“You need to understand how your own perceptions change the problems of the world you see. You need to break the rules. You are the generation that will have to do it. It’s in your hands. You’ve got to think: how do we solve these insolvable problems?”
This was a key message Dr. Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), delivered to students and scholars at the 2015 Dow Sustainability Fellows Symposium. As the annual marquee event for the Dow Fellows program, the symposium provides a venue where fellows come together to showcase their work, foster new connections and collaborations through discussions, learn from prominent sustainability leaders, and practice presenting their work in an interdisciplinary setting. In addition to Hamburg’s keynote address, the event featured discussions of student posters, a lively exchange of ideas over lunch, and awards for the highest impact sustainability projects. The symposium is one of many ways that masters, doctoral and postdoctoral cohorts participate in activities that explore sustainability topics by drawing on expertise and perspectives across a broad range of disciplines.
In his keynote address, Hamburg emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration among natural science, social science and other disciplines. He encouraged fellows to challenge the status quo, and do things that are not expected, stressing that this is the only path to having true impact.
Moving from Hamburg’s presentation, to a large room filled with 25 posters developed by Dow Fellows, drove home the importance of interdisciplinary education and research. Posters spanned wide-ranging topics, including green infrastructure practices, harmful algal blooms, toxic waste in Detroit, managing nature preserves, flooding, and more. Fellows answered questions and shared information about how they collected, analyzed, and summarized key findings as part of their collaborations, and gained new insights on future work.
“Thus far, 17 of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges have been represented in this program,” said Professor Donald Scavia, who directs the Dow Program. “It’s this participation from multiple disciplines that provides a rich experience for the fellows and prepares them to be effective collaborators.”
This focus of the symposium is consistent with Hamburg’s message of collaboration among science, technology, engineering, math, and the social sciences. Each fellow’s poster focused on examples of working in collaboration with government, industry, non-profit organizations, and others. Hamburg remarked that a more “permeable” boundary between academia and non-government organizations is part of the answer to the type of lasting change that EDF, the Dow Program, and many U-M faculty support.
Made possible by The Dow Chemical Company, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at the university who are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable, and meaningful sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales. The program prepares future sustainability leaders to make a positive difference in organizations worldwide.