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Nature and Human Health-Utah Group Funds Nine Projects Studying Benefits of Nature Across Health Spectrum

Triple the submissions, five times the funding.

In the second cycle of grants for the Nature and Human Health-Utah Group (NHH-UT), nine projects received more than $60,000 to explore the benefits of nature on physical, emotional and mental health.

The second round of proposals sparked an overwhelming response of submissions. Thanks to support from the REI Cooperative Action Fund and an anonymous donor, the group will fund an additional four projects in 2024.  

Man and Woman by Waterfall

The projects span a wide range of departments, both within and outside the University. Their focus includes pediatric rheumatology patients, incarcerated youth, first-generation college students, and black families:

  • “Active People, Healthy Utah Partner Project.” West Valley City’s Neighborhood Services Department, is the principal investigator on this project. Healthy West Valley will partner with Salt Lake County Parks and Rec and the Tracy Aviary Nature Center to provide signage around the Decker Lake loop to educate residents and trail users on the history of Decker Lake and the importance of this area for bird migration in Utah.

  •  “Bound for Nature: Fostering Mental Health Through College Student Nature Engagement,” is led by Carly Knudson, a master's student in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (PRT) at the University of Utah. This project aims to understand why college students do not regularly engage with nature-based experiences and identify barriers and facilitators that, if overcome and addressed, could improve their mental health by increasing the time they spend in nature.

  • “Breathe 4 Trees” Breathe 4 Trees is an organization committed to achieving environmental sustainability through tree planting initiatives. The project aims to expand the organization’s impact within the West Valley areas of Utah by increasing tree planting and promoting diversity and inclusion in our programs, particularly communities of color.

  •  Camping in Color is a community-based project led by Hilary Lambert, PhD student in PRT. This project will build on the Camping in Color’s pilot program's success and continue growing community impact, intergenerational sustainability, and programmatic development that will allow for similar program offerings to other diverse, underserved communities in the Salt Lake area.

  • "Examining the Effect of Plants in the Classroom on College Student Mental Health and Academic Performance,” led by Sarah Herrmann, PhD, at Weber State University. This project aims to investigate the impact of indoor plants on college students’ mental health, perceptions of college, perceptions of their courses, and academic performance.

  •  “Outdoor-Based Programming for Women's Resource Center's First-Generation Scholars,” led by Jenna Templeton, Assistant Director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Utah. This project aims to build community, belonging, and well-being practices among first generation scholars through engaging outdoor-based programming.

  •  “Setting the stage for an effective, equity-oriented nature-based intervention for youth with rheumatic diseases.” Hanna Saltzman, MD, is the principal investigator and a fellow in the University of Utah Health’s Department of Pediatrics. This pilot project seeks to understand how nature-based interventions may improve the health of youth with rheumatic diseases. Results will inform the design of a nature-based health intervention to be evaluated in a future clinical trial.

  •  “The Art of Nature Observation: Summer Camps for Incarcerated Youth,” is led by Laura George, STEMCAP’s Associate Director. This project will initiate science arts summer camp experiences for incarcerated youth which will include environmental education, artistic reflection, and hands-on experiential learning during a time of the year when programming is limited inside youth detention centers.

  •  “Women’s River School: Mental and Social Health Research and Programming,” will be conducted by PhD student in PRT, Paige Fery. The project will include research with program participants and other women anglers to explore the gender-based mental and social health outcomes associated with women and gender minority fly-fishing experiences. This project will build capacity for outdoor recreation programs that provide an accessible and welcoming environment for women.

“We are so pleased at the quality and quantity of proposals we received for this round of pilot grants,” said Dart Schmalz, chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “This is evidence of the importance of this topic, and the talented scientists in this field doing great work. We look forward to seeing where these projects lead and the great contributions they will make.”

NHH-UT’s leaders were inspired by a similar program at the University of Washington, producing innovative research on the benefits of nature. As a hub of outdoor recreation and activity, Utah is uniquely positioned to serve as a launchpad for further collaboration in research.

Along with Schmalz, Tim Brown, the president and CEO of Tracy Aviary, and Nalini Nadkarni, professor emerita in the University’s Department of Biological Sciences, lead the group.

To learn more about NHH-UT and their other projects, sign up for their newsletter and visit their website to learn more.