Are you looking for inspirational presentations by industry leaders? The NRPA Annual Conference brings together some of the biggest and brightest names in parks and recreation and beyond. Get to know a few of our standout speakers below and for more information on all of our speakers and sessions, check out our full schedule.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Neelay Bhatt

Neelay Bhatt
Vice President, PROS Consulting INC. 
Session 1: Delivering Your TED Talk: How to Speak so People Listen
Session 2: eSports 101: Just What the Heck Is eSports and Why/How Should My Agency Participate in It?
Session 3: Predicting Trends for the 2020s 
Biography: Neelay Bhatt’s career on five continents includes Disney, The Super Bowl, The Summer Olympics and Paralympics Games and a TED Global workshop, presenting multiple TEDx talks and coaching TEDx presenters. He has keynoted globally from USA to China, Europe and New Zealand. As the VP at PROS Consulting INC., he has led 125+ strategic / master planning, sports facility development projects globally.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Dr. Deborah Cohen

Dr. Deborah Cohen
Senior Scientist, RAND Corporation
Session: Your Data and You: What You DON’T Know About Local Parks and Playgrounds
Biography: Deborah Cohen is a senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty. Her areas of interest include how structural environmental factors — social and physical — influence health. She has studied how neighborhood parks influence physical activity and how community characteristics affect health disparities and health.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Cherie Cook

Cherie Cook 
Senior Program Manager, AASLH 
Session: History Help: Caring for Cultural and Historic Resources in Our Parks  
Biography: At the American Association for State and Local History, Cherie Cook serves as senior program manager and coordinates the Visitors Count! and StEPs programs. Prior to joining AASLH, Cherie worked with museums in Oklahoma for more than sixteen years, first as field services coordinator and then as executive director of the Oklahoma Museums Association (1993-2004). As a result of her work, OMA became one of the most active state museum associations in the nation, offering a year-round calendar of training opportunities. Cherie holds an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University and a BA in History from Kansas State University.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Dr. Joel Fish

Dr. Joel Fish
Director, The Center for Sport Psychology 
Session 1: Dos & Don'ts for Youth Sport Programming
Session 2: Practical Strategies to Work with Today’s Sports Parents
Biography: Dr. Fish is a nationally recognized expert in sport psychology who has worked in the field for over 25 years. Dr. Fish has spoken at the NRPA Annual Conference on 16 occasions, as well as at numerous state RPA conferences. He has also spoken on sport psychology at over 300 universities nationwide. He is also the author of the book, “101 Ways To Be A Terrific Sports Parent” (Simon & Schuster, 2003).


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Matthew Graul

Matthew Graul
Chief of Stewardship, East Bay Regional Park District
Session 1: Lake Management Strategies to Reduce Harmful Algal Blooms and Protect Public Water Recreation Programs
Session 2: Managing Park Forests and Vegetation to Reduce the Risk of Wildfires

Biography: Matthew Graul has a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Engineering and completed graduate course work in geography and natural resource management. He has worked in the field of environmental and water quality protection with a focus on wetland, stream, and upland habitat restoration for over 20 years.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Sara Hammerschmidt

Sara Hammerschmidt
Senior Director, Urban Land Institute
Session: Creative Alliances for Park Access and Health Equity
Sara Hammerschmidt supports the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative and has done extensive work on issues that lie at the intersection of health and the built environment. She previously worked at PolicyLink in Oakland, California, researching the inclusion of social and economic equity into projects, plans, and policies implemented at the intersection of health and the built environment.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Pegeen Hanrahan

Pegeen Hanrahan 
Southeast Conservation Finance Director, Trust for Public Land
Session: Bond, Parks Bond...
Pegeen Hanrahan has over 25 years of experience in public participation, grant writing, land conservation and local government finance. With TPL, she has helped develop and pass seventeen successful bond, property or sales tax measures for land conservation and park development across the U.S.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Daniel W. Hatcher

