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.


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.


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.


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.


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.