Michelle Gibbs has been named director of the new Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute.

A partnership between the City of Holland, Hope College and the Holland Board of Public Works, the institute supports outreach, education and practices geared toward creating a more sustainable community.  Gibbs brings to the position extensive professional and volunteer experience in sustainability partnerships, conservation and education, including in West Michigan, where in December she was honored as the 2014 Volunteer of the Year for the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council’s Watershed Project.

“We think the community will find in their contact with Michelle a very knowledgeable resource who can provide creative and flexible professional advice on a host of environmental education and outreach matters,” said Ryan Cotton, city manager with the City of Holland.

Gibbs and the program are based at Hope, located in the college’s A. Paul Schaap Science Center.  She started work in November.

“Hope College and the City of Holland are exceptionally fortunate to have Michelle Gibbs in the leadership role for the new Sustainability Institute,” said Dr. James Gentile, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and professor of biology at Hope.  “Along with her winning personality, her work as an educator at Holland Christian and her experience at Lakeshore Technical College as energy coordinator combine to provide her with the expertise to create a culture of sustainability for the Hope academic community, for the wider Holland community and, importantly, inclusive of local businesses.”

Gibbs, in turn, noted that she is excited about working with the people and organizations of the Holland area, which she said has already established a solid foundation on which the community can build in working for sustainability.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said.  “There are many exciting things already going on in the community.  The Sustainability Institute will be a go-to resource for people hoping to become involved, a place where those with ideas and new programs can share them, and a resource to help everyone—individuals, groups, businesses—interested in learning more.

As one example of the latter, a program coming in the near future is “Eating Sustainably along the Lakeshore,” scheduled for Monday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Haworth Inn and Conference Center on the Hope campus.  The free event will feature perspectives from local growers, experts and activists about eating locally and its impact on sustainability, as well as tips on ways to make sustainable food choices.  In addition to the City of Holland and Hope, community partners in the event include Grand Valley State University, Herrick District Library and the League of Women Voters.

Gibbs has been in West Michigan since 2013, and prior to joining the Sustainability Institute volunteered and worked with the Grand Rapids-based West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.  In addition to her additional volunteer activities in the Holland area, she has also been teaching science courses part-time in the Homeschool Connection Program through the Holland Christian Schools, which she is continuing as she leads the institute.

She was the energy coordinator at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin, from 2010 to 2013, with responsibilities including community outreach, developing and implementing programs, and teaching a sustainability course.  From 2007 until 2010, she was an environmental scientist with Hydro-Logic Associates Inc. (HLA) in Brighton.

Gibbs is a graduate of Michigan State University, where she majored in zoology with a specialization in environmental sciences, and is pursing a Master of Science degree in sustainable management at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  While an undergraduate, she held an internship in environmental education and served as a student assistant in the Land and Water Management Division with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The city and college announced the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute in May, along with a $65,000 grant in support of the project through a national initiative:  the Local Sustainability Matching Fund, a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, in partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. The Fund is supported with leadership grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies, JPB Foundation, Kendeda Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, New York Community Trust, Summit Foundation, and Surdna Foundation. The Fund is designed to catalyze partnerships between local governments and local, place-based foundations and to advance community-based sustainability initiative.

The Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute has also received a three-year grant of $25,000 each year ($75,000 over three years) from the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland, in addition to receiving support from the city, Holland Board of Public Works and Hope.