Michelle J. DePass
Michelle J. DePass
Board Member

Michelle J. DePass joined the Surdna board in November 2023. She is the immediate past president and chief executive officer of Meyer Memorial Trust, a $1 billion private foundation in Oregon. 

Currently, Michelle provides executive coaching, philanthropic advising, strategic planning, management consulting, and business development services to foundations and independent donors, universities, technology companies, and nonprofits through her LLC, DePass Paulson Advisors.  

Over three decades, Michelle has distinguished herself as a strategist and thought leader in social, economic, and environmental justice, community organizing, institutional leadership and political strategy, and progressive philanthropy and academia.  

Early in her career, Michelle taught environmental law and policy at the City University of New York and created the city’s first environmental jobs skills training program for underserved young people. She was also the founding executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, a membership network linking grassroots environmental justice organizations from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. 

Michelle has worked as a civil rights lawyer, where she litigated racial discrimination and human rights violations at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Later, Michelle was tapped by the Obama administration to oversee a department at the Environmental Protection Agency and lead the creation of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs. Michelle then moved into philanthropy as a program officer for the Ford Foundation, creating funding initiatives focused on the intersection of environmental justice and community and economic development. 

In 2013, Michelle became dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy and Tishman Professor of Environmental Policy and Management at The New School, where she shepherded the graduate school toward a social justice focus at the intersection of race, climate, and sustainability. Michelle also served as director of The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center, where she worked to position the university as an academic ally in the environmental justice movement by bringing visiting scholars to co-produce research on environmental justice issues, including the implications of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and Native and Indigenous resistance movements working on climate change.  

Michelle currently sits on the boards of The Nature Conservancy, Grist.org, the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, and the Perception Institute. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a Juris Doctor from Fordham Law School, an honorary doctorate from Fordham University, and a Master of Public Administration from Baruch College, where she was a National Urban Fellow. 

A native of Queens, New York, Michelle was born to parents who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica, W.I. 

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