Dow Sustainability Fellows Global Impact Series

The Dow Global Impact Series provides a glimpse into the interesting, and often rewarding work of graduate students engaged in the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, including projects led by fellows and distinguished scholars. Each summary in the series is based on a report produced by student teams and highlights key issues, their approach and project outcomes. Videos provide student perspectives about the Fellows Program.

carbon-neutral energy



Developing a Net-Zero Biological Field Station in Costa Rica

The Taboga Forest Reserve in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, established to conserve the region’s tropical dry forests, was largely abandoned 10 years ago due to funding constraints. U-M now has access to the reserve, and this team created a carbon-neutral energy plan for a research and education center adapted from the conventional biological station already on site. The new net-zero biostation will provide U-M and Costa Rican students and faculty with countless opportunities for sustainability and conservation research, while serving as a model for sustainable and responsible science. 
Team MembersJose Alfaro, School for Environment and Sustainability; Thore Bergman, Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Jacinta Beehner, Psychology and Anthropology
ceramic water filter



Social Life Cycle Assessment and Health Impacts of Ceramic Water Filters in Uganda

Working with SPOUTS of Water, a Uganda-based NGO that creates and distributes affordable ceramic water filters, this team will evaluate how filtration could improve the lives of the 26 million Ugandan citizens lacking access to safe water. Consumer surveys will reveal the true impact of water filter use on human health and livelihoods. Modeling and mapping projects will show the filter’s impact over many dimensions and the entire lifecycle. Community engagement activities, such as donating ceramic water filters to local schools, will complement the team’s quantitative work.
Team MembersFantasia Williams, School of Public Health (SPH) and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Ebony Johnson, SPH and School of Sociology; Alexa White, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Annalisa Wilder, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and SEAS; Quinn Favret, School of Business; Addison Carr, College of Literature, Arts, and Science; Lauren Balotin, SPH and SEAS; Lynn Socha, SEAS; Jessica Yelk, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
carbon-neutral energy



Evaluating Carbon Offsets in Michigan State Forests

Carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed or stored to reduce the effects of climate change. Forests are considered an important factor in storing carbon, and the carbon sink potential, the degree to which carbon dioxide is absorbed through natural processes, of Michigan forests can be quite large. A Dow Fellows team worked with the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to explore the possibility of selling sequestered carbon in the form of carbon credits from improved forest management strategies in the Michigan State Forest system. The team completed multiple interviews to gain a baseline knowledge of how carbon offset markets work. They developed a set of recommendations for the state of Michigan to pursue carbon offsets. This work can serve as a template for other states to implement carbon offsets. 
Team MembersMarc Jaruzel, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Clare Cutler, School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Kanchan Swaroop, College of Engineering and SEAS; Amanda Willis, Ross School of Business
ceramic water filter



Ensuring Food Security in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 

The Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan is rural and residents are experiencing significant food insecurity. A Dow Fellows team worked with the Western Upper Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR) and the Western UP Food Systems Council to advance sustainable food systems planning in the region. To develop a comprehensive plan for the region, the team created individual community health profiles to better understand the needs of the community concerning access to food. The Dow team also developed a food systems planning tool kit for local municipalities. They created a Master Planning Addendum Template that can serve as a prelude to a food policy section of a city or county master plan. They also developed a Food Policy Master Planning Catalog to assist WUPPDR in engaging with local food systems planners who wish to incorporate aspects of sustainability into their food systems. The team anticipates that WUPPDR will use these tools to work with partner communities on food systems planning.
Team MembersJoshua Childs, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Adriane Kline, School of Public Health; Emily Johnson, School of Medicine; Maxwell Woody, College of Engineering and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Nick Kemp, SEAS
brownfield solar



