UTIA Student Wins National Scholarship from The Wilderness Society

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Graduate Student Cristina Watkins to Study Wilderness and Social Equity with Scholarship Funds

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Doctoral student Cristina Watkins in the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is the recipient of the 2019 Gloria Barron Wilderness Society Scholarship from The Wilderness Society in Washington D.C. This competitive national scholarship supports graduate students who have a desire to protect wilderness areas within the United States.

Watkins submitted a proposal that focuses on social and diversity issues rather than the typically selected topics that involve field-based research. Her winning proposal, “Wilderness and Social Equity: Connecting Wilderness Benefits to a Diverse Society,” will use social survey data to assess how different socio-demographic groups value wilderness areas as well as the lack of minority connection and inclusion to outdoor and wildland recreation. Her goal is to create a report on what different groups value in wilderness areas to help provide more accessible opportunities for them in the future.

Watkins says that outdoor recreation has historically been popular mostly among Caucasian populations and that current marketing and messaging do not fully address the gap in outdoor recreation participation. She believes that it is important that all races and ethnicities feel comfortable in the outdoors, most notably because of the myriad health benefits that stem from spending time outdoors.

“Not feeling like you belong or are welcome in nature, living in an urban area, or not having knowledge of how to access natural areas are just some of the cultural barriers that I want to explore,” says Watkins.

Her graduate advisor, Associate Professor Neelam Poudyal, notes, “Christina is a bright, young individual with high motivation for natural resource research. The fact that she has worked beyond her dissertation project to seek competitive grants for a study of her interest shows how much she cares about issues impacting our society and natural resources.”

Upon completion of her study, Watkins will present her research results in a webinar. She hopes to graduate with her doctorate in natural resources in May 2020. Her dissertation focuses on how risk perception, agency trust and confidence in government employees affect public attitude and support for conservation projects.

The UT Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries is part of the Herbert College of Agriculture, UT AgResearch and UT Extension at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. The curricula focus on a mastery learning approach, emphasizing practical, hands-on experiences. FWF’s faculty, staff and students conduct research and extension that advances the science and sustainable management of our natural resources. For more information, visit fwf.tennessee.edu​.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu​.

Media Contact

Kristy Keel-Blackmon

Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries



Cristina Watkins