Recreation studies fascinated outstanding grad enough to change majors

Learned that people need leisure and play to maintain their health

April 29, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Tanner Smith said she often fields questions about her degree program in parks and recreation from people who mistakenly believe it’s literally all fun and games. Questions like: “Is it like the TV show ‘Parks and Recreation’?” Tanner Smith, School of Community Resources and Development, spring 202,2 Watts College, Outstanding Graduate. Tanner Smith, School of Community Resources and Development, spring 2022 Watts College Outstanding Graduate. Photo courtesy Tanner Smith Download Full Image

Smith said she has had plenty of practice replying, since she once asked questions like that herself. (The answer, by the way, is, “No, not entirely.”)

The spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Community Resources and Development said after learning about her field, people appreciate it as a serious study of essential elements for healthy living.

“Parks and recreation is very important, not only for adolescents, but adults. Everyone needs a source of recreation,” said Smith, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation management with a certificate in special events management.

The resident of Glendale, Arizona, started at ASU majoring in biological sciences, but wasn’t happy with it. During her freshman year she took a parks and recreation class, PRM 120: Leisure and Quality of Life, that changed her outlook.

“I remember we were working on a module about the importance of play and finding your ‘flow state,’ which refers to being fully immersed in an activity and being so involved that you lose all track of time,” Smith said. “This concept immediately caught my attention and I felt a genuine excitement about learning more.”

Smith changed majors. While she didn’t become anything like the show’s lead character Leslie Knope, she learned the value that recreation offers everyone.

Smith said the popular TV comedy did get a few things right.

“Our reality is attending city hall meetings, organizing special events and interacting with community members,” she said. “From my experience, the parks and recreation field is full of individuals with the same personality and passion that many of the characters on the show had. We might not get up to the same shenanigans that they did, but we really do have fun while we are at work.”

Read on to learn more about Smith’s ASU journey:

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: I went to very small schools when I was younger, so I knew the same 10 or 15 people growing up. All of my classroom settings sadly looked the same. ASU opened a million doors into the world around me. I have met people from a plethora of different religious, spiritual, racial and cultural backgrounds who all have a different perspective to share. The value in that alone is immense. I could never have a closed mind while being here.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I knew after I finished high school I wanted to attend college, I just had no idea what major I wanted to pursue. ASU was close enough to home and offered me the best financial aid package. I have always loved school and knew I wanted to continue my education, and I am happy I ended up at ASU.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I appreciate all of the faculty I was able to interact with in my program. It almost feels wrong to not shout out each of them, since they all played a major role in my development. I want to thank Eric Legg for teaching me many important lessons while at ASU and for being an exemplary leader. I took on a lot during my undergraduate days while balancing three jobs, and I tried my best to not get overwhelmed. In many ways, Professor Legg encouraged me to keep pushing through and his consistent feedback motivated me along the way — more than he probably knows. A lesson I learned from him was to always say yes to every opportunity that comes my way because I will never know what it might lead to. He reminded me why I have such a passion for learning and why self-efficacy matters to me.

In addition, I would like to shout out Dale Larsen for being a source of positivity and creator of genuine connection, especially as we navigated classes during the pandemic. Professor Larsen has always been eager to connect myself and fellow students to opportunities that align with our career interests and introduce us to individuals to build our network.

Both of them invested in me and I appreciate them for the confidence they helped me build. I think back on myself freshman year and remember feeling so timid, without a sense of self-identity. The faculty at Watts College helped me tap into my own potential and instilled in me a flourishing self-confidence, strong work ethic and eagerness for the field.

Q:  So what important things about parks and recreation should someone whose awareness doesn’t go too far beyond the TV show know?

A: Human beings’ need for leisure and play stems back to recess in grade school and earlier as a key component toward maintaining mental and physical health. These concepts have quite a bit of science behind them. People have to decide to include recreational activities in their lives, because it can’t be done for them. Daily life can get stressful, so participating in recreational activities that we enjoy can enhance our quality of life. This is why recreation is such a necessary field. Leisure activities such as art, music or sport can help us strengthen our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Try to enjoy your time in school without any pressure. College is a very fun time and will be the source of some of your best memories down the line. It would be a disservice to yourself to spend each day with an immense weight on your shoulders. Give yourself permission to not hold back, not take things too seriously and to be as authentic as you can be.

