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Faculty and Staff Profile

Matthew Browning

Assistant Professor
Director, Virtual Reality and Nature Lab

Office: Barre 2029
Phone: 864-656-9981

 Educational Background

PhD Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
Virginia Tech 2015

MESc Environmental Science
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies 2012

BA Biology
Oberlin College 2005

 Courses Taught

PRTM 2110 - Impacts of Technology and Science in the Context of Play, Recreation and Tourism (Fall 2019)
PRTM 8110 - Research Methods in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management (Spring 2020)


I aim to develop data-driven, cost-effective, nature-based solutions to assist with today's major societal issues, such as helping children rise out of poverty; reducing health care expenditures; alleviating depression, anxiety, and chronic stress; reducing medication dependence and overuse; and shrinking health and educational disparities. I see opportunities for both green infrastructure and simulated virtual environments to play roles in this goal. My primary research methods are systematic reviews of literature on the benefits of nature exposure for people, laboratory experiments involving 360-degree videos of natural environments and psychological and physiological measurements, and spatial analyses between environmental characteristics and secondary datasets on markers of human health, well-being, and cognitive functioning.

 Research Interests

health and cognitive benefits of exposure to natural environments, virtual reality, environmental epidemiology, environmental psychology, children and nature

 Research Publications

Becker, D. A., Browning, M., Kuo, F., & Van Den Eeden, S. K. (2019). Is green land cover associated with less health care spending? Promising findings from county-level Medicare spending in the continental United States. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 39–47.

Browning, M. (2017). How professional organizations were critical to my career. Park Science, 32.

Browning, M. (2016, August). The role of nature centers in local communities. Directions, 23(9), 1291–1306.

Browning, M., & Alvarez, H. A. O. (2019). Editorial commentary: Scanning for threats and natural environments giving our reptilian brains a break. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, 1–11.

Browning, M., & Lee, K. (2017). Within what distance does “greenness” best predict physical health? A systematic review of articles with GIS buffer analyses across the lifespan. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(7).

Browning, M., & Locke, D. (In press). The greenspace-academic performance link varies by remote sensing measure and urbanicity around Maryland Public Schools. Landscape and Urban Planning.

Browning, M., & Rigolon, A. (2018). Do income, race and ethnicity, and sprawl influence the greenspace-human health link in city-level analyses? Findings from 496 cities in the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(7), 1541.

Browning, M., & Rigolon, A. (2019a). Could nature help children rise out of poverty? Green space and future earnings from a cohort in ten U.S. cities. Environmental Research, 1–49.

Browning, M., & Rigolon, A. (2019b). School green space and its impact on academic performance: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(3), 429–22.

Browning, M., Kuo, F., Sachdeva, S., Lee, K., & Westphal, L. (2018a). Greenness and school-wide test scores are not always positively associated – A replication of “linking student performance in Massachusetts elementary schools with the ‘greenness’ of school surroundings using remote sensing.” Landscape and Urban Planning, 178, 69–72.

Browning, M., Lee, K., & Wolf, K. L. (2019). Tree cover shows an inverse relationship with depressive symptoms in elderly residents living in U.S. nursing homes. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 23–32.

Browning, M., Marion, J., & Gregoire, T. G. (2013). Sustainably connecting children with nature: An exploratory study of nature play area visitor impacts and their management. Landscape and Urban Planning, 119, 104–112.

Browning, M., Stern, M., Ardoin, N. M., & Heimlich, J. E. (2018b). Factors that contribute to community members’ support of local nature centers. Environmental Education Research, 24(3), 326–342.

Browning, M., Stern, M., Ardoin, N. M., Heimlich, J. E., Petty, R., & Charles, C. (2016). Investigating the sets of values that community members hold toward local nature centers. Environmental Education Research, 23(9), 1291–1306.

Browning, M., Thomsen, J. M., & Choi, W. (2017). Student and professional perspectives on park and protected area careers. Park Science, 1–6.

Browning, M., Waugh, D. A., Feldmann, R. M., & Parsons-Hubbard, K. M. (2008). Experimental Taphonomy Of Callinectes Sapidus And Cuticular Controls On Preservation, 23(9), 615–623.

