UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumna Jennifer Newton is the first social scientist at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
In this role, Newton conducts studies to inform park management on visitor traffic and quality of visitor experiences at Grand Teton, while collaborating with numerous park personnel, including park rangers and landscape architects. The research assists managers as they plan for the future of the park.
“I feel so fortunate to have my dream job, and such gratitude to everyone who has helped me get here. I am constantly learning new things, and am challenged to think about how to answer complex, dynamic questions in a gorgeous setting with amazing people,” Newton said. “I can't think of a better job.”
It was a pathway through Penn State that led Newton to this role.
Suzie Martin, a 1974 Penn State alumna, first met Peter Newman, professor and head of the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) at Penn State, while at a Penn State College of Health and Human Development alumni event in Washington, D.C., where Newman led a dinner conversation on research at national parks.
Newman was discussing a project that he, along with Derrick Taff, assistant professor of RPTM, were working on in Grand Teton National Park. At the time, Newton was an RPTM graduate student leading the study, which analyzed the quality of visitors’ experiences within the Moose-Wilson corridor.
Martin and her husband were inspired. They wanted to support the work, which ended up funding part of the dissertation fieldwork for Newton at Grand Teton. The study is now a guiding tool for the U.S. National Park Service.
“Peter’s enthusiasm for the national parks is infectious. His love of nature and the outdoors resonates with me,” Martin said. “Not only were my husband and I able to make a gift to Penn State, but we were helping a student pursue her passion and assisting Grand Teton National Park.”
Coincidentally, the Martins had a trip planned to Grand Teton for the late summer of 2015. While Newton was back on campus by then, the couple was able to meet with Daniel Noon, chief of planning for the park, and Cassidy Crawford, an RPTM undergraduate student interning at Grand Teton's Jenny Lake.
“It was fun to make a Penn State connection with Cassidy in the wilds of Wyoming, and Daniel Noon was excited to tell us how the park was able to utilize Jennifer’s research for the benefit of future visitors,” Martin said. “That seems like a terrific return on our investment.”
Each step of the way, Newton and Martin were in contact. The two met for the first time during the open house for the new Health and Human Development Building at University Park in the fall of 2015.
“Meeting Jennifer was a gift — a life so full of promise and commitment to use her expertise to benefit the rest of us,” Martin said.
After the team completed its report, Newton learned of a social scientist position at Grand Teton. She began the rigorous application process, and one month after defending her dissertation at Penn State, she started her professional career at Grand Teton.
“When I told Suzie I got the job at Grand Teton, her enthusiasm and excitement could be felt even through email, which is a great feeling,” Newton said. “She’s very supportive. It’s not just financial support; knowing someone has your back and is rooting for you can mean a lot.”
“She told us this is her dream job,” Martin said. “How cool is that? I don’t honestly know if we will ever be a part of something so magical again, but I am motivated to continue giving to the College of Health and Human Development.”