Distinguished Alumni

Each year the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at Western Michigan University nominates an alumnus or alumna for an Alumni Achievement award.


Mark Lee earned two degrees from Western Michigan University in engineering and environmental studies.  For over a decade, he worked in environmental compliance, energy conservation, and waste reduction at Post Cereals.  In 2009, Mark founded Better World Builders where he combines his engineering knowledge, construction expertise, and commitment to the environment to help people reduce their energy and carbon consumption in their homes and businesses.

Getting off the grid doesn't happen overnight.  With every new customer, Mark initiates another steward for the environment and moves Kalamazoo one building closer to sustainability.  Mark makes it a practice to hire disadvantaged and at-risk youth, and every new employee he mentors adds value to the Kalamazoo community.  In all that he does, Mark operates from the belief that a positive impact, no matter how small, can truly change the world.  As both a community organizer and business owner, Mark's pragmatic, yet optimistic approach builds a more sustainable Kalamazoo.


Ashley Horvat is vice president of public and private partnerships at Greenlots, an electric vehicle (EV) charging company leading the EV industry in accelerating mass proliferation of electric transportation. Horvat graduated summa cum laude with a political science major and an environmental studies minor. A Lee Honors College scholar, she was part of a team of political science students who won the “iOMe Challenge,” a national competition in which teams sought solutions to make the U.S. retirement system solvent for future generations. She interned with the Michigan Environmental Council through the Capital Intern Program and participated in a study abroad experience at the University of Vancouver.

Her diverse learning experiences at WMU uniquely prepared her for leading an industry situated at the nexus of sustainability, technology, transportation and energy. In 2011, Oregon Department of Transportation hired her to become the West Coast Electric Highway manager, where she oversaw creation of the nation’s first statewide EV fast charging network. In 2013, she became Oregon’s Chief Electric Vehicle Officer, making her the first person in the U.S. to hold such a government position. She served as vice president of strategic initiatives at Plugshare, an EV startup, before taking her current position with Greenlots.


Stacy Noblet graduated from WMU and the Lee Honors College in 2003 with majors in environmental studies and geography. She was a member of the Bronco Marching Band and Sigma Alpha Iota.

After graduation, Noblet joined ICF International, a global consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she is now a senior manager and team lead. Noblet's area of expertise is the use of clean fuels, technologies, and strategies to reduce petroleum consumption and emissions in the transportation sector. She works closely with government and commercial clients, managing projects and advising efforts at the local, state, and national levels. Noblet's contributions help drivers locate electric vehicle charging stations, increase the use of alternative fuel and fuel-efficient vehicles in national parks, and educate policymakers about the types of incentives and regulations that shape clean fuel markets across the country. In 2010, Noblet received a Special Recognition Award from the U.S. Department of Energy for her outstanding support of Clean Cities, a national program focused on local actions to cut petroleum use. In addition to her project work, Noblet is a mentor to her team and other junior staff fostering their professional development at ICF.

In 2012, Noblet earned a master's degree in environmental sciences and policy from Johns Hopkins University.


Michele Richards is the Natural Resources Manager at the Fort Custer Training Center (FCTC), where she has done a good deal of work on endangered species management and ecosystem restoration. She has also been very actively involved in a variety of local and regional environmental organizations, and she is very active in areas related to climate change at Fort Custer and elsewhere.


Thom Phillips as the sustainable building specialist, Thom Phillips provides consultation, education, training, resources and technical assistance to Michigan Habitat for Humanity affiliates on best practices in sustainable, affordable, accessible, high-performance housing. He develops building science and technology experts in Michigan communities through the Habitat network and plans and hosts two annual statewide conferences to train affiliate personnel and volunteers on all aspects of sustainable housing solutions. He also designs new home plans that meet stringent sustainability standards and partners with other organizations to improve housing based on building science principles.


Cara Mroczek as a trial attorney in the Environmental Enforcement Section of the United States Department of Justice, Cara Mroczek represents federal agencies in civil actions to enforce federal laws enacted to protect public health and the environment from the adverse effects of pollution. She has provided enforcement of federal laws for the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Oil Pollution Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Superfund Law (CERCLA). Cara joined the department through the Attorney General Honors program in September 2006, and since then has received a number of awards for exemplary service.


Erich Pica is president of Friends of the Earth, a Washington-based environmental group. He graduated magna cum laude from Western Michigan University in 1997 with majors in political science and environmental studies. Before becoming Friends of the Earth’s president in 2009, Pica served as the organization’s director of domestic programs. Washingtonian calls Pica one of Washington, D.C.’s “40 Power Brokers Under 40.” He was named by Washington Life Magazine as one of Washington’s “Green City Leaders.” Pica is a nationally recognized expert on energy subsidies who has worked to reform U.S. tax and budget policy in ways that reduce pollution and spark a transition to clean energy. He has testified before Congress and appeared extensively in the media, including on NBC Nightly News, the News Hour, National Public Radio and PRI’s Marketplace. Pica comes from a family of farmers and educators in southwest Michigan. He discovered his passion for the environment while attending WMU.


Thomas Funke is Director Director of Conservation Education at Binder Park Zoological Society. As Thomas was finishing up his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, he decided he needed to gain some experience in his field. Accepting an internship at Binder Park Zoo, Thomas thought this would be a short-term summer time job. Sixteen-years and many summers later, he is the Director of Conservation Education at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI. This private, not-for-profit zoo is recognized around the world for its cutting edge exhibitry, its natural setting, and innovative conservation education programs. Thomas is also very active in the conservation community, serving on several community boards. He currently sits on the Michigan Audubon Society Board of Directors. He also lives on a Michigan Audubon Bird Sanctuary in Barry County. Thomas takes his backpacking seriously. An avid North Country Trail backpacker, he has hiked nearly 1500 miles of this 4500 mile long trail, including all of Michigan and Wisconsin.


Tom Ulrich grew up in Kalamazoo. At present, he serves as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent managing 71,000 acres of national lakeshore with over one million visitors annually. His journey began after taking three semesters of courses at WMU, and discovering that a double major in Environmental Studies and Geography/Natural Resources Management fit his goals. For his senior practicum, he signed on with the Student Conservation Association at Crater Lake National Park. During his visit he spent a couple of transcendent days there. This is where his career of public service in the most beautiful and special places in the country began.


Chad Howell graduated Magna cum Laude from WMU in 1993 with degrees in both Environmental Studies and English. From 1990 until 1996, Mr. Howell worked for local environmental consulting firms where he conducted environmental assessments for private businesses and lending institutions. Since 1966, he has worked for the city of Kalamazoo's Economic and Planning Division, managing daily environmental issues for the city's Brownfield Redevelopment Initiative (BRI), which systematically acquires, assesses, and otherwise prepares abandoned properties for redevelopment, a practice which discourages suburban sprawl and "greenfield" destruction. He has led and coordinated four such projects; his efforts led to his promotion in early 2000 to Development Manager for the city, where he helps administer the city's Brownfield Authority, a $400,000 EPA Pilot grant, and a $2.8 million Clean Michigan Initiative grant aimed at creating public space and mixed use development along the Kalamazoo River and the City's Renaissance zones.