Reducing Barriers to Solar Development on Brownfields 

Many utility companies, such as DTE and Consumers Energy, are looking to expand solar energy production on brownfields to reach Michigan’s renewable electricity standard of 15% renewables by 2021. Brownfields are contaminated land areas that are difficult or impossible to use for farmland, residential, or commercial development. While there are benefits to using brownfields, several challenges exist with renewable energy development on brownfields. Working with the Michigan Land Bank Authority, A Dow Sustainability Fellows student team developed some potential solutions to recognize the environmental and economic benefits of solar development on brownfields. The team performed interviews with key stakeholders that hold a wide range of knowledge related to the electricity sector, brownfields, and solar energy development in Michigan. They created explicit recommendations and four case studies for the Michigan Land Bank Authority that they anticipate will contribute to the conversation around brownfields and help Michigan achieve specific environmental goals.
Team MembersBrian Schaap, Law School and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Kseniya Husak, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Genevieve Sertic, College of Engineering (COE); Claire Dodinval, COE and SEAS
community voices



Community Voices & Sustainable Economic Development in Detroit

Working with Doing Development Differently in Metro Detroit, a Dow Fellows student team assessed how the social, economic, and environmental benefits have developed from Detroit’s Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO). CBO’s are tools that ensure that developers confirm the community benefits from a project to prevent harmful development and planning decisions. The team researched large-scale development projects and compared two projects from before and two from after the passage of Detroit’s CBO. They analyzed their data and determined recommendations are needed to improve the CBO process with additional resources being allocated to improve the quality of public participation. 
Team MembersJulia Brennan, School of Medicine and College of Engineering; Karen Goldburg, School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Sharon Hu, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, SEAS; Melanie Meisenheimer, School of Public Health (SPH); Melissa Robinson, School of Public Health
local food



Increasing Student Loan Literacy

With a $5,000 seed grant and a 40,000 large grant from the Dow Distinguished Awards competition, a University of Michigan (U-M) student team is co-designing a solution to reduce student debt and increase student loan literacy. The team developed an innovative online tool, LoanSense (formerly Dough), an all-in-one student loan management tool. 
Team MembersCatalina Kaiyoorawongs, Ross School of Business and School of Education; Huyen Phan, School of Information; Lauren Elbaum, School of Information; Victor Poon, Ross School of Business
local food



Co-Designing Resilience: Community-Directed Green Infrastructure Design

In order to build a more sustainable and socially-just community, decisions regarding urban planning should engage diverse stakeholders. Working with the Eastside Community Network, a non-profit community development organization, a Dow Fellows student team co-designed a green infrastructure plan with community members along the Mack Avenue Business District. The team is utilizing, a three-dimensional urban design visualization software tool, to aid in designing community green space. The project focuses on empowering the community members through a series of workshops to learn how to use the visualization tool and co-design community space. They hope to use the software to provide a common language for collaborative designing and decision-making and hope the software can be expanded for use in other cases.
Team MembersKidus Admassu, College of Engineering; Ayush Awadhiya, Ross School of Business; Gwen Gell, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Saebom (April) Kwon, School of Information; Shannon Sylte, School for Environment and Sustainability
local food



Safe and Affordable Water in Mexico City

Water is a fundamental human right; however, gaining access to clean water is a challenge for many of the 20 million people who live in Mexico City. Lakes and canals that once surrounded the city have been drained, causing city residents to experience droughts and floods on a regular basis. With aging infrastructure and the constant need to import large amounts of water, new water management policies are necessary. “Some communities on the periphery [of the city] have little access to clean water,” says Rachel Gutfreund, a University of Michigan (U-M) School of Medicine student. “These communities tend to be of low socioeconomic status and have to buy their water, while those living in the city have free access.”
Team MembersEllen Abrams, Ross School of Business and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Ernesto Martinez Paz, College of Engineering; Emily Pfleiderer, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and SEAS; Rachel Gutfreund, School of Medicine
sustainable dentistry