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: On the Downtown Phoenix campus, I spent a lot of time at Fillmore Coffee Co. or in the UCENT (University Center) library study rooms. I also spent large amounts of time on the ASU shuttles as commuting took up a lot of my days. The shuttle ride is nice to listen to music and ponder life, I think I even cried once or twice on there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: This is a tough question. I have a lot of ideas for what I want to do after graduation and my list of passions continues to grow. I always thought when I reached this point in my academic journey I would have my exact career picked out, but I can’t say that I do. All I know for sure is that after graduation, I hope to be working somewhere that makes me happy and allows me to positively impact my community. Security and happiness are my top two priorities after graduation.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: As a parks and recreation student, I have learned what to consider when building a healthy community and there are a lot of factors that go into lessening the health gaps caused by differences in income, race, education and location. Simply put, I would want to use the money to increase access to health care. I wish I could provide every human being with access to quality health care as well as the safety and reassurance that they can access it when they need it.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Virtual tourism, Americans' relationship with wilderness highlight outstanding grad’s parks, recreation study

Longtime interest in geography led her to pursue degree program

April 29, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

As a Chinese student attending the Hainan University-Arizona State University International Tourism College (HAITC), Xuecong Fan discovered something fascinating about Americans: They deeply appreciate the wilderness that at one time comprised all of this country.   Xuecong Fan, Hainan University-Arizona State University Tourism College, spring 2022, Watts College Outstanding Graduate Xuecong Fan, Hainan University-Arizona State University Tourism College, spring 2022 Watts College Outstanding Graduate. Photo courtesy Xuecong Fan Download Full Image

“Americans take wilderness as a way to find themselves,” said Fan, the spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate from HAITC, who said Americans’ view of wilderness goes beyond expressions of national pride. “I think in America people want to go out into the wilderness, to appreciate, to conquer the wilderness, which is different from other countries,” she said.

Fan, who is from Anyang in the Chinese province of Henan, is earning her ASU Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation management, and a bachelor’s degree in urban-rural planning from Hainan University (HNU).

Fan assisted in several research projects with her professors, and has engaged in research of her own. She has participated in several international conferences and recently developed a research paper along with one of her professors analyzing the evolution of travel behaviors following the pandemic. She recently presented this research as first author at the 43rd Annual Southeast Environment and Recreation Research Conference. The paper is currently undergoing its second round of reviews with the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. 

She said her longtime interest in geography helped her to better understand how to manage parks and recreation activities in a way that inspires participants to take advantage of what their local areas have to offer.

One area of tourism that interests her, she said, is virtual tourism, where people experience a place via electronic means. While advances in virtual tourism should encourage people to visit a location in person, she said she has learned from talking to travelers that it is not likely to replace the real thing.

“People do not think it will replace real travel. They can’t interact with local people and eat local food, experience the weather and climate,” Fan said. “Real travel is more about the experience. When they take the train, the bus, they meet people and talk with strangers. It’s totally different.”

Read on to learn more about Fan’s HAITC journey:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I don’t think there is an “aha” moment for me because I liked geography very much since junior high school, and I decided that I wanted to major in geography in senior high school. In China, tourism and recreation-related majors are subordinate subjects to geography. And because of China's education system, in addition to the compulsory classes (Chinese, math and English), high school students can only choose liberal arts (history, geography, politics) or science (physics, chemistry and biology), which will limit students’ choice of major at a university.

As a liberal arts student, I can only choose human geography, tourism and other majors, rather than meteorology, geology, landform and other related subjects. But fortunately, I like tourism and human geography very much, so I chose this major.

So for me, it's me who chose this major, rather than finding out that I like it very much after I started to learn it. Also I can say that I kind of fell in love with my major “with time” rather than “love at first sight.”

Q: What’s something you learned while at HAITC — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I was most impressed with the course PRM 380: Wilderness and Parks in America. In the course textbook, “Wilderness and the American Mind,” I learned what wilderness and nature mean to Americans, and the importance of recreational spaces to the community and society. It breaks my stereotype of leisure and the natural landscape, and it emphasizes the balances between society and nature and between life and leisure. Moreover, it changed my attitude towards life to some extent. For now, leisure is no longer an option for me, but a necessary part of life.

Q: Why did you choose HAITC?

A: I remember that I read the description of the major courses on HAITC's official website at that time, and I found that it is different from the curriculum of most other schools in China. It has a more humanistic spirit, which made me very interested in this project.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at HAITC?

