Research & Education


I hold a PhD in Sustainability Education, am Founder and President of the Board of Directors for The Community Ecology Institute, and Founder and Director of Columbia Families in Nature.  My work and research is focused on fostering environmental and social well-being by reconnecting people with the natural environment as well as designing, implementing, and evaluating environmental programs. 

The Community Ecology Institute

In 2016 I founded the Community Ecology Institute (CEI) and currently serve as Executive Director. CEI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to foster social and ecological health and well-being through research and programs that strengthen the connection between all people and the natural world. CEI conducts and disseminates research on the importance of direct engagement with the natural environment for individual, familial, community and ecological health and well-being. We also design, implement, and promote opportunities to foster health and build community through connection to nature.


I work as an adjunct faculty at Prescott College where I mentor undergraduate and master’s students engaged in inquiry into sustainable communities, relationships between people and the natural world, and action research.  I currently teach graduate level courses entitled:

 Engaging in Place: An Active Introduction to Civic Ecology   

 Compassionate Climate Change Education  

I also provide informal nature-based, experiential environmental education programs to pre-school and elementary school aged children in my community through Columbia Families in Nature and related initiatives.

I have previously taught lab and discussion sessions of undergraduate courses within the Carolina Environmental Program, including Geographic Information Systems and Environment and Society as well as instructed undergraduate students in an environmental health course during a study abroad program at the University of Physics and Biophysics of Salzburg, Austria.   


"I was strongly encouraged to work with Chiara by another faculty at the college, and I have to say, the decision to work with Chiara was one of the best decisions I made as a student. Her expertise as a mentor, a professional, and educator was phenomenal. Chiara guided me through numerous challenges as I worked to complete my research and thesis. She challenged me to think deeply and critically and to rise to every occasion, even when the going got tough. Chiara is an accomplished expert in her field and is an asset to any student or organization that she works with. She has a gift for truly listening to her students' needs while also always seeming to know exactly what advice or support they need. I always looked forward to my meetings with Chiara and the support she gave. I would highly recommend Chiara for any position in academia."

"I want to truly thank you for the incredible experience you provided me with this year. You gave me the opportunity to use a completely different side of my brain. You pushed me out my comfort zone time and time again and allowed me to connect more deeply with nature than I have in a long while. You helped me think through my ideas and figure out the best ways to implement them. You made me think and question and pushed me and motivated me and empowered me and continually inspired me. I am truly inspired by your work ethic, optimism, creativity, and tenacity. You are like a giant magnet that draws so many diverse community members to work towards such an incredible unifying goal. The way you connect people to each other and to nature, while simultaneously advocating for a more sustainable climate is such a gift to each of us and to our county as a whole." 

"Can't thank you enough for all you're doing for F. She loves you, she loves the work, and she loves feeling like she's making a difference. Mentors like you change students' lives, and we're in your debt forever."  

"I got to visit Chiara’s farms project and I am really impressed by the awesome experience of sustainability and community that she has helped to create for families in Maryland. Also, her research is very practically tied to the farm project. Chiara is a wonderful example of a sustainability scholar-activist. It has been such a privilege to have worked with her this semester.  he syllabus for the phenomenology class was masterful, in my view, and allowed each of the students to plug in according to their own area of interest. She’s top notch."


In addition to my research on the effects of family time in nature on social and ecological well-being, which has been cited in Richard Louv's latest book "Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life", I serve on research teams focused on: the importance of cultivating a "sense of place" for sustainability education and conservation efforts; the impact of outdoor activity on women’s body image; and the impact of a hidden curriculum in adventure education on female participation and leadership in the field.  

I have previously worked as a research associate in the University of North Carolina Department of Public Policy where I conducted detailed research on the motivations, barriers, and outcomes for government-owned facilities that voluntarily adopted formal environmental management systems and conducted a water and wastewater infrastructure needs and gap assessment for the Appalachian region.


My Education


Ph.D., Sustainability Education (2015) from Prescott College

*Dissertation: Family Nature Clubs: Creating the Conditions for Social and Environmental Connection and Care M.S., Environmental Science and Engineering (2003) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health

*Graduate Certificate in International Development (2003)   

B.A., International Studies: Trade, Economics and Environment & B.A., Biology (2001) from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill   

Professional Certifications 

*Certified Building Analyst, Building Performance Institute (2009) 

*Certificate in Permaculture Design, Permaculture Institute (2008)  

*Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional, USGBC (2006) 

*Certified Master Gardener (1999)