NRC Ops Coordinator presents research in New Zealand

NRC Ops Coordinator presents research in New Zealand

New River Conservancy (NRC) Operations Coordinator, Stella Cybulski (App State PH masters student and RM 2017 Alumna) and Dr. James presented  Cybulski’s research “Bugs And Balls: Boosting Well-being Through Physical Activity in Educational Settings,” at the 17th World Leisure Congress in New Zealand.  Cybulski  was inspired by her experience working in the HOPE (Healthy Outdoor Play and Exercise) Lab. She was mentored by Dr. Brooke Towner from the Department of Recreation Management and PE (RMPE). For her research, Cybulski worked closely with Dr. Towner and Dr. Joy James (RMPE) and plans to submit a manuscript to an academic journal next year. After graduating from Appalachian State, Cybulski plans to earn her doctorate in Recreation Management.

The purpose of the HOPE Lab  is to investigate the role of outdoor physical activity, exercise, and play on health, the environment, and human development. The vision of the HOPE Lab is to continue developing the scientific foundation for promoting and supporting outdoor physical activity, exercise, and play through interdisciplinary research.  In November Cybulski won the 3 Minute Thesis People’s Choice Award at Appalachian State University.

Before joining the NRC, Cybulski was the program director for Mountain Alliance in Avery County.  “Mountain Alliance is an incredible local nonprofit whose mission is to provide transformative experiences and support so that all high country teens have the opportunity to lead empowered, adventurous, and serviced-oriented lives, regardless of means or background,” Cybulski said. “I realized that the school setting offered a powerful setting for bettering the elements of students’ lives. It was also the one constant in the child’s experience. When I learned about Dr. Towner’s graduate student position and research interests, I reached out immediately!”

Her research shows that science teachers believed that activity helped students’ overall mood, and going outside made them even happier, and the students’ drawings matched the teachers’ perceptions. As analysis continues, Cybulski hopes to find ways to increase physical activity in the classroom and students’ enjoyment of school and share these findings with schools for potential implementation.

Her mentors at Appalachian State say “Stella’s outstanding work in this area is truly commendable and reflects her commitment to advancing knowledge and improving well-being through physical activity in educational environments. We are incredibly proud of her accomplishments and look forward to witnessing her continued success in the field.”

As NRC Team Lead for the 41st Annual New River Canoe Race this past year, Cybulski was able to further her passion of getting children outdoors.  “We are big advocates of preserving nature and getting our youth outside,” Cybulski said. “Moving it to September opened our availability to work with Ashe County Schools, Watauga County Schools, and App State – providing more of a useful energy involved in this community event.”

Stella’s first interaction with the NRC was in 2021 when she took a group of high school students on a two-week journey to canoe from the headwaters of the New River to the Virginia State line. The New River Conservancy (NRC) helped explain and teach her students to work together to protect those who live downstream of us. NRC staff even brought them donuts after a long hard day of canoeing in the rain. The trip and the support of the New River Conservancy were life-changing for her and her students.

NRC is thrilled to have Stella on our team.  Says Lisa Stansell-Galitz, Marketing Director for NRC, “Stella brings such an exuberance to the Conservancy and is a pleasure to work with on any endeavor. Her expertise with youth events has been enormously helpful as we reach to attract our young to conservancy efforts within the New River Watershed.”

L-R Stella Cybulski, Dr. James and Dr. Weidmann in Dunedin, New Zealand. 

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