Making A Global Impact

Erin Barton
Release Date: 


The [Dow] Fellows Program had a huge impact on my career choice and where I’m headed now. I was, and still remain, inspired by Dow’s commitment and expertise in developing sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. There’s no other program like it.”
— Sundeep Ramachandran, member of the first Dow Sustainability Fellows cohort and now an engineer at The Dow Chemical Company.  

The Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan (U-M) is supported by The Dow Chemical Company Foundation. The program leverages the expertise within the university and external partners to foster sustainability leadership. Future leaders who can make a positive difference in the world and the organizations in which they will work participate in projects, skill building sessions, and other program activities. Being a Dow Sustainability Fellow is going above and beyond academically — with each cohort taking a full load of courses.

No Clear Solution

Sustainability challenges are demanding because often there is no one clear solution; addressing them requires a willingness to collaborate with experts from different disciplines and a variety of backgrounds. Fellows balance scholarly studies with work required to create and implement an interdisciplinary, sustainability-focused project over the course of a year. Part of the success of each Dow Sustainability Fellows project team can be attributed to the ability to address complex issues from multiple perspectives and draw on many sources of expertise. Collaborative work helps ensure that team members consider new ideas and suggestions from partners outside the traditional academic setting to develop sustainable solutions.

“It was very helpful to have the perspectives of team members from the Erb Institute and the Ford School with backgrounds in business and quantitative policy analysis so that we could determine the financial viability of the project,” says Andrew Eberle, Dow Sustainability Fellow and Law School alumnus. “Without their expertise, we would have been unable to answer the ultimate question [developed by our team]: Would installing a biodigester be a good use of U-M resources?”

Students Working Locally and Globally

Detroit, Michigan. Santa Marta, São Leopoldo, Brazil. Dolatpura, Gujarat, India. West Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. These are just a few of areas where Dow Sustainability Fellows have worked, forming new relationships to make lasting impacts in communities worldwide.

Dolatpura India

In 2015, a team of Dow Sustainability Fellows worked with the Setco Foundation and the people of Dolatpura to achieve two seemingly simplistic goals–build a better cookstove and build a toilet people actually want to use. These engineering projects represent an important aspect of engaged research: working with communities to achieve goals they identified and address these needs.

In the case of Dolatpura, smoke pollution and sanitation are problems affecting the villagers’ quality of life. Fellows and members of the BlueLab India project team worked with villagers and addressing their challenges by co-developing creative engineering and design improvements which could be easily maintained and expanded by people living in the village. This effort was supported by both the Dow Sustainability Fellows program and the Dow Distinguished Award competition.

West Tallahatchie County, Mississippi

Another student team traveled to West Tallahatchie County, Mississippi and interviewed people about access to food in the West Tallahatchie area. Sparked by local request, the team helped the community develop solutions to food access problems and proposed improvements to the sustainability of the local food system.

“Our team feels very connected to the community now,” says 2016 Fellow Anna Bengston, an alumna of the School Natural Resources and the Environment (now the School for Environment and Sustainability) and the Taubman School of Urban Planning. “We have been very thoughtful about transitioning the project into the hands of the community.” Members of the West Tallahatchie community co-created a Community Food Access Council with the student team to improve access to healthy foods in the county. This type of community-oriented research is typical of Dow Sustainability Fellows’ projects and the program as a whole.

Teams learn from the communities with whom they work. Lee Taylor Penn, a School of Public Health student who was on the same team as Bengston, describes how they worked with the community. “With a co-learning perspective, we gathered wisdom and knowledge present in the community and combined it with our research.” This both enhanced the team’s learning and ensured the community was a project partner.


Fellows use transdisciplinary collaboration to implement solutions-driven science and achieve practical, sustainable outcomes. (Transdisciplinary teams include different disciplines, and often transcend these specific disciplines to inform the work of the team and the project outcomes. As a result, teams may create new concepts, theories, methods and innovative approaches.)

Approximately 40 Dow Fellows are supported each year with up to $20,000 to help cover tuition costs. Cohorts have access to an extensive community of scholars and multiple networking events to interact with past cohorts, and representatives from industry, nonprofit, and government organizations. Since 2013:

  • 38 Projects: Impactful, solutions-oriented outcomes have been completed
  • 279 Total Dow Fellows: Represent multiple disciplines collaborated with 55 different client organizations
  • 33 Total Projects: Implemented in 19 different countries, 8 U.S. states, and 6 Michigan communities

Giving Back

It’s common for alumni of the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program to remain engaged by serving as volunteer mentors, working with new cohorts and facilitating knowledge sharing. This interaction between cohorts has allowed some short-term projects to be extended into longer-term projects, start-ups, and social enterprises as different teams continue working on the same issue. See Fostering Start-ups and Social Enterprises.    

Fostering Start-ups and Social Enterprises

  • Caravan: Operating in Detroit’s HOPE Village and West Village, Caravan will improve Detroit’s need-based transportation network and increase access to healthcare, education, and employment.
  • Crow House: Team members formed a 501c3 non-profit organization to continue sustainability education and strengthen multiple Detroit communities through green building workshops and community gardens.
  • Zana Snacks!: An emerging business started from a project with its first sustainable snack product–Carrot and Oat Bar–currently in production.

Interested in becoming a candidate?

Each school/college has its own process for selecting up to 10 candidates to submit to the school-wide competition, after which a faculty committee reviews applications and recommends 40 students for the next cohort. All candidates must be full-time masters or professional student with at least two semesters left before graduation.

Learn More

Made possible by The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars 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. We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are key to individual empowerment, and the advancement of sustainability knowledge, learning, and leadership. See the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program.