Western National Parks Association 2020 Award Winners Announced

Award recipients recognized for contributions to WNPA and national parks

Tucson, Arizona, December 2, 2020—On November 5, 2020, Western National Parks Association (WNPA), a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service (NPS) since 1938, announced the recipients of its annual awards. For over 30 years, WNPA has recognized individuals and organizations who make exceptional contributions to national parks and increase awareness of WNPA’s mission. 

“Even in a global pandemic, it is important to celebrate success and meritorious achievements,” said James E. Cook, Chief Executive Officer of WNPA. “These days, many Americans have a renewed sense of the importance of our national parks. This year’s award winners are individuals who achieved major accomplishments, helping advance the ideals of our national park system. Please join me in congratulating them for their well-deserved recognition!”

Dr. Jessica Thompson, Professor, Northern Michigan University, and Dr. Ana Houseal, Associate Professor & Outreach Science Educator, University of Wyoming, received the Stewart L. Udall Award for editing America’s Largest Classroom: What We Learn from Our National Parks, published in April by University of California Press. The book, recognized with a Silver Award from the National Nonfiction Book Competition in July, examines educational and interpretive programs in national parks. Its 21 chapters—written by more than 40 authors—address powerful, experiential learning of STEM, social studies, history, and culture and emphasize inclusivity and reaching more diverse groups of students and educators. Thompson and Houseal also created an issue of the Park Stewardship Forum, an online, interdisciplinary, open access, and peer-reviewed journal copublished by the University of California Berkeley Institute for Parks, People, and Biodiversity and the George Wright Society. The book and journal will be used in university courses related to environmental education and stewardship and will be valuable in the professional fields of conservation and interpretation of public lands.

The Stewart L. Udall Award honors those who work to support park interpretation programs, deliver the park message to all audiences, or rally broad support for national parks. The award was named for the renowned conservationist, secretary of the interior (1961–1969), and former WNPA board member (1984–1994). 

Monique VanLandingham, Program Manager, Cooperating Associations & Partnerships, NPS, received the Edward B. Danson Award for her unwavering support of WNPA. VanLandingham took the initiative in developing critical communication which provided ethics guidance to park leaders regarding ways parks can communicate about their cooperating association partners. In this time of COVID-19 she worked closely with the cooperating association community, especially WNPA, to understand the impacts of the virus, then created awareness across the NPS about the gravity of the situation many cooperating associations face.

The Edward B. Danson Award honors those who show exceptional support and loyalty to the WNPA mission and national parks. The award was named for the noted archaeologist and director of the Museum of Northern Arizona (1956–1975). Danson served as a member of the WNPA board and the National Park System Advisory Board. He was awarded the Department of the Interior Conservation Award in 1986.

Maya Tainatongo, a native Tucsonan, received the Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Scholarship for her work at Saguaro National Park. Tainatongo has taught children about the park and its history through a variety of field trip programs, such as plant species found in the park and the indigenous Hohokam people who lived on the land before it became a national park.

Tainatongo has been part of many interesting projects and a variety of surveys surrounding aspen trees, frogs, water, and saguaros. Her goal is to foster awareness of the many people excluded from conversations regarding preservation, conversation, and culture and natural heritage, as many underrepresented groups hold spiritual and cultural connections to much of the land the parks currently occupy. This scholarship allows her to continue her education at the University of Arizona as she works toward a career within the park service where she can create programs relative to underrepresented groups.

The Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Program Scholarship was established at WNPA in 2016 by retired NPS leader and former WNPA board member Ernie Quintana and his friend and NPS colleague Marty Sterkel. The scholarship’s goal is to support individuals whose intended use of the scholarship and career goals will increase diversity in the workforce of the NPS and similar land management or resource agencies. The scholarship provides for college tuition and internships in areas of study relevant to parks management, conservation, and other special study opportunities targeting the same goal. WNPA hopes to inspire individuals from all backgrounds to consider careers serving as NPS and other similar resource professionals. The Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Program Scholarship aims to change the lives of diverse young people and change the future of our public lands.

About WNPA

WNPA helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the NPS, WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938 WNPA has worked to connect new generations to parks in meaningful ways, all with one simple goal: create advocates who want to preserve and protect these special places for everyone, for all time. Learn more at www.wnpa.org.