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Covering everything from the urban parks of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to the wilderness of Denali, and from the pursuit of the perfect golf swing to the impact of sound on the natural environment, current research at Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management delves deeply into the leisure time pursuits of individuals, and how they affect their lives — and the world around them.

PARC

Whether our area of focus is the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite, Sequoia, or Mount Rainier, our research is making a mark on our country’s most treasured national parks and protected spaces. The researchers of PARC are involved in projects that are aimed at improving environmental and human health conditions around the world — ranging from understanding urban parks and green spaces to reducing the human impact on natural areas in some of the most rugged areas on earth.

Our students, faculty, and partners come together across Penn State campuses from a variety of fields to collaborate on relevant, in-depth research initiatives that take place in labs and off-site in remote areas. Current initiatives include understanding soundscape management and how natural sounds may foster stress reduction and increase restoration; exploring development of trails and transportation systems and their lasting impact on communities; examining dog waste disposal practices in open spaces; and exploring ecological and social conditions in the wilderness.

Soundscapes

How do manmade sounds impact visitors’ experiences — both positively and negatively — at national parks? Our faculty members, graduate students, and partners work together to better understand the answers to these and other important questions. To that end, our researchers conducted a 2011 study within Denali National Park and Preserve to better understand how man-made sounds impact back-country users, such as hikers off the beaten path and mountaineers — and in 2016, they returned to analyze how front-country users in high-profile areas such as the Visitor Center or popular hiking trails feel about the sounds that they hear.

Other current soundscapes projects include an interdisciplinary lab at the national parks, a graduate student experience, and an initiative focused on social science and the National Park Service.

Kurt Hahn Consortium for Values and Experiential Learning

The German-born founder of Outward Bound, Kurt Hahn was a world leader in providing life-changing outdoor experiences for youth and adults. In honor of his life’s work, this central hub connects research, practice, and policy focused on all aspects of Hahn’s legacy organizations — supported by a collection of specialized leaders from around the world.

Through various research efforts, our faculty, students, and partners aspire to enhance the quality of work happening with individuals and groups, positively influence policy at all levels, and collaborate to maximize the value of that research. We focus on sharing best practices that inform educational policy and connecting research and practice for undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as for professional development. Projects and collaborations include Outward Bound Oman (OBO) and Connecting Cultures (CC) UNESCO project, the USA Oral History Project, Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding (OBCP), and the British Exploring Society.

Golf Teaching and Research Center (GTRC)

Talk to any serious golfer, and you’ll quickly discover their passion for altering their mechanics to achieve the best possible swing and distance on the ball. To assist in their efforts, the GTRC leverages innovative technology, faculty, and staff to pinpoint characteristics and errors that occur in a golfer’s swing, short game, equipment, and more.

One of the best golf programs in the country, the GTRC is involved in various joint research programs — along with the PGA Golf Management program, Department of Kinesiology, Penn State Golf Courses, and Penn State Athletics — that focus on improving player performance, and work in tandem with companies and agencies that enable the application of research outcomes to both theoretical and applied problems. By combining university resources with golf industry leaders, we collaborate on innovative research projects and product testing, along with next-generation teaching technologies that incorporate multiple motion capture systems, force plates, 3D Doppler radar ball flight machines, a putting green, and equipment for modifying clubs.

Global Tourism

By providing innovative solutions for tourism planning and management and contributing to interdisciplinary advances in tourism theory, Penn State’s Global Tourism research brings together an eclectic team of faculty, students, and associates interested in documenting the multi-disciplinary impact of tourism on communities in developed and developing countries; assessing the effectiveness of promotional activities and materials; helping to create policy that improves recreation and tourism planning regionally, nationally, and globally — and communicating research findings to industry partners, community organizations, and academicians.

Key projects in the Tourism Research Lab include International Service and Educational Mobilities; Tourism Planning, Disparities, and Human Development; Tourism Marketing and Management; Representing and Consuming Cultures and Identities; and Leisure Travel and Well-Being.

Community Recreation & Health & Well-Being

Leisure, Culture and Diversity

Our faculty, students, and partners examine how culture and cultural differences influence leisure intra-culturally, cross-culturally, and internationally as well as how leisure influences cultural differences and cultural assimilation and acculturation. Key current projects include developing a comprehensive model to help identify the next direct flight route for a destination by combining the buying funnel theory and gravity modeling; analysis of social networks and the changing online conversation related to orphanage tourism; and investigation of a big data approach to understanding, monitoring, and forecasting visitor behaviors in our national parks.

Leisure and Disability

With the goal of informing leisure service providers about ways to meet the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, models for inclusive leisure service provision, and strategies to empower individuals to experience meaningful and enjoyable leisure, our faculty, students, and partners perform in-depth research into how positive health outcomes subsequently reduce health care costs. Recent research projects include the effects of a leisure program on adults with autism spectrum disorder, the value of walking intervention of adults with osteoarthritis, and the effects of balance training and walking on the physical and psychological performance of older adults.

Leisure, Health and Wellness

Centered around improving individual and community health, well-being, and quality of life across the lifespan, the Leisure, Health and Wellness Lab stimulates innovative research that contributes to the prevention of primary and secondary health risk factors. Serving as a lab catalyst to promote transdisciplinary research and graduate education concerning issues of leisure activity, leisure services, health, well-being, and healthy lifestyles, the lab helps to promote healthy lifestyles through leisure, and the reduction of health care costs in Pennsylvania and around the world.

Outdoor Recreation and Protected Areas

Through research, faculty, students, and partners leverage social science theories and principles to understand human values, attitudes, and behavior and help managers respond successfully to the challenges associated with managing protected areas and outdoor recreation. Notable research projects currently underway include national visitor-use monitoring for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and for Allegheny National Forest, outdoor recreation and older Americans, and an analysis of recreation fee issues in outdoor recreation.