Distinguished Awards Guidelines

To foster high-impact sustainability collaborations across the University of Michigan (U-M), the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program includes a university-wide competition for applied sustainability projects that cut across disciplines and involve U-M students at all academic levels working with a client or project sponsor. The Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability competition (Dow Awards competition) seeks project proposals that describe a compelling and practical effort to foster sustainability at the local, national or global level.

  • Proposals should be student-led, faculty advised, and action-oriented, outlining a new product, service, or project that seeks to protect the environment and enhance the quality of life for present and future generations.
  • Proposals spanning the full breadth of sustainability topics, including but not limited to energy, water, communities, food, built environment, and transportation are encouraged. Project proposals in partnership with external entities are also welcome.

Special Call Focus Areas:

1) We are particularly interested in innovative efforts focusing on plastics recycling at the national and global levels; and

2) Focusing on communities where sustainability solutions or interventions have been previously applied to assess the impact of the projects and provide recommendations based on community feedback.

Key Dates 2019

  • March 14, 2019, 4:00 PM: Submissions accepted for Seed Grant Letter of Intent (small grant) proposals. A letter of intent is required for all proposals.
  • April 11, 2019, 4:00 PM: Submissions accepted for Seed Grant proposals. A letter of intent is required for all proposals.
  • September 13th: Progress Reports Due - All teams must submit a written progress report. Teams interested in competing for a Large Grant (up to $50,000), will follow instructions provided (see guidelines for progress reports below).
  • November 25th: All final Seed Grant reports due for teams NOT competing for a large grant. All teams must finish their seed grant projects and complete a final report. Any remaining funds should be returned to the Dow Fellows Program. 
  • December 7th: All teams competing for a Large Grant must present a summary of their work to date and describe what they would accomplish with additional support at the annual Dow Sustainability Fellows Program Symposium.


The Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability is open to all current University of Michigan-Ann Arbor students. Although this effort is part of the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, students do not need to be Dow Fellows to apply. The Dow Awards competition is intended to engage the broader U-M community, extending beyond students participating in the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program. All project teams must:

  • Be led by students from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, but may include staff, faculty, and/or external partners.
  • Identify a University of Michigan—Ann Arbor faculty advisor.
  • Include substantive contributions from students in at least three different schools/colleges to be eligible to receive seed funding. Therefore, we suggest that each team be comprised of 4-5 students. Note: Dual-enrolled students may represent both of their schools/colleges. Teams that span academic levels are strongly encouraged.
  • Identify and secure a client or project sponsor with a specific need or sustainability challenge.

Client/Project Sponsor: All teams must identify a client or project sponsor, external to the University of Michigan. Clients may work for a non-government or non-profit organization, and could also be a part of a community or a corporation. Many student teams also work with project stakeholders to provide resources, perspective and other types of support or information.


Accepted project teams will receive $5,000 in seed funding for a small grant project. The most promising project teams requesting additional funding in their Progress Report may be awarded up to $50,000 in additional support through the Large Grant competition. 

  • Typically, two or more projects are selected to receive additional Large Grant funding to facilitate further progress, which will not exceed $50,000 per project.
  • The total of all Distinguished Awards Competition funds will not exceed $150,000 annually.

Team Leader & Faculty Advisors:

Review, sign, and return a copy of the Award Terms and Conditions Form to the Graham Institute, administering the Dow Distinguished Awards Competition. Also see Disbursement of Grant Funds, below.


  • The most successful Seed Grant and Large Grant teams meet regularly, throughout the academic terms and summer months, using a variety of tools (shared documents/folders, phone calls, email, etc.)
  • Teams are expected to communicate regularly with one another, their client, faculty advisor, and the Dow Fellows Program leaders.
  • Teams awarded funds must acknowledge support from the University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellows Program in all media interactions, publications or presentation of project results and provide information to Dow Program staff on any publications generated through this project.

Expending Funds

Dow Awards competition funds will be used only for direct expenses incurred in the implementation of the projects, including the engagement necessary to execute the project and travel-related expenses incurred in project implementation.

