Professor Spotlight: Kelly Goonan

Whether a student is studying to become a doctor, teacher or outdoor recreation major, the one key component every student must have is confidence in their craft.

Professor Kelly Goonan, the Outdoor Recreation in Parks and Tourism Program Director from Liverpool, New York, lives the majority of her life outdoors but continues to work on trusting her ability and skill.

“Your confidence gets tested a lot more outdoors,” Goonan said. “But when you overcome that challenge it gives you greater confidence in your ability and in your judgment and that you do know what is going on. So there is always the physical challenge but I think a lot more of it comes down to that confidence and mental challenge it presents.”

From a young age, Goonan has been enamored with the outdoors. Her mother was a Biology teacher, and as such, she spent most of her childhood exploring the outdoors learning about the different types of plants and animals.

During her high school and college years, Goonan worked at the Boy Scout summer camp, Sabattis Scout Reservation located in Upstate New York. She taught outdoor skills such as canoeing, swimming and a lifeguard course. This job helped Goonan realize her passion for not only the outdoors but also for teaching. 

After high school, Goonan earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University.

Her time at St. Lawrence was a pivotal time in Goonan’s life because it was the first time she had been introduced to a variety of outdoor recreation organizations similar to SUU Outdoors. 

“My parents took us to the nature park or the zoo but they weren’t backpackers or skiers. They didn’t really have those kinds of outdoor pursuits, but [St. Lawrence] University was able to provide those resources.”

It was then that Goonan was able to learn about outdoor clinics and affordable trips that her university had to offer. This allowed her to get more involved in a variety of outdoor activities. 

During Goonan’s freshmen year, she took an Intro to Environmental Studies class from Chirs Monz. Monz would soon become an instrumental piece to helping Goonan find her way to Utah.

Upon receiving a B.A in Environmental Studies, Goonan went on to earn a M.S. in Natural Resources at the University of Vermont.

After Goonan graduated with her masters in 2009, Monz, her undergraduate professor form St. Lawrence convinced her to move 2,000 miles to Utah State University for a Ph.D.

Monz had recently moved to Utah and thought Goonan would do well in the Ph. D program offered at Utah State University. Goonan moved halfway across the country and proceeded to earn her Ph.D. in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Management from USU.

Like many other graduates, she didn’t know what direction she wanted to go. She was interested in public land management and also higher education.

Then Mark Brunson, the chair Chair of the Environment and Society Department at the Quinney College of Natural Resources and also a professor on her dissertation committee sent her an email that put her on her course to Cedar City.

“[Brunson] sent me the job announcement for this position and in all caps, with about 18 exclamation points, it said, ‘LOOK AT THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ It sounded perfect. I didn’t know anything about SUU or Cedar City… but the more I looked into the program I knew it would be a place I would enjoy and I fell in love with Cedar pretty quick.”

Goonan has now been an assistant professor for the past six years and enjoys the opportunity she has to help students find their path in life. 

Since becoming a professor in 2014, Goonan has tried to appreciate the natural beauty and scenery she is surrounded by daily.

It’s still strange to me that I live in a place where I can get to [national] parks so fast,” said Goonan. “There are people that travel from across the world to spend time in those places. I always try to remember that, acknowledge where I am and not take it for granted.” 

If a student wants to try outdoor activities that southern Utah has to offer but doesn’t know where to start, Goonan advises students to go to SUU Outdoors. Students can try different outdoor activities in a controlled atmosphere that will help them develop the confidence and skill they need to feel confident in the outdoors.

A few years ago Goonan, along with some of her colleagues from SUU had the opportunity to go rafting in the Grand Canyon. Some questioned her ability, she was confident in her skill level.

“I was confident in my abilities and confident in the person who invited would not have invited me had they thought I wasn’t capable or I would put anyone in the group at risk. I was maybe a little bit more stubborn and thought, ‘well I am going to show all of you that I can do this.’”

Goonan had a great time on the rafting trip and now looks to that experience to help show herself that she does have the skill needed to thrive in the outdoors.

Now Goonan helps her students not only develop their confidence but also find their own path in life; whether that be in the ORPT program or not.  

“All the staff really believe in mentoring students and having that personal relationship with students and helping them achieve their goals. We are not here just for the job we are here to help other people meet their goals. It’s the university as a whole. That is why we are here.”

Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photos Courtesy: Kelly Goonan