Q&A Sep 12, 2023

Finding Your Park: Q&A with Portfolio Director and National Park Service Program Manager Michele Holland

Every site within the National Park Service is one-of-kind, and we sat down with Portfolio Director and National Park Service Program Manager Michele Holland to discuss how we can all find our park.

Q&A with Michele Holland Jacons Portfolio Director National Park Service Program Manager

Every site within the National Park Service (NPS) has a rich cultural and historical story, and Jacobs has been a part of that story for more than 52 years. In her role as Portfolio Director and Program Manager, Michele Holland and her teams tackle each park's unique challenges, sharing the critical needs of our parks and visitors. Each park is one-of-a-kind, and we sat down with Michele to discuss how all of us can find our park. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and your journey with Jacobs?

I joined Jacobs in 2011 as a project manager. I've had many opportunities to deliver a broad range of services to our federal clients, from planning through commissioning. As I narrowed in on what clients I wanted to focus on, I had the chance to step into work with NPS and our Department of Interior (DOI) programs. 

My role these days is overseeing a lot of our Federal Civilian Portfolio. I consider it my primary job to help teams keep an eye on what matters the most – delivering for our clients and keeping our teams safe. There are so many distractions during projects that I feel it's essential to try and help clear out the noise by giving them the tools to stay focused.

I also try to provide as many opportunities as possible for my teams to grow in their careers. We are very fortunate to have an incredible NPS team. Hundreds of people have worked in support of NPS, and all of them are just so excited to be a part of the incredible conservation mission. It's a program that makes it easy to come to work. 

What sparked your passion for working with the national parks?

Like many others, I’ve been fortunate to visit several national parks. It constantly amazes me how much of our land, in both rural and urban environments, is managed and curated. NPS builds its story around nature conservation and our nation’s history and culture. As a country, we take time and invest our resources to say, “These matter to us.” We want to care for the space around us and amplify people’s stories.

This message really speaks to me, and when we started working to upgrade the infrastructure in the parks, it felt very rewarding, both personally and professionally. We provide many unique solutions to NPS, and it’s wonderful to work with an agency that welcomes innovation as they protect and preserve our natural and cultural history.

You’ve been Program Manager for a while now. Which NPS site has had the most impact on you? 

My mom would be so disappointed if I did not say Ellis Island. Like many, my family are Irish immigrants and came through the halls alongside the Statue of Liberty. It is my mom’s absolute favorite, and I grew up with it being my favorite even though I’m from rural Virginia. My mom is from Queens, New York, and is very passionate about Ellis Island and its history, so it’s been a real treat that our team has been able to work on that site. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge to the conservation mission of the national parks?

Hands down, I think that is the same problem a lot of folks are having throughout the federal government – aging infrastructure and the ability to keep up with maintenance on critical elements with limited funds and personnel. Since COVID-19 hit, the parks have experienced a massive increase in the number of people who want to visit, as they’ve realized they can flex their time. This flexibility is excellent, but the demand is putting a strain on our parks. 

To combat this, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through the Great American Outdoors Act to address some of that critical infrastructure, especially spaces that don’t always get as much attention, such as wastewater treatment plants and maintenance facilities.  

“Jacobs is passionate about building sustainability into everything that we do. We are also mindful of the limited resources and making a dollar go as far as possible. You combine r that kind of thinking with a client who is thoughtful about the cultural and natural sites they are protecting, and the result is we can create great, innovative solutions. ”

Michele Holland

Michele Holland

Jacobs Portfolio Director and Program Manager

How do you see climate change impacting our delivery of services?

We are seeing the impacts of climate change in nearly every park. Some of the work we have conducted has been the result of hurricane impacts along the Florida coast. We've been involved at Yellowstone, looking at the roads and water systems impacted by last summer's massive flooding. We also were directly impacted by the wildfires in Yosemite. We were even concerned that we might lose some of the facilities we were working to renovate. 

Jacobs is passionate about building sustainability into everything that we do. We are also mindful of the limited resources and making a dollar go as far as possible. You combine that kind of thinking with a client who is thoughtful about the cultural and natural sites they are protecting, and the result is we can create great, innovative solutions. We walk through scenarios of what this site will look like in 30 years, then what about 50? We've had to expand our work and broaden our lens to consider what type of hazards each park might experience and how we sustainably and cost-effectively combat those challenges.

How do we incorporate technology and some of our digital solutions into the work that we do at national parks?

That's a great question. One of the unique challenges of working at the park is the remote nature of some sites. For example, you look at the island of Moloka'i at the Kalaupapa National Park in Hawaii, and there is a barge that can only access that park once a year. Plus, it can only travel one month out of the year due to rough seas. The logistics around planning construction projects there are challenging, and complex given the environment, which is the case with many parks nationwide. So, one of our important jobs is to see how we can leverage technology to gather data in remote areas, or areas that are inaccessible for extended periods—or look at transmitting data over large areas of the park. It's critical in terms of the parks' operations to leverage the latest available technology. 

Another great aspect of technology in the parks is that it allows us to bring the parks to people, even when people can't be there in person. While NPS is a client, the American people own the parks themselves, and it's vital to be able to convey what is happening in the parks to the public. For instance, during COVID-19, we could leverage technology for public engagement sessions that were critical in ensuring our projects continued forward and kept local and national stakeholders involved. 

Do you have a tip you can give for booking and traveling to our parks?

You know, there’s always going to be parks that are on everyone’s bucket list. Everyone wants to see Old Faithful. But on the way to Yellowstone, there are several other beautiful and less-visited parks. So, one of my biggest tips would be to take the road less traveled and visit one of our lesser-known national parks. If you take the time, you might get that fantastic view unobstructed or not be on top of your neighbor as you try to take that wildlife photo. There even might be better opportunities to stay at a lodge or a nearby town. The big parks are amazing, but there are so many great things at smaller or less visited ones.

What excites you about the future of our national parks?

I touched on this earlier, but one thing that excites me is how the parks are leveraging technology to make these cultural and historical stories come alive. You will see what I mean if you follow the parks on social media. Through pieces like the Bald Eagle Cam, they are doing a fantastic job of bringing these stories to life for people who can’t be there in person. It excites me to support an agency that takes such pride and enjoyment in its mission. They really live that out in every decision they make. 

What do you enjoy the most about being a part of #OurJacobs?

I love that Jacobs does so many different things that I could try something new every day and still not cover the breadth of our capabilities. I also love that behind every project, there is somebody who’s extremely passionate and excited to be working on it. It’s great to be a part of a team where people have found their kind of people. We can appreciate everyone’s passions and get excited about the work we do every day. I can’t wait to see what comes next and how we evolve even more.

About the interviewee

Michele Holland

Michele Holland currently serves as Jacobs’ Portfolio Director for the Federal Civilian portfolio. Her role includes leading a team of principals delivering advisory, design and construction management services for over 30 clients, including Department of Interior, General Services Administration (GSA) and the intelligence community. She joined Jacobs in 2011 as a project manager in the Arlington, Virginia office and has since relocated to Cary, North Carolina. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree from Virginia Tech in civil engineering (structures).

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable. We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision.

external Let's see the impact we can create, together