Northern Michigan University professor and alumna Jes Thompson is one of 15 new members appointed to the National Park System Advisory Board by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. The membership consists of individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to the National Park Service mission, can contribute relevant expertise in various fields, and represent various geographic regions. Thompson said she may be the first from the Upper Peninsula to serve on the board.
First authorized in 1935, the National Park System Advisory Board advises the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the National Park Service (NPS) on matters relating to the service's work. It also has a regulatory role in recommending new National Natural Landmarks and National Historic Landmarks and provides recommendations regarding the significance of proposed National Historic Trails. Board members serve a term of up to four years.
“I'm so humbled, especially looking at the list of other members, who are impressive experts in their fields and inspiring humans,” Thompson said. ““This feels like something I can do that uses my talents and gifts for the better on behalf of my country. It will be an honor to represent the Great Lakes region and its rural areas on climate change and other issues.
“I'm also excited to have a seat at the table to learn from other board members and the NPS about what's happening—not just recreation changes, but what they mean for different groups of people in our country. Immediately it's going to be a network expander, making connections with everyone from the mayor of Miami to the director of the American Rivers Organization and others on the board to build relationships. This is a win-win and puts NMU on the map."
Thompson previously served on the advisory board's education committee from 2011-2017. Her service overlapped with the NPS centennial, which included a “Find Your Park” campaign and a program that gives free park passes to every 4th grader to encourage the next generation to appreciate and care for these national treasures.
Because of that experience, Thompson said she has been asked about potentially chairing a committee as a member of the National Park System Advisory Board. Her appointment to the board this week began with a nomination in November 2021, elevation to the short list in January 2022, and an extensive background check of all 15 members that included a review of investments to assure no conflict of interest. Their first meeting is scheduled Aug. 12 in Washington, D.C.
“National parks are some of the most visible and important forums for visitors to explore the outdoors and learn the complicated yet vital story of America,” said Secretary Haaland. “These new National Park System Advisory Board members represent experienced practitioners in cultural and natural resources management, as well as experts in relevant academic fields including environmental law, geography, and history. I look forward to their insight as we work to make our public lands accessible and inviting to all.”
“The challenges faced by the National Park Service reflect the challenges faced by our nation,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “Whether it's an increasing demand for dwindling resources, the impacts of a changing climate, or the struggle to understand how our past influences today's injustices, recommendations developed by the National Park System Advisory Board will help us strengthen our connection to the land and to our history.”
In 2020, Thompson published America's Largest Classroom: What We Learn From Our National Parks, an edited collection of case studies of park-based learning. The book won the National Non-Fiction Award silver prize and the Stewart Udall Award from the Western National Parks Association.
Thompson graduated from NMU in 2001 with a bachelor's degree in communication studies and public relations. Her commitment to sustainability permeates the PR courses she teaches for the College of Business, her interdisciplinary research with colleagues to enhance climate change communication and environmental awareness, and her service activities on campus and in the community.
She directs NMU's Sustainability Hub for Innovation and Environment (SHINE) and is co-chair of NMU's interim strategic plan focus area of building a culture of sustainability on campus. Her research focuses on public understanding and communication about climate change adaptation and resilience. She is a nationally recognized scholar in this area and frequently invited to give keynote and panel presentations.
Her service beyond her academic discipline has also emphasized sustainability. Thompson is a member of the Michigan Energy Options Board of Directors. Locally, she sits on the steering and membership committees of the Marquette Climate Adaptation Task Force, which she has been involved with since its inception in 2013. She previously was on the advisory board for the New England Aquarium's National Network of Oceans & Climate Change Interpretation project.
Thompson is the 2023 recipient of the Stephen Young & Tricia Kinley Distinguished Faculty Award—NMU's top academic honor.
Find more information on the National Park System Advisory Board here.