  • The majority of funds should be expended to support active engagement with clients, stakeholders, communities, and others involved in the project.
  • Expenditures for equipment are discouraged.
  • Funds for seed grants should be expended by the end of the current calendar year. No-cost extensions may be granted but must be approved in advance.
  • Funding requests for student wages must include a detailed scope of work, may NOT exceed 20% of the total budget, and are subject to the approval of the Dow Program staff.
  • Project funds may NOT be used for expenses unrelated to project execution, to offset faculty or staff salaries, for graduate student assistantships, or for travel to conferences.
  • Large grant funds must be expended within 12-16 months of the project award date, depending on the project. In some cases, extensions may be granted but must be approved in advance by the Dow Program staff.

Disbursement of Grant Funds

  • Disbursement of project funds will be available through the unit of the faculty advisor and will be contingent upon satisfactory progress and achievement of milestones listed in the approved project proposal.
  • The Dow Sustainability Fellows Program is administered by the Graham Sustainability Institute. Any unused funds must be returned to the Graham Sustainability Institute.
  • Changes in project scope, budget, team composition, and faculty advisor must be reported to and approved by the Dow Program staff, or funds will be returned to the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Guidelines for Seed Grant Progress Reports & Large Grant Competition

Seed Grant and Dow Master's Fellows project teams must deliver a written progress report, summarizing their achievements and outlining any additional work planned for which they would like to receive additional funding through a Dow Awards large grant. 

Progress reports due by 5:00 PM: September 13th, 2019

Email a PDF attachment of your report: DowFellowsAdmin@umich.edu

Progress Report Format, Guidelines & Requirements

A. Narrative: Maximum of five (5) pages, including the following:

  1. Contain a 1-page executive summary, written for a non-technical audience.
  2. Describe progress toward milestones according to the project timeline and scope of work submitted in the Seed Grant proposal.
  3. Summarize the achievements, outputs (e.g., analysis, surveys, reports), outcomes, and impacts accomplished to date. Include information about how project work (outputs, deliverables) will be used by a client, sponsor and/or stakeholders.
  4. Describe the remaining project plan, and activities.

In addition to the narrative above, if requesting additional funding through a large grant, teams should also include within the 5-page report limit:

  • A revised scope of work, milestones, and timeline. 
  • Information about how project success will be measured if a large grant is awarded (e.g., metrics related to the project scope and objectives) and over what time frame.
  • The amount of additional funding your team is requesting (up to $50,000).
  • A detailed proposed budget and an alternative budget, addressing what could be accomplished with funding at 50% of the level proposed by the team.
  • Identify any skill gaps in the existing team and a plan for how they will be filled.
  • Focus on additional engagement activities, deliverables, and potential impact.

B. References and Appendices (maximum of 6 pages, separate from the narrative)

C. Resume (CV) for each team member after the references and appendices. Notes: Each CV should outline the relevant experience and skills and be a maximum of 2 pages. Teams seeking a large grant should include CVs for the most relevant team members with a max of 10 CVs.

    Large Grant Award Review Process

    Seed Grant project reports with requests for additional funding through a large grant will be reviewed by Dow Program staff who will select the most promising projects and teams to potentially receive additional support. These project teams will provide a short presentation to a review committee comprised of U-M faculty, alumni, staff and external practitioners from business, government, and civil society. The committee will review each proposal and may ask team members questions about their project.

    Large Grant Project Selection Criteria

    All projects will be reviewed using the following selection criteria. All proposals will:

    • Prominently feature interdisciplinary work, blending natural science, engineering, business, behavior, social sciences, and policy considerations, as appropriate.
    • Demonstrate how team members representing a minimum of three (3) disciplines will contribute to project goals and objectives.
    • Identify any changes in team members, partners or others.
    • Articulate a new and innovative concept (e.g., process, program, service, product).
    • Outline the potential for significant societal benefits and sustainability impact.
    • Demonstrate a well-crafted premise with convincing supporting data and/or analysis.
    • Have scalable and/or replicable attributes and a strong likelihood of success.
    • Include a firm commitment stated by the team to implement the project with demonstrable results delivered within one year of large grant funding.
    • Engage project partners and stakeholders in a needs assessment to ensure that team efforts are practical and will foster sustainability at the local, national or global level.
    • Additional support may NOT be used to purchase equipment.