Student finds career direction through research experience

Michael Neff spent the past two winters researching the eco-friendliness of ski resorts with a faculty mentor, and she recently presented her findings at the Southeastern Recreation Research (SERR) Conference in Asheville.

“Being able to work together and have a relationship outside of regular scheduled classes has really pointed me in the right direction for my future,” said Neff, a senior majoring in recreation management. “I’ve come to realize this is exactly what I want to do with my future: help the ski industry become more sustainable and beneficial for years to come.”

Neff’s experience with her mentor, Dr. Erik Rabinowitz, is typical of many students’ at Appalachian State University.

Appalachian values undergraduate research because it allows faculty and students to expand the boundaries of academic disciplines, discover answers to real world questions, enhance quality of life, enrich the classroom experience, contribute to economic development and find paths to success for themselves and others.

Two major events each year celebrate Appalachian students’ research success:

Appalachian’s Office of Undergraduate Research provides more than $100,000 in grants each year to support students’ endeavors and the opportunities that result, such as travel to regional and national conferences.

For Neff, presenting at the SERR Conference was “such an incredible experience,” she said. “I stood next to some of the best recreation researchers in the country and presented right alongside them.” She will also present during the campus Celebration of Student Research and Creative Endeavors.

Rabinowitz said Neff’s topic has “great implications” because no one else seems to be asking these sustainability questions. Her selection for SERR Conference “reflects the caliber of excellence she put together,” he said.

“Dr. Rabinowitz has really pushed me to become the student and researcher that I never knew I could be, and I’m forever grateful,” Neff said, who is from Santa Claus, Ind.

“I highly encourage anyone to participate in undergraduate research while they’re here at Appalachian. You’ll learn more about yourself and your future through research than any other course.” She will start an internship at an Oregon resort in June.

About Neff’s project

For the project “The Sustainability of Ski Resort Operational Practices Across the United States,” Neff and Rabinowitz surveyed 383 operating ski resorts in the U.S. about their operations, transportation, alternative energy sources, power and water use, organizational methods and snowmaking.

Then they analyzed the responses and gave each resort a sustainability score to rank them on how eco-friendly they are. They also recommended ways the resorts can reduce environmental harms through best sustainable practices that Neff had researched.

Neff wrote that in recent years the skiing community has expressed concerned with the potential environmental impacts of ski resort operations due to the high use of water and power needed to make snow as natural snow cover decreases.

In support of her work, Neff received one of 13 grants provided through the new Creating a Healthy, Just and Sustainable Society Student Research Projects grant initiative sponsored by two units at Appalachian: the Office of Student Research and the Research Institute for the Environment, Energy and Economics (RIEEE).