Nancy M. Wells


Nancy M. Wells

Associate Professor
2429 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Phone: (607) 254-6330 Fax: (607) 255-0305
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Curriculum Vitae
Biographical Statement:

Nancy Wells is an environmental psychologist who studies people's relationship to the built and natural environment through the life course.  Her studies have focused on residential environments -- housing and neighborhoods -- and more recently schools.  Dr. Wells completed a joint PhD in Psychology and Architecture at the University of MIchigan; and then NIMH post-doctoral training at the University of California, Irvine.   

Teaching and Advising Statement:

 Professor Wells teaches graduate Research Methods and courses focused on the influence of the environment on public health.  Her classes include the graduate seminar, Environments and Health (DEA 6610) and Healthy Places (DEA 2700) a new undergraduate course launched in Fall 2013.  Dr. Wells strives to identify synergies in teaching, mentoring, research and outreach.  These connections are exemplified in the Wells research lab which serves as a teaching and mentorship laboratory aimed at doing research well, and doing good through research.  Nancy Wells' courses typically include a community outreach component to emphasize real world challenges and potential solutions. 

Current Professional Activities:

Nancy Wells is a member of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA), the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), the International Association for the Study of People and their Surroundings (IAPS).  She is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences related to residential environments and health-related outcomes.

Current Research Activities:

Currently, a major focus in the Wells lab is  the potential  influence of school gardens on children's ecological literacy, fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical activity. Using a combination of surveys, direct observation, accelerometry, photography, and interviews, the team's efforts are aimed at understanding what makes a difference in children's health.  The School Garden Research study involves approximately 2500 children in 48 schools in four states and is funded through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service People's Garden Program, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living Research Program, Federal Formula Funds, the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, and the College of Human Ecology. The Wells lab is populated by a dedicated,  energetic and interdisciplinary group of undergraduate and graduate students. 

Current Extension Activities:

Although Dr. Wells does not have an Extension appointment, she collaborates with Extension staff regularly.  The Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project involves collaboration with 30 Extension Educators in four states (Iowa, Arkansas, Washington and New York) to examine the influence of school gardens on children's diet and health.  The School Gardens and physical activity study is also a partnership with Extension Educators -- in New York.

Retirees in Service to the Environment (RISE) is also a Cooperative Extension-based project.  The RISE program trains retirees regarding environmental issues and facilitates involvement to address environmental challenges.


Dr. Wells received a joint PhD in Psychology and Architecture from the University of Michigan and completed a NIMH post-doctoral fellowship in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine. Nancy also received a Master's degree in Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell University and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Connecticut College.

Courses Taught:

DEA 2700 Healthy Places

DEA 6560 Research Methods in Social Sciences

DEA 6610  Environments and Health

Related Websites:

Selected Publications:

Wells, N.M., Myers, B.M., & Henderson, C.R. (in press).  School gardens & physical activity: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine.

Myers, B.M. & Wells, N.M. (in press). Children’s physical activity while gardening: development of a valid and reliable direct observation tool.  Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

Demment, M.M., Wells, N.M. & Olson, C.M. (in press). Rural middle school nutrition and physical activity environment and change in BMI during adolescence.  Journal of School Health

Olson, C.M., Baker, I., Demment, M., Graham, M., May, J., Strawderman, M., Wells, N.M. (2014). The healthy start partnership: An approach to obesity prevention in young families.  Family and Community Health, 37 (1), 74-85. 

Wells, N.M. (2013).  The role of nature in children's resilience: cognitive and social processes.  In: K. Tidball & M. Krasny (Eds.) Greening in the Red Zone.  Springer.

Wells, N.M. and Lekies, K.S. (2012).  Children and nature:  following the trail to environmental attitudes and behavior. In: J. Dickinson and R. Bonney (Eds.) Citizen Science: public collaboration in environmental research.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 

Wells, N.M. & Rollings, K.A. (2012).  The natural environment: Influences on human health and function.  In S. Clayton (Ed.) The handbook on Environmental and Conservation Psychology.  Oxford University Press.

Wells, N.M. & Donofrio, G.A.  (2011). Urban planning, the natural environment, and public health.  In: J.O. Nriagu (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, volume 5, pp.565-575. Burlington: Elsevier

Pillemer, K., Wells, N.M., Wagenet, L., Meador, R.H. and Parise, J.T. (2011). Environmental sustainability in an aging society: A research agenda.  The Journal of Aging and Health, 23(3), 433-452. doi: 10.1177/0898264310381278

Gantner, L.A., Olson, C.M., Frongillo, E., Wells, N.M. (2011).  Prevalence of non-traditional food stores and distance to healthy foods in a rural food environment.  Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 6, 279-293.

Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W., Beavis, A. & Ong, A.D. (2010). Early childhood poverty, cumulative risk exposure, and weight gain trajectories through young adulthood. American Journal of Public Health. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.184291

Wells, N.M., Evans, G.W. and Yang, Y. (2010). Environment and health: Planning decisions as public health decisions. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 27 (2), 124-143.

Pillemer, K. A. Fuller-Rowell, T. Reid C. & Wells N.M. (2010). Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a twenty-year period. The Gerontologist, 50(5), 594-602.

Wells, N.M. and Laquatra, J. (2010). Why green housing and green neighborhoods are important to the health and well-being of older adults. Generations. 33(4), 50-57. 

Wells, N.M. and Yang, Y. (2008). Neighborhood Design & Walking: A quasi-experimental longitudinal study of low-income Southern women moving to neotraditional or suburban neighborhoods. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(4), 313-319.

Wells, N.M. and Harris, J.D. (2007). Housing quality, psychological distress, and the mediating role of social withdrawal: A longitudinal study of low-income women. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 69-78.

Brown, B.B. and Wells, N.M. (Eds.) (2007).  Environment, physical activity, and diet. Special Issue of Environment and Behavior, 39 (1).

Wells, N.M., Ashdown, S.P., Davies, E.H.S., Cowett, F.D. and Yang, Y. (2007). Environment, Design and Obesity: Opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborative research. Environment and Behavior, 39 (1), 6 - 33.

Wells, N.M. and Olson, C.M. (2007).  The Ecology of Obesity: Perspectives from life course, design and economics.  Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 1 (3), 99-129.

Wells, N.M. and Lekies, K.S. (2006). Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children, Youth, and Environment, 16 (1), 1-24.

Wells, N.M. (2005). Our housing, ourselves: A longitudinal investigation of low-income women's participatory housing experiences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 189-206

Wells, N.M. & Evans, G.W. (2003) Nearby Nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35 (3), 311-330.

Wells, N.M. (2000). At home with nature: effects of "greenness" on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32 (6), 775-795.

Searchable Keywords:
environment, health, natural environment, nature, housing, housing quality, neighborhood, walkability, obesity, cognitive functioning, psychological well-being

The information on this bio page is taken from the CHE Annual Report.