Energy Conservation Specialist relishes teaching role

Michelle Howard offers guidance to a client during an outreach event

You can rest assured that when Michelle Howard leaves a room, she makes it a priority to turn off the lights.

For Howard, who was hired as SNAP’s Conservation Education Specialist last August, the energy-savvy approach is par for the course. In a typical work week, you can find her at outreach events, handing out LED light bulbs, plastic window wrap for windows and conservation tips designed to help residents save both money and energy.

“I’m struck by how grateful people are for just something like window plastic,” Howard said. “I like helping them feel empowered to take control in a life where they may not have much control.”  

Howard’s role involves a diverse set of responsibilities, including assessments for weatherization projects. She and SNAP colleague Linda Riddle visit homes to determine viable candidates for energy saving improvements like new insulation, doors, windows, duct sealing and more. She also works on the Weatherization Plus Health program that addresses issues in a home related to respiratory problems.

As SNAP’s energy assistance season kicked off last month, Howard’s calendar filled up with stops in outlying areas like Deer Park, Colbert and Airway Heights where she will accompany energy workers and deliver the good news of energy conservation.

“The families and individuals really benefit from that information,” Howard said. “Many of them don’t get a lot of contact living in those areas.”

Teaching comes naturally for Howard, who has her master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington and a master’s in geography. She is also working on her PhD in physical geography and teaching online classes in earth sciences through the University of Wisconsin.

“I come from a family of teachers and social workers,” Howard said. “With this job, I like that connection to a population that is a little bit hidden. It makes you grateful and humble to know that we’re all alike and we’re all in this together.”

Howard is also working to train SNAP employees on how to distribute materials and raise awareness among clients for the 2020 census.

“We are seeking out the ‘hard-to-count people,’” Howard said.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University, Howard spent the first 20 years of her career in that field. She had her own practice in individual and family counseling and assisted families dealing with homelessness in Everett through a nonprofit called Housing Hope.

With two kids at home, Howard decided to shift gears and pursue environmental studies which led to her advanced degree in geography and numerous teaching roles. In addition to being an online instructor, she has taught classes in Geographic Information Systems and remote sensing (dealing with satellite imagery) at the University of Idaho.

Howard said the blend of social work and eco-friendly ambassadorship at SNAP has represented “a nice combination” of her two careers. 

“When I found this job, I was just looking for something that would be interesting and meaningful,” she said. “SNAP is a great place to do that. I’m feeling much more connected to the community. I think about poverty a lot more and the kinds of things that our community needs.”