Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Student members

Matthew H. E. M. Browning, Ph.D. ▼

Matt Browning


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Curriculum Vitae

Academic Affiliations

Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism and Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Research and Professional Interests

Dr. Browning is interested in people’s connections and interactions with the natural world. His research focuses broadly on ways to evaluate and ultimately enhance the frequency, richness, and meaningfulness of these connections and interactions. His ultimate goal is to better understand in what ways nature might promote human health and well-being. He’s particularly interested in utilizing new and emerging technologies in his research, such as immersive experiences in virtual reality and psychological, physiological, and sociological data collection with mobile devices. Many of Dr. Browning’s interests span social and natural sciences, and he attempts to overlay psychological or sociological frameworks on environmental management issues. Much of this work is conducted within nature-based recreation and environmental education contexts.


Wonjun Choi, Ph.D. student ▼

Wonjum Choi

Research and Professional Interests

Wonjun Choi is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism at the University of Illinois. His research interest is to examine the efficacy of sport in human and community development (e.g., physical health, socialization, and a sense of community), and green space such as parks is the important research context for him as it can be an effective outlet for sport participation. Wonjun Choi is currently working as a research assistant for various research projects of Dr. Matthew Browning that examine the efficacy of nature in human wellbeing (e.g., health and stress reduction). Prior to the Illinois, Wonjun Choi received a Master’s degree in Sport Management at the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health and Physical Education at Korea National Sport University.

Nicole Evans, Ph.D. Student ▼

Nicole Evans

Research and Professional Interests

Nicole Evans is a doctoral student in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism at the University of Illinois.  She works under the direction of Dr. William Stewart and is engaged in a research project which studies building rural community resilience in the context of protected grasslands.  Nicole also works with the Landscape Conservation Cooperative, applying her human dimensions background to the conservation of North American forests across geo-political boundaries in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes.  Nicole has a master’s degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from North Central College.  In her master’s program, she focused on human dimensions and completed a thesis which looked at the plurality of meanings staff and volunteers in an urban forest preserve district held for naturalness, along with knowledge production and decision-making in ecological restoration.  Nicole has spent time working in environmental education, natural resource management, and archaeology and brings her field experience with her as she seeks to produce research which links natural and cultural systems and has practical applications for land management agencies and constituencies.

Mitchell Fransen ▼

Mitchell Fransen

Research and Professional Interests

Mitchell Fransen is a junior in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, primarily focusing on recreation, and what it brings to individuals in outdoor environments. He is under the direction of Dr. Browning, and is interested in the realm of technology in nature, and what virtual reality may bring to those unable to have proper greenspace exposure on a daily basis. Having a background in backpacking, photography and cinematography, he aims to learn much about the virtual and natural realm of nature's effects on stress and cognition in the Virtual Reality and Nature Lab.

Kangjae Lee, Ph.D. student ▼

Kangjae Lee

Research and Professional Interests

Kangjae Lee is a Ph.D. student in Informatics. My previous research was focused on ontology models and location-based service (LBS) in 3D indoor spaces. My current research interest is the impact of environmental factors and their associations with physical activity in the context of spatial and temporal dimensions. For my research, I investigate the dynamic assocations of environmental factors with human mobility using GIS technique. I worked in Urban Informatics for Sustainability and Resilience Center at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 2014 to 2016 as a research assistant. Currently, I am working with Dr.Matt Browning for the project on the association between academic achievement and green cover.

Clint Lum, Ph.D. Student ▼

Clint Lum

Research and Professional Interests

Clint is a graduate student currently pursuing a Ph.D. He came to the University of Illinois to work with Dr. van Riper in the fall of 2015 to pursue his interests in the interaction between people and natural resources in both urban and wilderness settings. Clint arrived at the University of Illinois by way of Texas A&M where he received degrees in Political Science and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences. For his master’s thesis he studied the community of hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail. Currently, Clint is teaching Nature and American Culture as well as working on various projects in the Lab concerning the relationships between values, motivations, and environmental behavior.

Katherine Mimnaugh ▼

Katherine Mimnaugh

Research and Professional Interests

Katherine Mimnaugh is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Her research is investigating the use of natural and restorative environments in virtual reality for therapeutic applications.  She received her B.S. in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 and subsequently worked as a lab manager in cognitive neuroscience laboratories with the Beckman Institute for nine years. In that role, she conducted research with adults of all ages using electroencephalography to study language comprehension, memory, and psychopathology. Her research interests include natural restorative environments, virtual reality, health care technology, cognitive psychology and neurophysiology.

Abigail Minor, M.S. Student ▼

Abigail Minor

Research and Professional Interests

Abigail Minor is a second year Master’s candidate in Recreation and Park Management. With a background in education, her current professional interests lie in environmental education and nature play for children. Abigail currently serves as a co-teacher at University Primary School, the College of Education’s laboratory school. The curriculum emphasizes experiential exploration for child-led learning.  In 2014, Abigail designed an after school recreation program for University Primary. Previously, she served as an environmental educator at the Don Lee Center in North Carolina and as an international trip leader in Spain and Peru. Her current research focuses on the extent to which environmental education teaches sustainable behaviors. Her long-term goals are to facilitate relationships among parks and schools in order to bolster environmental education opportunities.

