Our Approach

We co-construct this statement as a group to orient our mission, vision, and values.  This is a living document that reflects our intentions and serves as a benchmark against which we evaluate our actions.  On an ongoing basis, we examine and reflect on this statement to help us remember why we do what we do and re-orient our work toward a more equitable future.

Who are we, and what do we do?
We are a group of researchers seeking to understand and support positive human-nature relationships, particularly among children.  Our research uncovers and examines the myriad of benefits of time in nature and environmental education for children, and we explore how children might be agents of change in the context of environmental challenges.

We work to do research with and provide educational resources to educators within the state of North Carolina and beyond. Because we seek to understand and serve a broad range of communities, we frequently work with K-12 public schools. We partner with students, families, educators, and community members such as farmers or conservation organizations to conduct research.  Not all of our projects are co-created with partners, but we aim to be transparent in our questions, communicative throughout the research process, and prioritize ensuring our work is value-added for our research partners. While many of our projects are not explicitly focused on environmental justice, we work to promote a culture within our lab that lifts up these issues through our research.

Why do we do what we do?
We recognize that nature provides a host of benefits, including mental and physical health, cognitive and social development, and a deep personal connection to place and one another.  We believe everyone should have access to nature and these benefits, and we strive to contribute to a body of evidence that promotes accessibility to nature in many forms.

We also believe that young people have the power to create change in their communities today, not just when they are of voting age. When young people take action to address the environmental problems they identify in their communities, we see multiple simultaneous benefits – to youth themselves, to those with whom youth interact, and to their local environment. We aim to amplify youth voices, help develop their agency, and assist teachers in making sure that their students feel heard, especially youth from backgrounds that are not often solicited for community input.

Striving toward equity and justice
Ultimately, we do this work so that everyone may have access to nature and its benefits, and be empowered to create healthy environments and communities.  We acknowledge that both environmental and education fields have marginalized many groups, including communities of color, those with disabilities, women, and LGBTQ+ communities, among others. Accordingly, our work requires us to combat that history and its ongoing ramifications and create space for a more just and equitable future in environmental education research and practice.

As a research team, we are striving toward these goals.  We welcome collaborators, students, and postdocs of any race, ethnicity, gender, age, physical or mental ability, religion, sexual orientation, caregiving responsibilities, or other circumstances, experiences, or situations, and commit to supporting our team members whatever their backgrounds may be. Academia is a space historically designed to exclude many, and the oppressive nature of this history continues to make it difficult for those from marginalized backgrounds to be successful and feel welcome in higher education. We strive to help collaborators, students, and postdocs navigate this difficult context and achieve their goals.

As is the case with most University research labs, students move in and out of the program, and with that, our collective experiences, expertise, and approaches to promoting equity and justice evolves. Currently, none of our projects are explicitly justice focused, but we are examining ways in which justice lenses and theories can bring restorative approaches to our work.  For instance, we are considering what types of data analysis techniques can capture complexities of the social drivers of environmental literacy, how to communicate our work in ways that add to the conversation around environmental and social justice, and how to ensure our community partnerships are supportive rather than extractive.  We acknowledge there is much work to be done on personal and professional levels. We welcome new team members and collaborators that want to do this work with us.