Robert J. Barcelona

Excellence in Teaching

Associate Professor of Recreation Management and Policy
School of Health and Human Services

Photographed on August 17, 2004, in the Hamel Recreation Center, University of New Hampshire.


Robert J. Barcelona

Each year Professor Ann Morgan asks students enrolled in her Leadership and Supervision class—required of all recreation management and policy (RMP) majors—to write an essay about the person who best embodies the qualities of leadership.

Although no restrictions are placed on their responses, the focus is usually on famous people or perhaps a former coach or religious leader. In spring 2004, she got a few surprises.

“For the first time in all the years I’ve taught the course, the name of a UNH colleague came up. More than once,” adds Morgan, “my students described the qualities of leadership in terms of concern for others, commitment, knowledge, and enthusiasm. And they associated these qualities with Bob Barcelona, my colleague in RMP. Obviously he has affected many students in profound ways.”

Barcelona is a prize-winning researcher and a prize-winning teacher in recreation management and policy—a field he didn’t know existed when he was a political science major at the University of Mississippi . Today, only three years into his UNH career, students flock to his courses, faculty sing his praises, and public recreation departments statewide count him a valuable partner and advocate for their programs.

They do so because of who he is as much as for what he knows. “I believe in the power of mentor-student relationships because my mentors helped make me who I am today,” says Barcelona .

“I’ve never met a teacher more dedicated and passionate about his work,” says student Shawn O’Donaghue. Though he receives the highest marks as a teacher, Barcelona constantly retools, introducing instructional technology to his classes and inviting recreation professionals to guest lecture on managing million dollar budgets and working with city planners.

Barcelona ’s current research revolves around recreational sports and physical activity. His most recent project is on volunteer training for youth sports coaches. Data collected by him and his student researchers is helping to frame a statewide youth sport coaches training program sponsored by the New Hampshire Recreation and Parks Association.

Barcelona is in demand as an adviser for RMP majors and non-majors alike in pursuit of undergraduate research opportunities. He also makes time to create hands-on learning opportunities for his department’s graduate students. A partnership with campus recreation director Denny Byrne has led to several full-time assistantships—the kind Barcelona enjoyed in graduate school—for RMP graduate students in Byrne’s office.

“I’m living proof that education and recreation are not separate,” Barcelona explains. “Both involve working closely with participants and providing them with significant learning and personal development opportunities. Denny Byrne is just as much a teacher as I am.”

People who teach recreation management and policy have to be great educators. How else to face down the wry smile of an airplane companion who learns that you earned a Ph.D. in “leisure behavior,” or the cocky upperclassman who takes your course thinking the class plays volleyball?

“Sure, RMP offers training for a specific profession that, in my case, usually involves physical activity,” says Barcelona. “But where do you draw the intellectual boundaries around any field? RMP gives us a vantage point from which to analyze any number of critical social issues, such as youth development, land-use policy, and the effect of leisure on the environment.” Barcelona says students also come away from his courses better equipped to understand social policy in an age when people use recreation to build community and improve public safety.

“In its most broad-ranging sense, the field challenges us to choose a philosophy of life,” says Barcelona . “What will you do with the time you are given?”

—David Moore