Holly Gibbs is an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, and part of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) and the Wisconsin Energy Institute. Gibbs is a physical scientist by training and focuses on interdisciplinary, applied questions around land-use change, globalization, environment, and policy. Gibbs examines the drivers, patterns and pathways of tropical deforestation and agricultural change and what it means for climate change. She uses spatially explicit and data-driven modeling approaches, geographic information systems and remote sensing imagery combined with ground-based data on social and biophysical conditions to document and understand the causes and consequences of land-use change. She is also very interested in the effectiveness of different policy approaches to improve land-use governance in the tropics and here at home.
Gibbs is passionate about using her academic scholarship to change the world. Throughout her career, she has worked closely with policymakers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations. For nearly a decade, Gibbs has served as a science advisor for policymakers from developing countries in support of the UNFCCC initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). She also was selected to serve on the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard Expert Working Group, where she chaired the Land Cover Change committee. Gibbs is committed to mentoring students in the Gibbs Land Use and Environmental Lab (GLUE) and beyond, and greatly enjoys helping them find ways to use their unique skills and achievements to bring science into action.
Since arriving at the UW, Gibbs has been awarded more than $7.5 million in direct research funding for GLUE. Recent awards include the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2016), Administrative Improvement Award (2016), and University Housing Honored Instructor Award (2016). Also in 2016, her paper on carbon debt from biofuels was selected as one of 10 “milestone” papers of the decade by Environmental Research Letter.
Previously, Gibbs was a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow in the Program on Food Security and Environment at Stanford University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) where a DOE Global Change Environmental Fellowship supported her studies. Prior to moving to Madison, Gibbs worked as a Post-Masters Research Associate in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Environmental Sciences Division where she led remote-sensing and GIS research for global carbon and water cycle projects. She received a B.S. of Distinction in Natural Resources and M.S. in Environmental Science from The Ohio State University.
About the award
The Phillip R. Certain - Gary D. Sandefur Letters & Science Distinguished Faculty Award honors and recognizes outstanding teaching by a member of the Letters & Science faculty. The honorees are nominated by the academic associate deans in the college and selected by the dean.
Originally called the College of Letters & Science Dean's Distinguished Teaching Award, the award was renamed in 2004 in honor of Phillip R. Certain on the occasion of his retirement after 11 years as Dean of Letters & Science.
This award is made possible through a generous gift from James "Jim" Burgess (B.A.'57, Journalism), the former publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal and member of the Letters & Science Board of Visitors.