Graedel, T. E., Barr, R., Browning, M., Chandler, C., Chase, T., Choi, J., et al. (2012). Methodology of Metal Criticality Determination. Environmental Science & Technology, 46(2), 1063–1070.

Jennings, V. L., Browning, M., & Rigolon, A. (2019). Urban green spaces. Springer.

Kuo, F., Browning, M., Sachdeva, S., Lee, K., & Westphal, L. (2018a). Might school performance grow on trees? Examining the link between “greenness” and academic achievement in urban, high-poverty schools. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 109–14.

Kuo, F., Penner, M., & Browning, M. (2018b). Do lessons in nature boost subsequent classroom engagement? Refueling students in flight. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 6–15.

Lusk, L., Browning, M., Walker, E. S., & Levy, F. (2010). Forest change in high-elevation forests of Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina: re-census and analysis of data collected over 40 years. Presented at the Ecology and Management of High-Elevation Forests in the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Rigolon, A., Browning, M., & Jennings, V. L. (2018a). Inequities in the quality of urban park systems: An environmental justice investigation of cities in the United States. Landscape and Urban Planning, 178, 156–169.

Rigolon, A., Browning, M., Lee, K., & Shin, S. (2018b). Access to Urban Green Space in Cities of the Global South: A Systematic Literature Review. Urban Science, 2(3), 67.

van Riper, C. J., Browning, M., Becker, D. A., Stewart, W. P., Suski, C. D., Browning, L. M. M., & Golebie, E. (2019). Human-Nature Relationships and Normative Beliefs Influence Behaviors that Reduce the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. Environmental Management, 63(1), 69–79.

 Honors and Awards

2008 BioOne Journals
Featured Article
The first scientific paper I published was nominated by editors of a leading sedimentary geology journal to be the featured article on the website of BioOne for the month of October 2008. BioOne is a publisher of more than 200 journals in the biological, ecological, and environmental sciences.

2011 National Science Foundation
Graduate Research Fellowship Program Honorable Mention
NSF’s primary grant program for beginning graduate students is the GRFP award ($156K). I received an Honorable Mention my first year of graduate school – in other words, my proposed research project entitled “Developing Protocols for Managing Unstructured Children’s Play in Natural Areas” was recognized by NSF as a meritorious application. Each year NSF receives approximately 13,000 applications, awards 2,000, and assigns 2,000 Honorable Mentions (30% success rate).

2012 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Best Presenter
I presented my thesis research at the 2012 Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ Masters Student Research Colloquium. Faculty members and external judges considered my presentation the best out of 27 talks given (4% success rate).

2012 National Park Service
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Park Break Fellow
I was selected to receive a week of training in park management with high-ranking employees in the National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Forest Service. Only 8 students were selected out of 139 applications (6% success rate).

2012 American Swedish Institute
Malmberg Fellow
The American Swedish Institute provides $10K for American students to conduct research in Sweden. Their goals are similar to a Fulbright Scholarship. I was their 2012 recipient.

2014 Virginia Tech
Citizen Science Engagement Award
The Virginia Tech Graduate School gives awards to students conducting research that involves a mutually beneficial partnership with a community. My PhD Dissertation on Nature Centers and Communities was in association with the National Audubon Society and 16 nature centers across the United States. It was selected out of approximately 4,500 other graduate student projects. Twelve awards are given annually (<1% success rate).

2017 University of Illinois
Teacher’s Ranked as Excellent by Their Students
The Center for Teaching Innovation and Learning (CITL) awards instructors who earn in the top 10% of ICES Items #1 and #2 each semester with this status. I received this award Spring 2017 for RST 199 (Management in Recreation, Sport and Tourism).

2019 University of Illinois
Teacher’s Ranked as Excellent by Their Students
Received Fall 2018 for RST 199 (Management in Recreation, Sport and Tourism).

2019 Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI)
Article Featured as Cover Issue
My paper with co-author Dr. Alessandro Rigolon was featured on the cover of the journal, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (volume, issue 3), which is published by MDPI.