Significant changes in the social, political and economic environments and the emergence of new technologies place increasing demands on administrators charged with problem solving, conflict resolution, innovative funding and responding to non-traditional clienteles with new program needs. The role of the public recreation and park administrator is changing from being concerned with the allocation of government funding to operating as an entrepreneur in the public sector with minimal tax support. Emphasis is placed on understanding the financing, managing, and marketing of agencies and their services. Students are likely to take a significant number of courses in the business school, sociology and/or political science departments.
Ongoing Research. The Department has four research programs in this area. The first involves developing strategies for repositioning the field to more directly align recreation and park services to the social and economic concerns of government. As part of this effort, a series of evaluations of the impact of recreation programs on at-risk youth are being done. The economic contributions of recreation that are being assessed with research projects include the impact of parks on real estate values, and the role of recreation and park amenities on both business and retiree relocation decisions.
A second research program focuses on psychological aspects of pricing. Reactions to price increases are influenced by the context in which information about the price increase is presented. This program of work is comprised of a series of projects using different contextual and persuasive cues to assess which are most effective in minimizing participant and taxpayer resistance to public recreation price increases.
The importance of service quality is widely recognized, but there is no consensus on how it should be measured. A third research program consists of testing the relative validity and reliability of different types of quality measures, and assessing the relationship of service quality to participant satisfaction.
Finally, a research program on festivals is concerned with addressing issues such as relative effectiveness of communication tools, quality of specific festival features and attractions, value for money, level of satisfaction, effectiveness of sponsorship, and strategic planning.
Integrating recreation and other amenity considerations with the development and use of natural resources is becoming increasingly important. Resource managers are adjusting to increasing demands for recreation and amenity-based uses of natural resources and are developing innovative strategies to meet the needs of a changing society. Graduate education in this emphasis is directed at understanding the changes in individuals and society that are related to natural resources management, and is ultimately concerned with providing resolution and alternative strategies to management. This requires an educational approach stressing disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth. Degree programs are built around courses in economics, sociology, management, natural resource law, and/or political science. Students also take coursework in the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
Ongoing Research. The Department has three research programs that are closely aligned with issues in natural resource management and policy analysis, and are designed to provide a foundation for management into the next century. The first program focuses on policy innovations for river water resources and riparian ecosystems. Managers of such resources are incorporating non-traditional clientele and uses into their allocation strategies, which in turn have required drastically different approaches to water resource management. Research is directed at providing a foundation for a comprehensive policy reformulation.
The second area of research interest in natural resource management and policy analysis is minority populations and their use of natural resource recreation opportunities. The population growth of Texas is expected to be one of the highest in the nation, with much of that growth associated with minority populations. The increased racial and ethnic diversity of park use may require non-traditional approaches to park management. Research is directed at investigating minority attitudes and behavior regarding parks and wildlife refuges to provide the basis for future management strategies. The areas along the Texas/Mexico border are receiving particular emphasis within this program.
The third research interest focuses on quality of life issues regarding park and natural area development. Although the intuitions of many park designers and recreation professionals indicate that visits to park areas produce a variety of individual and social benefits, the evidence for such recreation benefits is still emerging. Investigating the consequences of natural and social settings of parks provides insight to quality of everyday life, landscape preferences, and recreation decision-making. Perspectives from psychology, sociology, and economics provide contexts for understanding these issues.
Tourism has become a major contributor to the economic viability of many communities. The tourism industry is composed of a variety of enterprises and institutions and is not well integrated. It is an industry driven by public sector amenities and attractions, but serviced by the private sector. To sustain tourism in a community, benefits must accrue to residents, to those who host tourists, and to tourists themselves. This involves understanding tourism behavior, marketing and financing techniques, and the impacts of tourists. The Tourism Management emphasis focuses on these content areas and equips students with the conceptual foundations and research tools necessary to measure and understand these phenomena.
Courses and research at the graduate level involve integrative approaches that incorporate both disciplinary and professional knowledge. In addition to tourism courses in the Department, individual student degree programs may include courses in planning, economics, sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, and marketing, etc. This interdisciplinary focus enables graduate students to meet their individual goals and provides a bases for creative study in this evolving industry.
Ongoing Research. Faculty are currently doing research related to the environmental attitudes of the National Park visitor, resident-non-resident perceptions of tourist sites, the impact of gaming on small communities, rural tourism development, consumer behavior decision processes relative to vacation destination choices, and the management of protected areas and archeological zones as ecotourism and heritage destinations. Several faculty have expanded their research interests geographically to include Spanish speaking regions in Central America and the Caribbean.
The Department also gives particular emphasis to studies focusing on the Winter Texans who move from the eight mid-Western states and spend an average of 16 weeks each winter in the Rio Grande Valley area of South Texas. Several studies are addressing how this area is positioned relative to compatible areas in other states, and what actions may be taken to improve its position.
Finally, research focuses on rural tourism development. Reaping the potential economic gains from tourism has been the hope of many rural areas in search of development. For most of these areas, economic development historically was directed at attracting commodity-oriented industries (e.g., mining, oil and gas, and ranching); whereas tourism development is directed at industry with an amenity-orientation to resource use (e.g., second-home development, retirement communities, wildlife habitat provision). Research is directed at investigating both alternative planning processes and social impacts associated with various processes.
As young people navigate through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood, they develop physically, intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, and socially. Personal and social assets can build resilience and competencies to prevent problems and promote positive youth development. Understanding the supports, opportunities, programs, and services available for youth, and how youth engage them, is crucial for effectively working with youth. Achieving favorable outcomes in youths’ attitudes, skills, knowledge, and behaviors is the goal of many youth-serving professionals.
Students majoring in youth development at the undergraduate and graduate level follow an interdisciplinary program that prepares them to serve youth in a variety of community and institutional settings. Individuals will be prepared to work with young people in realizing their full potential through creating spaces, programs, and organizations that support youth in meeting developmental challenges and gaining a voice and place in society so that they can successfully navigate the transition from dependence to independence.
Ongoing Research.In order to generate new understanding and provide direction about the most useful practices and appropriate policies for youth development, the program’s faculty research interests focuses on multi-investigator, cross-disciplinary systematic efforts. These areas include investigation into the processes that promote health and well-being at the individual, familial, community, and societal levels; daily experience of adolescents in the different contexts of life; the role of nature in youth development; adolescents’ experience in community-based programs, extra-curricular activities, and other structured, voluntary activities in out-of-school time hours; and youth identity and its intersection with race, ethnicity, gender and other varying subcultures.
Undergraduate and Graduate students in the program are offered opportunities to be involved at all levels of research via investigator-initiated, externally-funded grants as well as through government-funded contracts.