Likening her situation to a new coach taking over an already winning sports team, Kelly Bricker is becoming director of the highly successful Hainan University-Arizona State University International Tourism College (HAITC).
HAITC just graduated its first cohort of bachelor’s degree recipients in May, four years after it was co-founded by ASU and Hainan University in the southern Chinese city of Haikou. The college was established to increase the numbers of qualified professionals in the growing fields of international tourism, parks and recreation, urban and rural planning, and public service.
Its entering class in 2017 posted a 97% graduation rate this spring.
Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have grounded Bricker, former chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in the College of Health at the University of Utah. But that hasn’t stopped her from virtually visiting the campus in Haikou and speaking with people there via Zoom. That has been enough to greatly impress her.
“I really appreciate the foundation the college has put into place. It’s been built to be incredibly strong through the leadership of the faculty, (former director) Kathleen Andereck and (Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions) Dean Jonathan Koppell,” Bricker said. “They have built an incredible team in Haikou and here at ASU.”
Bricker, a full professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, officially began work July 1.
“The Watts College is fortunate that someone with such impressive scholarly expertise, experience in academic administration and knowledge of program development as Kelly Bricker is the new HAITC director,” said Cynthia Lietz, Watts College interim dean and President’s Professor of social work.
“A recognized leader in her field, she will bring significant knowledge and insight from prominent roles in international tourism to her new position working with faculty at ASU and at Hainan University, our valued partner,” Lietz said. “I am looking forward to her contributions toward building on the amazing success HAITC already has achieved.”
Bricker said HAITC is home to highly dedicated faculty members who are excited about what they do.
“To me, that says a lot about what’s happening also with students,” Bricker said. “The passion of faculty translates to success of students and how they engage in their studies. Obviously, the 97% graduate rate is proof of that.”
Despite the pandemic’s effects on travel and communication, Bricker said she finds that “there is still excitement surrounding HAITC. Everyone’s ready to move forward.”
Bricker’s PhD degree in recreation, park and tourism management is from Pennsylvania State University. Her master’s and bachelor’s degrees are from Western Illinois University.
Bricker said one of her big goals as she begins work is to get familiar with the college’s culture, something she said she knows will take time.
“I can’t do that in a day and half. But my goal is to get in tune with how students view the program. I want to understand the faculty and what we in the leadership can do from our side to support the faculty,” Bricker said. “It sounds like there’s room as we move from COVID to build more community across nations, but also with Hainan and really get the program known locally in China.”
This will involve working with local professionals to develop student internships and to “cross-pollinate” the program with more U.S. students, she said.
“Now that HAITC has alumni, we should be really engaging with alumni in their new career positions, and developing partnerships and celebrating their professional success. We have an opportunity to create professional avenues for future graduates.”
Bricker said she is eager to bring her knowledge of international programs to HAITC.
“I have taught overseas. I have developed programs overseas, internship programs, working with international partners and colleagues,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed helping students understand the context of their chosen profession and how to navigate a successful career, but also effect positive change where they work and live.”
Bricker said another area in which she has great interest is nature-based tourism and how it impacts rural community development. She wants to work with Chinese stakeholders in their development of national parks and rural tourism, and she plans to work with HNU to conduct research that can support sustainable tourism development, conservation and thriving communities.
Most of all, Bricker said she plans to listen to understand what the college’s needs are. That, and making plans to travel as soon as quarantine rules and other restrictions are lifted.
“I’m all vaccinated, and look forward to making connections and meeting the team in person,” she said.