Good Life

Focus on Research | Group wants to help Penn State students experience Penn State, Centre County

Hiking at Mount Nittany, skiing at Tussey Mountain, ice skating at the Penn State Ice Pavilion. These are the types of healthy leisure activities that Meg Small, assistant director of the Penn State Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development, would like to see college students doing to a greater extent.

“It’s easy for students to get into a rut,” says Small. “They often don’t know that these types of activities exist or how to access them.”

That’s why Small and her colleagues created Live It, an online marketplace where parents and other family members and friends can purchase healthy leisure experiences for their college-student children.

The marketplace consists of a website that gives various options available for purchase using a gift card that allows givers to pair items. For example, parents can purchase a taxi ride to Mount Nittany and lunch afterward at Cafe Lemont for their son or daughter and a friend.

The website also includes an option for students to create a “bucket list” of activities that they would like to try. Parents can view the wish lists on the website and decide if they want to purchase the experiences for their children.

So far, 15 companies and organizations from State College and surrounding areas have participated in a beta version of the site. Gift cards go on sale later this fall.

Small says she created the initiative because she wanted to translate her research results into an innovative product or service that parents and students would easily understand and use in their daily lives.

“Our research has shown an association between parents communicating with their college-student son or daughter and healthy behaviors among those students, including reduced alcohol use and increased frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption and of exercise,” says Small, noting that she received extensive support from various Penn State and community organizations to develop the initiative, including Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

“In addition, the research of my colleague Linda Caldwell (a distinguished professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Penn State) shows that students who have the ability to reduce their boredom through engaging in positive leisure behaviors are at lower risk for all kinds of poor health outcomes,” she says.

According to Small, the seed funding for Live It was made possible by the Bennett Endowment for Children and Adolescents provided by Edna Bennett Pierce, a 1953 graduate of Penn State in home economics.

“It’s often difficult to find funding to do this type of non-traditional translational work,” says Small. “Edna’s generous commitment to the Prevention Research Center enabled us to acquire the resources we needed to take this risk.”

The team, which also includes several Penn State students and recent graduates, also plans to launch Live It at the University of California at Los Angeles, where it will test the effectiveness of the initiative in improving healthy lifestyles among students.

“Live It is important because it branches away from your generic gift card and focuses on experiences,” says George Panagos, who graduated from Penn State in 2013, and now works for Live It as a full-time member of the development team. “It turns the gift-giving process into something more personable and unique as it allows and encourages the user to get out and explore his or her environment. It steers away from the materiality of gift giving by gifting these experiences and, ultimately, creating memories that the user can then share with the giver.”

Learn more about available Live It activities at