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. The Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability competition (Dow Awards competition) seeks project proposals that describe a compelling and practicable 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.
  • The Dow Awards competition encourages proposals spanning the full breadth of sustainability topics, including but not limited to energy, water, communities, food, built environment, transportation, etc.
  • Project proposals in partnership with external entities are also welcome.
  • Since other programs provide competitive funding to support student-led projects focused on the sustainability of the U-M campus, the Dow Awards competition focuses on projects external to the University.

Key Dates 2018-2019

  • January - May 24th: Submissions accepted for Seed Funding (small grant) proposals until the deadline or until 15 eligible submissions are received, whichever comes first. 
  • September 12th: All project teams must submit a Progress Reports Due, which may include a request for additional funding through a large grant (see guidelines for progress reports).
  • December 1st: Teams will give a presentation at a Symposium hosted at U-M Ann Arbor campus. And project teams will be selected to receive additional funding through a large grant.
  • April 8th, 2019: Project update reports due from teams awarded large grants.


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 who are awarded Dow Sustainability Fellowships. 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.


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. Only projects granted seed funds are eligible for larger awards.

  • Typically, two or more projects are selected to receive additional funding, which will not exceed $50,000 per project to facilitate further progress.
  • The total of all seed funding and additional awards will not exceed $150,000 annually.

Expending Funds

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

  • Any funding requests for student wages must include a detailed scope of work and cannot exceed 20% of the total budget request.
  • Funding for student wages is 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.

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.
  • Seed grant funds to be expended by the end of the current calendar year. Large grant funds must be expended within two years of the project award date. In some cases, extensions may be granted but must be approved in advance by the Dow Program staff.
  • 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 Progress Reports

Project teams who have received seed funding must deliver a written progress report by the deadline (see Key Dates), summarizing their achievements and outlining any additional work planned for which they would like to receive additional funding through a Dow Awards large grant. The written progress report should:

  • Be 10 pages or less, including references and appendices.
  • Contain a 2-page executive summary, written for a non-technical audience.
  • Describe progress toward milestones according to the project timeline and scope of work submitted in the Seed Grant proposal.
  • Summarize the achievements, outputs (e.g., analysis, surveys, reports), outcomes, and impacts accomplished to date. Include information about how your work will be used by others.
  • Describe the remaining project plan, and activities.
  • Include a 2-page CV (resume) for each team member (not included in the 10-page progress report limit) after the appendices. Notes: Each CV should outline relevant experience and skills. Teams seeking a large grant should include CVs for the most relevant team members with a max of 10 CVs.

If requesting additional funding through a large grant teams should also include within the 10-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.

Awards 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, 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.
  • Articulate a new and innovative concept (e.g., process, program, service, product, etc.).
  • 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 efforts of the team are practical and will foster sustainability at the local, national or global level.