The Fisherman of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

PROVO, Utah – May 11, 2021 – Becoming a fly fisherman takes time and practice. Professional fly fisherman Ramon Zabriskie might also propose that applying diversity, equity, and inclusion takes just as much practice. His life experiences as a fly fisherman, recreation therapist, and professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business have given Zabriskie a unique opportunity to develop patience, empathy, awareness, and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As a first-generation college student, Zabriskie had unique experiences as an undergrad that helped him to relate to those in similar situations. He came to BYU as a distance runner on an athletic scholarship and met his wife who was also studying at BYU. He graduated from BYU in 1989 with his bachelor’s degree in recreation management and youth leadership with an option in therapeutic recreation and earned his master’s degree in 1993 in the same administration of therapeutic recreation, also from BYU.

After graduating with his master’s, he worked as a recreation therapist for eleven years at various institutions in Provo, Orem, and Draper, Utah, where he was introduced to the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion. "My background in working with people with disabilities and a variety of other marginalized groups such as those who are LGBTQ+ are why I started focusing on these important initiatives,” Zabriskie says.

While working as a recreation therapist, Zabriskie also taught as a clinical faculty member in the department of recreation management and youth leadership in the College of Physical Education at BYU for five years. Eventually, Zabriskie left to receive his PhD in leisure behavior with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation and family studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, graduating in 2000, and then coming back to BYU to teach.

Zabriskie currently teaches in the Department of Experience Design and Management but that is not the only focus he has as a professor. “I also teach the other most important class on campus, which is the fly-fishing class,” Zabriskie jokes. He has enjoyed opportunities to fly fish all over the world and takes students on exciting adventures.

Zabriskie says you can tell what he is doing each day by looking at his attire. “On teaching days, I wear my fly-fishing tie, and on non-teaching days I wear my fishy shirts,” Zabriskie says. His collection of fishing shirts continues to grow as he travels to new fishing spots across the world. He also sells his own line of signature fly-fishing ties and hosts fly-fishing trips around the world.

Zabriskie has taught recreation therapy since 2000 and recently started teaching a new class, ExDM 350: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion In Experience Design. “Years of experience working with people with disabilities and being an ally and advocate for marginalized groups has helped me to prepare for this opportunity to create this new course,” Zabriskie says.

The purpose of this ExDM course is to help students understand how to create inclusive experiences for people of different life experiences and needs. The class also helps students recognize and understand the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in organizations and in their own lives.

Zabriskie’s life experiences and relationships with traditionally marginalized groups, from family members and friends to students and alumni, have given him insight that has helped him to be a better listener. “Having those kinds of relationships and experiences in my own life and my own background, both professionally and personally, gave me the framework to begin to understand to the importance of taking the time and making the effort to become more educated,” Zabriskie says.

Creating and teaching ExDM 350 has been a meaningful experience for Zabriskie and is one of his proudest accomplishments. “It's been cool to bring that conversation to the forefront so we, as a society, can have the experiences to become a little bit more aware and inclusive and sincerely strive to foster a belonging environment everywhere we go," he says.

Zabriskie and his colleagues in the ExDM program hope that the class will eventually be available to all BYU Marriott students. In the meantime, Zabriskie suggested a few ways to start implementing the concepts taught in the class today.

“One lesson I try to share with everyone is to truly listen to people's stories, whether we're talking gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, mental health. or people with disabilities,” Zabriskie says. “Once students learn to listen, that is when they can gain empathy and truly begin to understand what it is like to walk in a traditionally marginalized individual’s shoes.”

Whether he is helping people have access to the outdoors through fly-fishing or teaching students how to be more inclusive in life and the workplace, Zabriskie leads by example. Using his life experiences and listening to the stories of others, he is able to create a safe space wherever he goes and promote BYU Marriott’s mission to serve and solve problems in the world.

Experience Design and Management professor Ramon Zabriskie.
Experience design and management professor Ramon Zabriskie
Professor Ramon Zabriskie with fish he caught at Pyramid Lake, Nevada.
Professor Ramon Zabriskie with fish he caught at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, in February 2021. (Photo courtesy of Ramon Zabriskie)

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Veronica Maciel