Lorraine Stamberger ▼

Lorraine Stamberger

Research and Professional Interests

Lorraine Stamberger is a graduate student in the van Riper Research Group. Her research interests focus on strengthening the relationship between communities and the natural places they inhabit. She is particularly interested in facilitating community resilience through several avenues: increased public access to natural features, creation and expansion of recreational opportunities, and formation of a strong community identity. Lorraine's undergraduate research at Augustana College analyzed Quad Cities citizens' access to the Mississippi River. Lorraine began working with Dr. van Riper in summer 2016 on several projects including a Denali visitor use and values survey and an impact study of bison reintroduction on local communities.

William Stewart, Ph. D. ▼

William Stewart, Ph. D.

Research and Professional Interests

William (Bill) Stewart is a Professor in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois. His teaching and research is related to the development of parks and protected areas to improve quality of life and enhance sense of place. Dr. Stewart’s research is concerned with landscape change in urban and rural areas, and recognizes the need to integrate community-based voices into environmental decision-making. He and his colleagues build working relationships with stakeholders to move forward on land management initiatives through the integration of expert, community-based, and experiential knowledge.  He co-edited a book entitled Place-based Conservation:  Perspectives from the Social Sciences along with Drs. Daniel Williams and Linda Kruger published by Springer-Verlag.  Dr. Stewart publishes his research in journals related to recreation, tourism, and landscape planning, such as Journal of Leisure Research, Leisure Sciences, and Landscape and Urban Planning. His research program has been continuously supported by sponsors such as the USDA Forest Service, the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and the US National Park Service, as well as other agencies related to landscape change and park development. Dr. Stewart is a Fellow of the Academy of Leisure Sciences and has served as Treasurer for the Academy since 2010.  At the University of Illinois, Dr. Stewart is associated with the Parks and Environmental Behavior Research Group, adjunct faculty with the Department of Landscape Architecture, and serves as the Director of the undergraduate program in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences.

John Strauser, graduate student ▼

John Strauser

Research and Professional Interests

John Strauser is a graduate student in the department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism at the University of Illinois. He is a recent graduate of Purdue University where he majored in Organizational Leadership and Supervision with a minor in Communications. While at Purdue he was a varsity letter winner and a Big Ten distinguished scholar athlete. His research interests are: community based decision-making and governance and how they relate to environmental preservation and restoration. He will be working as a research assistant with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Carena J. van Riper, Ph.D. ▼

Carena J. van Riper, Ph.D.


Office phone:



Academic Affiliations

  • Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Economic Sciences
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign1102 South Goodwin Avenue
  • Urbana, IL 61801

Research and Professional Interests

I am an environmental social scientist interested in understanding and solving resource management problems in the context of parks and protected areas. My core theoretical interests are focused on the cognitions of human behavior, particularly values, norms and the perceived benefits of nature. Many of my professional goals relate to integrating diverse forms of knowledge from the social sciences to provide insight on how people perceive their surroundings and commit to behaviors that impact the environment. As such, my research program carries implications for theory (e.g., the role of norms in activating behavior change) and practice (e.g., guidance on management interventions for mitigating and adapting to social-ecological change). I hold a Ph.D. in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences and certificate in Applied Biodiversity Sciences from the National Science Foundation’s IGERT program at Texas A&M University, as well as a M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont, and B.A. in Biology and Recreation Management from Arizona State University.

Douglas A. Williams, Postdoctoral Fellow ▼

Douglas Williams

Research and Professional Interests

Douglas A. Williams is a curious scholar and creative designer of social-cultural environmental dynamics.

His research bridges the relationship between design, policy, and application for the built environment.  Specifically, Dr. Williams utilizes qualitative research methods to give voice to the resilience of marginalized communities’ environmental thoughts and actions.  Through ethnography, ‘involved’ participant observation, grounded theory, and extensive historical reflection, he seeks to contextualize seldom mentioned, often forgotten, and those frequently misinterpreted within mainstream narratives.

Some questions that drive his research interest are: How can oppressed populations make a way, out of no way?  What social capital connections are forged by peripheral peoples under the Cosmopolitan Canopy, to survive and thrive - despite disruptive living conditions?  What equitable visions and efforts do expert citizens, environmental professionals, and an array of committed stakeholders care about, create, and continue?  How do everyday folks act as agents and experience place-keeping?

Dr. Williams is a past Fulbright scholar to Africa and National Park Service – DSC landscape architect.  He studied abroad in the Caribbean and Europe, while completing his B.S. in horticulture at the University of Illinois.  In addition, he studied abroad in Japan, before completing his M.L.A. at Cornell University.  He holds a Ph.D. in landscape architecture from the University of Illinois, where he is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Recreation Sport and Tourism.  Recently, D. A. Williams joined the distinguished list of Harvard University, Dumbarton Oak research awardees and is a LEED GA.