Western honored for innovation, leadership in sustainability

Contact: Erin Flynn
A group of people use a pair of large scissors to cut a yellow ribbon in front of an electric vehicle charging station.

Western's new public electric vehicle charging  network earned a second-place Innovative Project Award from the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan. Pictured at the unveiling ceremony on May 11, 2022, from left to right: Pete Strazdas, former associate vice president for facilities management; Sarah Nielsen, director of EV programs for Consumers Energy; WMU President Edward Montgomery; and Jeff Spoelstra, director of the Office for Sustainability.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—While working toward a smaller carbon footprint, Western Michigan University is making its mark with sustainability accolades. The University's amped-up electric vehicle (EV) charging network, facilities management staff member DeVon Miller and alumnus Matt Hollander, B.A.'08, were all recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan (USGBCWM) during its 2022 Leadership Awards on Dec. 8.

Four people sit at a dinner table posing for a picture.

Dr. Paul Pancella, Jeff Spoelstra, Pete Strazdas and DeVon Miller were part of the Western Michigan University contingent at the USGBCWM awards ceremony.

The University's new EV infrastructure earned the second-place Innovative Project Award. Western unveiled 10 new, dual-port charging stations on campus in May, which are capable of powering 20 vehicles simultaneously—the most robust charging infrastructure of any institution of higher education in the state.

"WMU’s public EV charging station network use has increased each month since we cut the ribbon this past summer. We are seeing revenue that will support network maintenance and renewal. Looking ahead, campus collaborators will analyze network usage patterns and gather user feedback," says Jeff Spoelstra, director of Western's Office for Sustainability.

On top of promoting sustainability, the project is creating new research opportunities for students. The Office for Sustainability is accepting applications for a new student electrified transportation specialist to lead data collection and analysis.

"There are research questions to explore and demonstration projects to design and implement on equitable pricing, vehicle-to-grid exchange, vehicle-to-building exchange, fleet charging, fleet electrification, free and electrified busing, complete streets, multimodal campus transportation hubs and net-zero-ready infrastructure," Spoelstra says. "We need to hit the accelerator, not the gas!"

The first-place winner of the Innovative Project Award included Western alumna Kelsey Groesbeck, B.S.E.'16, M.S.'17, a mechanical engineer at TowerPinkster, who served as a collaborator on the new natatorium for Kalamazoo College.


DeVon Miller holds a trophy on stage under a sign that reads, "Volunteer of the Year."

DeVon Miller accepts the USGBCWM Volunteer of the Year Award.

In addition to Western's project award, Miller, building commissioning specialist at Western, was honored with the USGBCWM Volunteer of the Year Award. Miller joined Western's staff in 2013 overseeing commissioning for new construction and renovation projects and is responsible for ensuring all buildings on campus receive the highest green building ratings possible. He serves on the USGBCWM board of directors and has been involved with the organization for more than eight years.

"The biggest thing for me, seeing everything about climate change, is building better for the people who are using (the buildings). That's my driving force," he says. Before coming to Western, his work in facilities management focused on energy conservation and efficiency. "Western was already focused on LEED certification when I got here, so we focused on picking that up and going further."

"DeVon is a fantastic colleague and a deep green building expert," says Spoelstra. "A healthy, beautiful, decarbonized and accessible-built environment is possible. DeVon helps us all see it and strive for it."

Hollander who championed sustainability at the institution as a student and worked with faculty and administration to form and shape the Office for Sustainability, also earned accolades from the USGBCWM. His company, Hollander Development, received the 2022 Certified Green Building Award for Multifamily for The Creamery in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood. The project transformed a blighted former industrial site into a mixed-use development that includes a daycare, affordable housing and office space. It is one of the first multifamily projects in the state that is nearly fully electrified and net zero-ready.

"Matt was a visionary student leader when he was a student," says Spoelstra. "He helped shape most of our core programming. Matt's creativity, problem-solving skills and grit are unmatched."

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