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Furman Engaged: Green is good – for your mental health

Davis Dear ’24, pictured here in Furman’s Asia Garden, will present research on the effect of green spaces on mental health during Furman Engaged in April.

Last updated March 25, 2024

By Furman News

Davis Dear ’24, a biology major on the environmental and conservation biology track, has known for a while that green spaces positively effect her own quality of life and emotional state.

“It shapes a big part of my identity,” said the senior from Madison, Mississippi. “There’s so much you can see and learn from a simple leaf or a shell that’s millions of years old. And running on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, being able to see all the passing trees and people, brings me a lot of peace, as opposed to running on a treadmill in a gym.”

To discover whether the same was true for others, she turned to science. Working with Courtney Quinn, an adjunct professor in Earth, environmental and sustainability sciences, and John Quinn, an associate professor of biology and director of environmental studies, Dear worked last summer to learn if getting out in nature can improve emotional states, and the effects different types of environments might produce.

Dear will present her study, “The impact of different types of green space on emotional state,” during Furman Engaged, Furman’s annual campus-wide celebration of engaged learning experiences, on April 12, during a session on research and internship experiences in biology.

“Working with Davis has been a great experience. Her passion for understanding the interplay between green space and the emotional well-being of college students is socially significant,” said Courtney Quinn. “Her work is shedding light on the importance of our relationship with nature. It will be inspiring to see the work she does after her time at Furman.”

Davis worked closely with two other seniors, Nathan Ofotokun and Ryan Adams, on the project, which reflected the multiple dimensions of well-being and green space, John Quinn noted.

Her research, you might say, was a walk in the park – actually, 12 walks, one-on-one with a different undergraduate volunteer subject. They would go to one of three destinations: a “natural green space,” Paris Mountain State Park, the “constructed green space” of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail and an “urban gray space” area near Haywood Mall – “very Brutalist, I would say,” said Dear.

As they walked, Dear would ask each subject “questions about their relationship with nature, especially growing up as a child, and then how often they go outside now, as well as how often their families did. Did they grow up in an environment where the stewardship of nature is important? And what words do they associate with nature – do they associate it with scary bugs and snakes, or is it a place of tranquility and peace?”

She is still in the process of analyzing the recordings of her interviews and data from heart-rate devices each subject wore. So far, she is finding trends that mirror her own experience as a nature aficionado, including the correlation between spending time in nature as a child and higher quality of life and less perceived stress later on.

“There was a more positive change with those who were walking in the natural green space,” said Dear.

Her relatively small sample size made sense given the purpose of the research, said the senior.

“The focus of the study was to learn from the individuals themselves, rather than making it applicable to everyone,” she said. “We make sure that each individual story was heard.”

Dear, who is applying to graduate programs to study human dimensions of natural resource management, hopes the work she will present at Furman Engaged will plant a seed in the minds of her peers.

“I hope it inspires students to get outside and raise awareness that green space can have a positive effect on students’ lives,” said Dear. “I think everyone can have that, not just students. I love Furman having the lake right there and then the Swamp Rabbit Trail you can just walk right onto, and an area like Falls Park in downtown Greenville, where people go to get that green space and have a place for rest and rejuvenation.”

Furman Engaged Is April 12, 2024

The Furman Advantage guarantees students the opportunity to participate in high-impact engaged learning experiences. Furman Engaged is a day dedicated to highlighting these diverse and immersive learning experiences. Learn more >>


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