Newly activated professorship will accelerate research at U.S. national parks

Tom Joudrey
March 23, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three years ago Suzie and Allen Martin made an estate commitment to establish the first-ever endowed professorship in Penn State’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM). The bequest ensured that, upon their deaths, resources from their estate would become available that would benefit research, teaching and public service associated with the U.S. National Park System.

Now, spurred on by the prospect of amplifying the effects of their philanthropy and witnessing its impact firsthand, the Martins have stepped forward with an additional gift commitment to activate the professorship for five years, beginning this year.

“Not only does this gift provide an immediate infusion of support to jump-start and expand faculty research, but the downstream effects of this endowed professorship will be extraordinary,” said Craig J. Newschaffer, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development. “I am grateful to Suzie and Allen for their leadership in pressing ahead to make this professorship a reality during their lifetimes. Their choice to move ahead now is a testament to their dedication to ecological conservation and to their trust that Penn State is the institution best equipped to deliver on its commitment to preserving our national parks.”

Peter Newman, professor and head of RPTM, has been named the inaugural holder of the professorship.

The Martins first met Newman at an alumni dinner in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2014, where he spoke passionately about the National Park System and conservation efforts in environmentally sensitive areas. That year they designated their annual gift to provide support for Newman’s work and research. Newman directed the funds to support a study in Grand Teton National Park by graduate student Jennifer Newton, whom Newman was co-advising at the time, along with Derrick Taff, assistant professor of RPTM. The fund enabled Newton to complete her project and ultimately finish her doctoral dissertation.

Subsequent to her graduation, Newton applied for and was awarded a highly coveted position as the lead social scientist for Grand Teton National Park. With Newton ensconced at her dream job at Grand Teton, she now directs her former mentors, Newman and Taff.

Newman is looking ahead to many years of research collaboration at the park, with the goal of implementing conservation strategies that protect the ecological integrity of parks.

“Peter’s selection is extremely special to me,” Suzie said. “I’ve seen his passion for making parks accessible in ways that protect natural habitats and preserve biodiversity. I could not be happier that his unique combination of enthusiastic leadership and expertise will be the driving force behind Penn State’s commitment to further the study of our nation’s ‘best idea,’ the national parks.”

The appointment grants Newman the discretionary latitude to channel funds toward purchasing research equipment and supplies, recruiting a team of graduate-level assistants to carry out projects in the field, and subsidizing education and academic travel expenses for himself and students.

“Suzie and Allen are passionate about Penn State, passionate about the protection of wild places and passionate about developing the next generation of conservation leaders,” Newman said. “This gift allows RPTM to serve all three of those passions while helping to protect our national parks. We are so grateful for their leadership and vision, and I am honored to help carry forward this responsibility as the inaugural faculty member in this role.”

This gift comes as Newman, a former national park service ranger, is on sabbatical serving as the visiting social scientist in Grand Teton National Park.

“To be here in Grand Teton working with Jennifer makes the timing of this gift all the more special,” he said.

Newman, Taff and Newton will continue to work with Penn State students starting this spring and summer to scale up the use of scientific data in decision-making processes related to park management.

Suzie and Allen have a shared commitment to land stewardship and conservation, the enjoyment of the outdoors, and the healing power of the natural world. As a child, Suzie’s love of nature was inspired by her maternal grandfather, who was an avid outdoorsman, land conservationist and a Pennsylvania state forest ranger. Allen, an alumnus of Clemson University and a leukemia survivor, has traveled extensively and appreciates the restorative power of scenic beauty, observing wildlife in its natural habitat and simply experiencing the great outdoors.

Suzie began giving to Penn State soon after graduation from what was then the College of Human Development, with a bachelor of science degree in Consumer Related Studies. Her giving was a way to honor her mother, she said, who died tragically at age 46. Suzie's mother pushed her to apply to Penn State when she was a high school junior, and, as a single mom, struggled financially to enable her to complete her degree. She was a teacher who valued the importance of higher education.

The decision to early activate the professorship was Allen’s idea of a surprise Christmas gift for Suzie, he said, adding that during the course of the pandemic, it seemed a meaningful and constructive way to offer purpose and hope. Allen’s gift lifted Suzie’s spirit, but also had a rippling impact on Newman and his department, HHD, Penn State and the national parks.

Through the early activation of the RPTM professorship, the Martins are building on an already robust philanthropic legacy at Penn State. In addition to their bequest to RPTM, the couple, along with Suzie’s brother, Jeff Finke, have endowed a memorial scholarship named for Suzie’s mother. They have also made generous gifts over the years to the College of HHD’s Undergraduate Internship Enrichment Fund, the Professional Ski Instructors of America Collaboration and the Ann C. Crouter Early Career Faculty Award. Both continue to serve as active members on the HHD Philanthropy Council.

The Martins’ gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit the “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence” website.

  • Suzie and Allen Martin at Grand Teton National Park

    Suzie and Allen Martin at Grand Teton National Park in 2015. The Martins recently moved forward with a gift to early activate a professorship in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management, which will strengthen and accelerate research related to the U.S. National Park System. 

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    IMAGE: Courtesy of Suzie Martin
  • Peter Newman and Jenn Newton

    Peter Newman (left) and Jenn Newton (right) on location in March 2021 at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Peter Newman
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Last Updated March 25, 2021