History of the Department

Although Penn State has officially offered a curriculum in recreation, park and tourism management since 1946, recreation courses had appeared in the Pennsylvania State College Bulletin as early as 1919, according to a 1958 master’s thesis prepared by Charles Reich ’58g RE ED, ’65g RC PK. Another class, offered in 1926, was a “playground course” taught by Marie Haidt and available only to women.

Penn State began offering more recreation courses after the School of Physical Education and Athletics was founded in 1931 – especially to students who were in charge of playgrounds during the summer. By 1944, the College Bulletin listed 10 recreation-related courses. The College Senate approved a full-fledged recreation education curriculum in 1946 and also approved curricula in health and physical education. Most of the courses were taught by program founder Fred Coombs, which by the late 1940s also included first aid, life saving and camping. Coombs also started a professional organization for students in the major; originally called the Pennsylvania State College Recreation Society, it still exists today as the Recreation, Park & Tourism Management Student Society. The people involved in the development of the program were also a guiding force in the establishment of the Stone Valley Recreation Area (which includes the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center) and the Penn State Outing Club, both of which are still strongly linked to the department.

The recreation education curriculum was one of the first to integrate park management courses into its curriculum. As a result, the program established excellent relationships with park-oriented agencies and was able to create new internship and career opportunities with the National Park Service, the Bureau of State Parks and other park management agencies.

In keeping with the times and as the curriculum modified accordingly, the name of the program – then a department in the College of Health and Physical Education – was renamed the Department of Recreation and Parks. In tribute to the growth and reputation of the program, the College was renamed the College of Health, Physical Education and Recreation in 1969.

In 1987, the College of Health, Physical and Education and the College of Human Development merged to create the College of Health and Human Development, bringing together two units that shared a common goal of contributing to the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The College included one school – Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management – and eight departments, including the Department of Recreation and Parks. The name of the department was changed in 1989 to the Department of Leisure Studies to describe more accurately the unit’s role and mission and to keep pace with terminology used in similar programs at other universities.

In 1990, Dean Anne Petersen appointed a task force and charged it with the task of designing a new unit that would integrate the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management and the Department of Leisure Studies. The purpose, according to Dr. Petersen, was to “consolidate our strengths in hospitality and capitalize on the growing importance of commercial recreation, travel and tourism.” Based on the recommendations of the task force, the two were integrated to create the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management in 1991 under the direction of Dr. Stuart H. Mann. Although restructured as one administrative unit, the programs offered by both units remained intact.

The name of the undergraduate major in Leisure Studies was renamed Recreation and Park Management in the mid-1990s, again to keep pace with terminology used within the industry. Today, the undergraduate major continues to offer students four options to match their career interests: commercial and community recreation management; golf management; outdoor recreation; and therapeutic recreation.

Mann stepped down as school director in 1998 following a 28-year career at Penn State. In his place came Dr. Sara C. Parks, who had been serving as the College’s associate dean for outreach and cooperative extension. Dr. Parks, who had served as president of the American Dietetic Association and was largely responsible for the creation of the first distance education program offered at Penn State (the dietetic technician program), continued the tradition of excellence set forth before her. By the time she retired as school director in June 2004, the programs in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management had grown to the point that they once again would need to stand as separate academic units within the College: the School of Hospitality Management and the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

Dr. John Dattilo, an assistant professor of leisure studies at Penn State from 1986 to 1990, was selected in 2004 to lead the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.

Dr. Garry Chick, who had been on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 18 years before coming to Penn State in 1999, assumed the position of department head in August 2009.

From its humble beginnings in 1946, the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management – now more than 400 students strong – has become one of the most well-respected programs of its kind in the United States.