Center Manager/Environmental Affairs Coordinator
Tara Casella has been a primary force of leadership at the Center since her hire with the County in 2004. With the support of the County Administration and other Center team members, Tara was instrumental in the start-up of the Center and continues to manage its day to day operations, offering guidance and input on all aspects of the facility’s functioning. In addition to her responsibilities at the Environmental Center, Tara offers assistance and support to the Essex County Parks Department administration on a wide variety of projects, activities, issues and concerns. Tara serves on the Essex County Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board and is the County’s liaison to the Essex County Environmental Commission. Having a degree in Human Ecology from Rutgers University, Tara is very passionate and proud to be working in this position and as a public servant in general, taking great pleasure as a County employee meeting/serving the needs of the public. Tara is passionate about issues related to health, the environment, community and ecology and believes in forging partnerships between all levels of society as a necessary means to achieve environmental sustainability.
Maria is the Office Administrator for the Environmental Center, making sure the facility and the programs offered operate smoothly. She typically is the first person the public meets when they visit, leading informational tours, organizing registration, interacting with parents, vendors, partners and community groups, and performing various administrative functions. Maria, who has been at the ECEC since its opening, has a Certificate in Business Office Skills and an Associate’s Degree in Health Sciences.
Gina Mongiello has a BA in Psychology, and an MA in Environmental Studies, she is a Yoga teacher and a Holistic Wellness Practitioner. She experiences each of these disciplines as deeply connected, as human and Earth are interwoven, one always interacting and affecting the other.
Gina coordinates the events and educational programs for the Essex County Environmental Center, and also teaches yoga and nature-based classes to people of all ages there. Her love of nature began in early childhood, while playing in the mountains, fields, vernal pools, and backyards of local New Jersey.
I am made to love the pond and the meadow, as the wind is made to ripple the water. ~Henry David Thoreau
David works with center staff to facilitate field trips, camps, clubs, scout groups, teacher workshops and special events. He also coordinates with volunteers and scouts for conservation themed service projects that support the natural landscape and biodiversity within our park system.
He has a Masters in Conservation Biology, NJ Teaching Certificate and a Bachelor degree in Private and Public Recreation Management & Tourism as well as a minor in small business entrepreneurship. He is the author of Buzz into Action and Hop Into Action, published by the National Science Teacher Association Press of which he is a resource consultant, member of his townships Open Space Committee and North Chair for the Alliance of New Jersey Environmental Education.
Barbara Pilipie has been teaching nature programs at the Essex County Environmental Center for over eight years. With a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts degrees in Early Childhood Education, her focus has been on programming for the Little Explorer programs for two to five year olds. She believes nature should be an integral part of everyone’s life. It’s the children who help bring the parents back to the simple life. As a Rutgers’ Master Gardener, Barbara also organizes horticultural programs for children through adults.
Heather graduated from New Jersey Institute of Technology with a BS in Science, Technology and Society. Her courses centered around technological impact on both the environment and society. Upon completing NJIT’s compelling course work she continued on to receive her Alternate Route Teaching Certificates in Kindergarten through fifth grade and also Middle School Math. Using her environmental studies background and her love for teaching she applied to teach outdoor education at Camp Ralph Mason in Hardwick New Jersey. It was there she really fell in love with teaching young people to be environmental people. After several years of joy and fulfillment at Camp Mason it was time to relocate to Essex County to be closer to family. As a mother of two and step-mother of one she promotes the ideas and ideals of outdoor education because she has seen firsthand the great impact a brush with nature can have in creating confidence and awe. She enjoys the benefits of learning outside a traditional classroom. She has a natural ability to incorporate art, science, math and history to make environmental learning fun.
“Every drop in the ocean counts.” –Yoko Ono
Ian’s journey with the environmental center started in the summer of 2012 when he completed a sustainability internship set up through the Student Conservation Association (SCA). After graduating the next spring with a degree in environmental science, he worked for various pharmaceutical companies but ultimately decided that wasn’t the route for him. So, he decided to go back to the place he most enjoyed working and hasn’t regretted a thing since. Ultimately, Ian would like to get his teaching certification and become a middle school science teacher (and maybe even the next Bill Nye!)