per year into national parks for recreation and education and in 2015, he forged a partnership program with Boys and Girls Clubs. McDonald is currently developing federal guidelines for a new Indian Youth Service Corps Program.

Bob Stanton, the 15th Director of the National Park Service, and George McDonald sitting together at a table.

Bob Stanton, the 15th Director of the National Park Service, and George McDonald.

McDonald is also focused on creating pathways to employment for Black, Hispanic and Native American youth. He created the NPS’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Internship Program in 2011 and the Latino Heritage Internship Program in 2013, making internship opportunities available to dozens of students throughout the country every year. The Mosaics in Science Internship Program, developed in 2012, provides science-based internship opportunities to racially diverse undergraduate and graduate students.

He has also led projects of major significance for the NPS, such as assisting in the development of the African Burial Ground National Monument and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site as well as serving as the project manager for the National Museum for African American History and Culture Presidential Commission (2002-03), which led to the successful development of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.

Stanton says that he continues to be impressed by McDonald’s passion and dedication for his work, and for ensuring that parks are accessible to everyone, regardless of their race, gender or background.

“George has been recognized nationally by a number of organizations for his commitment and his accomplishments,” said Stanton. “I have had the opportunity to know and work with George for a number of years and I can personally attest to his commitment.”


Watch former Director Stanton present the award to George McDonald, followed by McDonald’s award 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 10 Scholars working on park-related research.

Visit the Institute for Parks website for more information about the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Awards program and its recipients.