Energy Equity Solutions for UP & Rural Communities

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a quiet, rural area where you can escape the busyness of urban cities. Population density is low in the Upper Peninsula, making energy transmission costs high and causing electricity rates to be among the highest in the United States. In Baraga, 33.2% of residents live below the poverty line, and a reduction in electricity rates would make a significant difference to them. 
Team Members:  Kevin Dunn, College of Engineering; Krutarth Jhaveri, College of Engineering and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Lauryn Lin, School of Public Health; Julie Michalski; Law School; Benjamin Rego, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and SEAS

Flexible Transit



Flexible Transit

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) partnered with a University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellows team to explore the potential for a public-private partnership that could supplement and enhance the current public transit system in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The team researched the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of different ride-hailing public-private partnership models to determine which model could best be used to cover under-used bus routes and connect riders to transit stops.

​​​​​​Team Members:  Jim Gawron, School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) and Ross School of Business; Jack Kramer, Ford School of Public Policy; Omid Bahram, College of Engineering; Bob Kraynak, SEAS and Ross School of Business

Read the Summary (PDF)  /   View Video, top right





Living Informally and Sustainably

Ocupação Anchieta started four years ago in Grajaú, a city district on the southern periphery of São Paulo, on land owned by the nonprofit organization Instituto Anchieta Grajaú (IAG). Over 800 families now live on the land, negatively impacting the Mata Atlantica forest and natural springs on the site. Currently, AIG and the residents are collaborating on a solution that balances a right to safe housing with environmental health. As part of this ongoing process, an interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan (U-M) students and faculty are working with residents, IAG, and local architectural and engineering firms to create an environmentally and socially sustainable community.

​​​​​​Team Members:  Michael Amidon, Taubmann College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP); Ashish Bhandari, TCAUP; Olaia Chivite Amigo, TCAUP; Laura Devine, TCAUP; Kayal Hunter, School of Public Health;  Jiayang Li, School for Environment and Sustainability;  Erika Linenfelser, TCAUP; Bruna De Souza Oewel, Stamps School of Art and Design; Yao Tang, TCAUP

Read the Summary (PDF)  


first video



Get Free: Understanding the potential for Community Solar Power in Highland Park

The concept of energy democracy is for people and communities to have control of their energy supply, like choosing whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewables, infrastructure considerations, and other options. Energy democracy focuses on poor and working-class people of color, often most impacted by energy purchase decisions. In the case of Highland Park, the city has a majority African-American and Black population, with nearly half of residents living below the poverty line. Approximately 40% of the population reported difficulty in paying their energy bills, and multiple people reported illegal shut-offs, all of which suggest a high and possibly unjust energy burden on the population. These were some of the findings from the community survey on which Soulardarity and the Dow Fellows team collaborated.

​​​​​​Team Members:  Caillin Buchanan, School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) and College of Engineering (COE);  Tyler Fitch, SEAS; Benny Jeong, COE; Anna Lenhart, Ford School of Public Policy

Read the Summary (PDF)  /   View Video, top right





Pedaling with Solar Power

Yuan’s trip to Ghana centered on market research for the Solar-Powered Mini Electric Vehicle (EV) Project. The project originated as a collaboration between a start-up driven by MIT adjunct professor Dr. Christopher Borroni Bird (Afreecar), and the University of Michigan School of Engineering. The overall goal is to a) create a solar electric bike trailer to be used for transportation and as a charging station, and b) demonstrate that such a vehicle can improve quality of life for urban and rural populations in developing countries and impoverished communities.

​​​​​​Team Members:  Sydney Forrester, School for Environment and Sustainability; Yide Gu, College of Engineering (COE); Usmaan Jafer, Research Assistant for Solar-Powered Electric Bicycle Trailer; Tim Yuan, School of Business; Ziyang Zhong, COE

Read the Summary (PDF)  


first video



Documenting and Illuminating Non-Economic Loss and Damage

When we talk about the impact of climate change, we often discuss monetary value —how much money will fluctuating water levels cost Great Lakes coastal communities? However, many impacts cannot be monetized, like personal relationships with the land, lost species, land-based stories and customs, and spiritual and community values. These are all examples of non-economic losses and damages (NELD) associated with climate change and other environmental stressors.

