By Laura Lessnau
and Pam Stout
Office of University Development
A new $3 million gift from The Dow Chemical Co. Foundation to the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan will enable fellows to continue implementing sustainable solutions for food systems, cities, infrastructure, mobility, consumption and energy systems from Michigan to Sub-Saharan Africa.
The gift supplements the company’s initial $10 million donation that established the program at U-M in 2012 — a landmark, breakthrough collaboration offering a unique graduate-level interdisciplinary training and project experience. The gift secures funding for the program through 2020.
“Dow is pleased to continue funding the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program. There is no other university program like it,” said Neil Hawkins, Dow corporate vice president and chief sustainability officer. “This novel program brings together unconventional collaborations — from social work and business to the sciences and arts — to address real-world sustainability challenges.
“The fellows’ diverse projects have spanned transportation, energy, water, climate change, health and nutrition, sustainable cities, biodiversity and housing — among many others. The scope has been local, regional and global. In fact, there is often the potential for local or regional projects to be leveraged to a global scale.”
As part of Dow’s 2025 goals, Dow is engaging in collaborations like this to enable projects in both the public and private sectors.
Sustainability challenges affect populations worldwide, from access to clean food and water, to affordable housing and energy. Tackling global problems with many unknown variables warrants a multifaceted approach. U-M and Dow are building upon a partnership to address these problems as leaders in sustainability education, research and collaboration.
This new gift extends funding for graduate fellowships and co-curricular experiences and the Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability. Dow’s cumulative giving to the university now totals $30 million, supporting many units including business, engineering, natural resources and environment and public health.
Recent Dow Sustainability Fellows have explored sustainability solutions on four different continents, including the following examples in Michigan and India:
• In Michigan, a cohort of master’s students partnered with the Detroit nonprofit Focus: HOPE to bring a ride-sharing service to the low-income neighborhood of Hope Village, offering affordable transportation to residents of this area.
• In Telangana, India, a team of fellows and other students used data science to inform best practices for farming in rural India. The team established the first-ever computer network in two villages, designed a data collection system and hired field managers to survey farmers.
• In Ann Arbor, a group of fellows partnered with the School of Dentistry to develop a sustainable dentistry toolkit that identifies reusable materials and energy-saving opportunities that dental clinics can implement. The team then partnered with Practice Greenhealth to distribute toolkits across the country.
This unique collaboration will be highlighted during an upcoming Sustainable Brands conference May 25 in Detroit. There, Dow Sustainability Fellows Kenny Fennell and Benjamin Morse will share their experiences and work as cofounders of Social Mobility Group, and Caravan — a tool people use to access the transportation they need.
Since its inception, the Dow Sustainability Fellows program has supported 271 fellows from 17 of U-M’s 19 degree-granting units including the School of Public Health, the College of Engineering and the Gerald R. Ford School for Public Policy.
To foster interdisciplinary collaboration amongst all U-M students, 318 recipients of the Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability have received seed money to help launch innovative sustainability projects.
“Achieving environmental sustainability is among the most complex challenges we face as a society,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “The Dow Chemical Co.’s support is helping the University of Michigan prepare talented, interdisciplinary leaders who can develop and implement sustainable solutions from multiple perspectives.”
In addition to partnership in sustainability education, Dow is committed to student recruitment, research collaboration and service on U-M advisory boards. Dow employs about 350 U-M alumni.
The Dow Sustainability Fellows Program supports the Planet Blue initiative, representing the university’s commitment to sustainability education, research and campus operations.