Aquinas Alumna Makes Sustainability Accessible, Affordable for the Community
Aquinas College enjoys a legacy of environmental sustainability, socially conscious action, and commitment to life-long learning. What’s so unique about this legacy is how it permeates each academic department on campus, so that regardless of their learning focus, students are encouraged to consider the effect of their actions on the wider world. While many students in the Aquinas Sustainable Business program have successfully employed their knowledge and skill sets in the contemporary workplace, what may come as a surprise to many is how this isn’t limited to a certain “type” of student. Take Anne Marie Hertl, staff for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), and Aquinas alumna.
Hertl, a spring 2011 graduate of Aquinas College, completed a Bachelor of Arts in Community Leadership and Political Science, with a minor in Urban Studies. Originally from Ohio, Hertl had family in the West Michigan area, as well as sisters who had attended Aquinas College. With the influence and examples of her sisters, as well as a scholarship opportunity, Hertl followed in their footsteps. “That was pretty convincing,” she said. “It’s a pretty town - different, and just far enough away [from home].” Furthermore, the Aquinas atmosphere and emphasis on community awareness played an enormous role in her plans.
“Our professors are all local professors, and you’re able to build a relationship with them,” she said. “I think that certainly helps with continuing to build new community relationships.” Of those new bonds, one played a key role in Hertl’s finding work with WMEAC. “The person that hired me - originally to have an internship - was also attending Aquinas at the time for Continuing Education,” she said. “We were connected through that.” Since that internship, Hertl has been named WMEAC’s Energy Programs Coordinator, developing opportunities to aid the community in enhancing its sustainability.
What exactly is WMEAC? “WMEAC is an extremely reputable non-profit organization in West Michigan,” Hertl said. “They have a passionate and intelligent and knowledgeable staff. I respect the reputation they’ve been able to sustain in the community.” Their focus is on energy and the environment, particularly in the daily lives of those in the region. For Hertl, the appeal of a job with WMEAC came both from their enormous impact, but also her own passion for community leadership and non-profit work.
“I’ve certainly always been an environmentalist at heart,” she said. “I was not a Sustainable Business major, but I was very interested in how [effective] they can be in the West Michigan region and in a non-profit organization.” She continued with an explanation of WMEAC’s current projects: “There are different resources through West Michigan to help folks with energy costs, with energy bills, with energy efficiency: and I simply want to connect them with that. [There are] two main goals: protect and conserve our water resources, as well as be an advocate with expanding our energy resources. So energy efficiency is a big part of that. I want to help people tap into that. There’s no need in spending this money, and wasting this energy, if we don’t need to.”
Among her responsibilities, Hertl is a part of the GR1K Better Buildings program here in the city. It began two years ago, from a competitive bid for a Department of Energy grant. The project? To help make local homes more energy efficient. The initial goal has been extended to continue helping the community well into the summer months. These assessments allow a professional contractor to analyze the home’s effectiveness in using energy. From there, home-owners can develop a plan for making the home more energy conscious in the future, while maintaining as low-priced as possible.
This opportunity is also extended to members of the Aquinas community. “We’re lucky to partner with Aquinas College, similar to last year when we partnered with Grand Valley State University: the same kind of outreach process,” she said. “We’re working through the college venues to offer this to staff and faculty that already understand what it means to be responsible citizens. Aquinas College is a natural fit for us. We’re able to partner up with the Center for Sustainability to not only provide donations for the Aquinas Zero Waste Fund, and also to simply offer it to a community of staff and faculty that ‘get it’ already.”
In some sense, Hertl has come full circle. Her education at Aquinas has made it possible for her to serve the community - including those at Aquinas. To those soon to graduate, or those in the process of feeling out their own dreams and aspirations, she offers some advice. “Finding a really promising internship goes a long way,” she said. For Hertl, it certainly has.