Daniel W. Hatcher          
Director of Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation
Session: Reshape Your Workplace: 5 Activities to Start a Wellness Movement
Daniel W. Hatcher oversees out-of-school time partnerships and manages technical assistance services and resources for before and after school and summer programs as they work to achieve national standards for healthy eating and physical activity. Daniel has a BA in International Relations and a Master of Public Health, both from Western Kentucky University. You can follow Daniel as he speaks across the country on the topic of healthy communities via Twitter @hatchdw.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Mason Hutchinson

Mason Hutchison          
Design Engineer, Scaled Composites
Session: Drones for Parks
Mason Hutchison has shared his story at AMA Expo West & East, and AirVenture, the largest Aviation Convention in the world. His work includes Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Aircraft and most recently Paul Allen's Stratolaunch.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Roslyn Johnson, CPRP

Roslyn Johnson, CPRP
Former Deputy Director of Facility Operations, M-NCPPC Department of Parks and Recreation
Session: Circles of Engagement: How to Strengthen Your Park and Recreation Agency Using Powerful Diversity Tools
Roslyn Johnson has had an extensive career in the field of Parks and Recreation, most recently serving as the Deputy Director for Facility Operations at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation Prince George’s County. She’s a true advocate for and passionate believer in innovation of all forms; especially the ways in which it can shape our communities and the lives of our residents. These days, Roslyn is particularly focused on the intersection of diversity and innovation as we look for ways to adapt to and to continue to enjoy an ever changing world.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Marisa Jones

Marisa Jones
Healthy Communities Senior Manager, Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Session: Expanding the Role of Parks and Recreation in Improving Park Usage through Safe Routes to Parks
Marisa Jones leads the Safe Routes to Parks Activating Communities program, which provides in-depth coaching to 10 communities to develop Safe Routes to Parks action plans. The communities receive funding to implement early actions. Marisa led SRTSNP’s role in the collaborative Safe Routes to Parks pilot program with NRPA. Marisa has presented at dozens of local, state, and national conferences, including recent presentations at Complete Streets, American Planning Association, New Partners for Smart Growth, Community Transportation Association of America, and American Public Transportation Association.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Rafael Payan

Rafael Payan
General Manager, Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District
Session: Leadership Certificate Program: Leading to Create Organizational Excellence
Dr. Payan served as an instructor for the past 5 years at the NRPA Directors School. He was director of Pima County, AZ and has served in the field of parks, recreation and resource conservation for over 35 years. His background is in landscape architecture and construction and he is considered a leader in the design and development of internationally recognized Kartchner Caverns State Park along with numerous award-winning cultural, environmental and recreation projects. Rated as one of the most effective presenters by the students at the NRPA Directors School.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Dr. Steven Waller

Dr. Steven Waller
Professor of Recreation and Sport Management, and Director of the Center for the Study of Sport and Religion, University of Tennessee
Session: The Role of Resiliency, Spirituality and Coping for African-American Women Leaders in Parks and Recreation
Dr. Waller practiced as a parks and recreation professional for 25 years and has taught for 22 years in parks, recreation and sport management curricula. Teaching and research foci include management, administration, organizational behavior and religion, leisure, and sport. Dr. Waller has more than 60 refereed publications and 100 refereed national/international conference presentations. He also directs the Center for the Study of Sport and Religion at UTK.


NRPA Annual Conference Speaker Lakita Watson

Lakita Watson
Executive Director, Richland County Recreation Commission
Session: Internships: Creating a Triple Win Experience for Students, Agencies and Universities
Lakita Watson began her career in parks and recreation over 20 years ago. She has served a Director of Suffolk Parks & Recreation in 2003 and then Executive Director of the Richland County Recreation Commission in 2018. She is a passionate orator having presented on the local, state and national level. Lakita is currently the chair for NRPA's Leadership Development Network and the Ethnic Minority Society.