A:  PRM 120: Leisure and Quality of Life, taught by Assistant Professor Junyu Lu, is my favorite course. It demonstrated many classic theories related to leisure, which is interesting and very helpful for my academic research. I remember the main assignment for this class requires us to conduct two interviews and analyze them based on the theories we have learned. This is my first attempt at some academic-related task. Under the guidance of Dr. Lu, I found that I can use theories to explain some behaviors in life, which makes me have a stronger interest in my major. And that impressed me a lot. This experience can be seen as the inspiration for my research interests.

Later, I was fortunate to be selected to be a research assistant of Dr. Lu, and we also conducted research on the changes in Chinese travel behavior after the pandemic. The interview and qualitative analysis skills taught in PRM 120 were applied, and a theory learned in the course was also used to explain one of our new findings.

Q. What experience(s) do you feel impacted you the most during the program?

A. I have attended some international conferences. For example, several months before, I had attended the AAG, the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, and I was the co-chair of one of the stations of the meeting. It was very impressive and it was my first time to be the chair of one international meeting, so I think it was preparing me to know such meetings and I appreciate it. 

Q. What skills have you learned during your time in the HAITC program?

Xuecong Fan, Hainan University-Arizona State University Tourism College, spring 2022, Watts College, Outstanding Graduate

Xuecong Fan. Photo courtesy Xuecong Fan

A. HAITC provided me with many opportunities to learn a variety of skills, including some basic skills such as how to use Microsoft Office, PowerPoint, Excel and Photoshop. Also, I acquired major-related skills, such as using ArcGIS (a software used to make maps, analyze spatial data and collaborate across teams), drawing, urban planning and academic-related skills such as qualitative data collection. I also learned skills in writing essays and English academic papers and some skills that (I now use in) daily life.

For example, I can make great slides (that are) logical, professional and good-looking. Also, I can present in English fluidly and confidently. It is from the practice of each assignment from all of my classes in HAITC, I think. Also, during my experience in the Psychology Center in HAITC, which is the student team, I think, I attended a Hainan Psychological Association psychological consultant training course; and also, I have learned how to organize competitions and conferences with my team members in my daily work. So, I think I am very lucky and proud that I am able to learn so many new skills. 

Q. Do you have a favorite real-world experience using these skills, such as during an internship, volunteer or research opportunity?

A. I’m glad to say that all of the skills I just mentioned have been used in my real-life experience and in my research; (in) the graduate thesis experiment I have used both quantitative and qualitative research methods, and also some psychological related theory, and I plan to write this academic thesis in English … and I think my work on this thesis with my team members is useful.

Also, I have gotten some opportunities to participate in some academic competitions and international conferences, and also, I was in the top three in undergraduate research in the West Federation of the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education in 2022, recognized for good research and also good presentation. I have used ArcGIS and drawing skills in an opportunity to participate in the planning of Tunchang in Hainan, Haikou. So, all of this has been practiced. 

Q: What was your favorite spot to study, meet friends or to just think about life?

A: My favorite (place) to study is the teaching building of HAITC, i.e. Tian-Building. There are large desks, a sufficient number of plugs and air conditioning which is a must for Hainan. And I like to walk slowly back to the dormitory by myself after the self-study. This is the time that only belongs to myself, and I can think about a lot of things with the chirping of cicadas and the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves. My friends and I love good food, so many restaurants near the school are our go-to spots for gatherings.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Thanks to the recommendation of the excellent teachers and professors in HAITC, and also my good ranking, I have obtained the qualification of postgraduate recommendation and got an offer from Nankai University, which ranks (in the) top 3 in tourism and leisure management in China.

At the same time, the experience in HAITC has made me discover my strong interest in research, especially leisure and tourism-related research. Therefore, I hope that I can be a lifelong learner, discover more tourism and leisure phenomena and make some meaningful theoretical and managerial contributions.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A:  With climate change and continued global warming, many tourist attractions are disappearing, such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the Maldives. There are also some natural landscapes that are gradually disappearing with natural erosion, such as some sea-eroded arch bridges, murals, etc. I hope to use this money to set up a virtual tourism research institution, dedicated to recording the disappearing attractions on the Earth, preserving the data and enhance the quality and popularity of virtual tourism equipment.

If there is money left, I would like to record some less accessible attractions, such as those in countries at war, or difficult for people to visit, such as poles or tropical rainforests.

Written by HAITC student support specialist Brynn Kowalski of the School of Community Resources and Development and Mark J. Scarp, media relations officer for the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.