​​​​​​Team Members:  Stephanie Dooper, School of Education; Katie Proudman, School of Social Work;  Adam Osielski, School of Law; Sarah Swanz, School of Information; Ansha Zaman, School for Environment and Sustainability

Read the Summary (PDF)  /   View Video, top right


Ride sharing



Ride Sharing in Motor City

As you enter the city, Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is readily apparent. With wide streets and long blocks, Detroit is a city made for cars. In many places, it is difficult to access amenities – fresh food, jobs, healthcare – without a vehicle.

Team Members: Kenneth J. Fennell Jr, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy (SPP); Diego Garcia Montufar Garcia, SPP; Maureen Lackner, SPP; Benjamin Morse, SPP and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Selin Nurgün, SEAS

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first video



Sink Your Teeth Into Sustainability

In healthcare, the main priority is always the patient. “Being green” just isn’t at the forefront of practitioners’ minds. However, the U-M Board of Regents approved a redesign of the School of Dentistry in September 2016 using sustainable design elements.

Team Members: Mary-Catherine Goddard, School of Public Health; Shivani Kamodia, School of Dentistry; Robert Meyer, College of Engineering and School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE); Sean Pavlik, School of Business and SNRE; Megan Schmenk, Law School; Elizabeth Yates, School of Medicine

Read the Summary (PDF)  /   View Video, top right


first video



Converting Food Waste to Energy with a Biodigester

A Dow Sustainability Master's Fellows team investigated the feasibility of installing a biodigester on campus to reduce food waste and capture gas to use for energy. Achieving U-M’s goals requires eliminating 5,300 tons of landfill waste and 170,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. A new biodigester could be one way to achieve multiple goals.

Team Members: Micaela Battiste, Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment; Seth Buchsbaum, Law School and School of Natural Resources and Environment; Andrew Eberle, Law School; Harry Wolberg, Ford School of Public Policy

Read the Summary (PDF)  /  Read the Full Report (PDF)  /  View Video, top right

Kulisha Fly larvae

Black Flies Can Be A Good Thing

With a $5,000 seed grant from the Dow Distinguished Awards competition, a U-M student team conducted a study to determine the demand for a black soldier fly feed production facility, and how this might contribute to an emerging agriculture and waste management industry. 
Team Members: Mohammad Azimi, Ross School of Business (RSB) and the College of Engineering (COE); Eric Katz, RSB; Katie Matton, COE; Jonathan Luthy, COE. View the document below for a list of all project team members.
sustainable dentistry

Detroit’s Crow House – Updating the Urban Settlement House Tradition

To address both the need for energy-efficient housing and access to healthy food, a University of Michigan team of graduate students interested in urban socioecology developed the Crow House project.
Team Members: Marlena Hanlon, School of Social Work and Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning; Ross School of Business, and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). 
local food

first video



Shaping the Future of Food in the Mississippi Delta

“A major barrier to achieving a more food secure future is that it’s difficult for people who are concerned with the many issues of poverty to devote time to community organizing,” says Bengston. Another is the amount of food being exported.
Team Members: Lee Taylor-Penn, School of Public Health and Ford School Public Policy; Anna Bengtson, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP) and School of Natural Resources and Environment; Grace van Velden, School of Public Health (SPH); Kathleen Carroll, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment; Sarah Ladin, Law School
Read the Summary (PDF)  /  Read the Full Report (PDF)  /  View Video, top right

U-M Graham Institute student staff Samantha VanDyke, Erin Barton, and Geneva Langeland contributed to the development of these summaries. We are grateful to the Dow Master’s and Distinguished Awards students and project partners who reviewed content and provided additional resources for this series.