NRPA Announces Its First Vice President of Education and Chief Equity Officer

(August 24, 2020)

NRPA is thrilled to welcome Autumn Saxton-Ross, Ph.D., to the association

Ashburn, Va. (August 20, 2020) — The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the nation’s leading advocate for parks and recreation, is proud to announce Autumn Saxton-Ross, Ph.D., will become its first Vice President of Education and Chief Equity Officer on September 8. Saxton-Ross most recently served as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director and Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Lead for NatureBridge, the largest residential environmental education partner of the National Park Service.

As the 2021–2023 NRPA Strategic Plan affirms, NRPA’s commitment to centering equity in all that we do called for the investment in a leader who could expand on what have built to date.  As that leader, Saxton-Ross will engage with the parks and recreation community, guide our programs, professional development and member engagement, and advance our vision of a future where everyone has access to a great park.

“I am truly thrilled to announce the selection of Autumn Saxton-Ross as NRPA’s first Vice President of Education and Chief Equity Officer,” said Kristine Stratton, NRPA president and CEO. “Autumn stands out for her love of and belief in the power of parks and recreation to transform lives and her deep expertise in equity work from public health, environmental and youth education perspectives. As VP of Education and Chief Equity Officer, she will lead the development of a holistic approach to NRPA’s equity work and the creation of an education agenda to support it.”

Autumn Saxton-Ross began her career as an elementary school health and physical education teacher for D.C. Public Schools and has since consistently worked in positions placing her at the intersections of health, equity and the outdoors. While at NatureBridge, Saxton-Ross oversaw programs at Prince William Forest and Shenandoah National Parks in Virginia. Her previous position as Program Director for Place-based Initiatives at the National Collaborative for Health Equity (NCHE) saw her encouraging the use of policy and environmental change as a solution to health inequities, focusing on communities of color. It was here that she managed the Kellogg-funded PLACE MATTERS initiative — a national learning laboratory that builds the capacity of local leaders to identify and address the social, economic and environmental conditions shaping health, opportunities and resources.

Before NCHE, Saxton-Ross was Program Specialist at the D.C. Department of Health and the Assistant Director for Health in Parks for Washington Parks & People. In each of these positions, she focused on environmental and policy approaches to healthy eating and active living and on promoting the natural connection between parks, recreation and health. Prior to receiving her doctorate, she was the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Montgomery County and D.C. Recreation departments and taught Women’s Health for Howard University. One of her many key accomplishments has been that of founder and program director at Green Spaces for D.C.

“Over the past decade my career has intersected with NRPA many times — as one of the first health educators hired in local recreation departments as part of the Hearts and Parks Initiative, then working to launch the first Parks Build Community playground here in northeast D.C., and participating in various annual conferences moderating panels and presenting in workshops,” said Saxton-Ross. “With this new position, I am elated to have the opportunity to work within the organization and for the field, to help shift and co-create a new narrative of parks and recreation that places us at the center of strong, inclusive and resilient communities.”

Saxton-Ross, a D.C. resident and mother of two, received her Ph.D. from the department of Sociology at Howard University, preceded by a master’s degree in Public Health Education and Promotion from the same institution and undergraduate work in exercise science through The George Washington University. First developing a love of the outdoors through her grandmother’s yard and city parks in her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, Saxton-Ross’s research, academic and professional interests continue to focus on social and physical environments and their influences on physical activity, opportunity and resources — specifically in Black and urban populations — along with the health benefits of parks and green spaces. Her life’s work concentrates on improving the health of communities through engagement, activity, education, exposure and opportunity, truly believing that “a healthy life is lived better outdoors.”

To learn more about the 2021–2023 NRPA Strategic Plan, visit

To learn more about NRPA, visit


About the National Recreation and Park Association

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is the leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation. With more than 60,000 members, NRPA advances this mission by investing in and championing the work of park and recreation professionals and advocates — the catalysts for positive change in service of equity, climate-readiness, and overall health and well-being. For more information, visit For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit