U-M students showcase sustainability research; three teams win distinguished awards

November 17, 2014

University of Michigan students and Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability winners John Monnat, left, and Adithya Dahagama in a cotton field in South India. Image credit: Umamaheshwar DahagamaUniversity of Michigan students and Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability winners John Monnat, left, and Adithya Dahagama in a cotton field in South India. Image credit: Umamaheshwar DahagamaANN ARBOR—Three University of Michigan student teams representing seven schools and colleges were honored Saturday with the Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability.

They were among more than 70 Dow Sustainability Fellows who gathered with faculty advisers, community members and other students to showcase and discuss their research at the first annual Dow Sustainability Symposium.

It’s all part of U-M’s Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, which includes cohorts spanning multiple academic levels and seeks to prepare future sustainability leaders to make a positive difference in organizations worldwide. The goal of the program’s distinguished awards competition is to spur multidisciplinary strategies to help solve pressing sustainability challenges.

“This year’s Distinguished Award winners hail from a wide range of academic disciplines, and they include the full range from undergraduate students to doctoral candidates,” said Don Scavia, special counsel to the U-M president on sustainability. “It’s wonderful to see them coming together to do such meaningful, solutions-focused sustainability work.”

The award-winning sustainability projects, team members and corresponding U-M schools and colleges are:

  • FIRST PLACE: “De-Silting Minor Irrigation Ponds in South India: The Sustainability of Decentralized Resource Distribution.” This project aims to improve and expand on processes by which farmers in South India’s Deccan Plateau region remove silt from irrigation ponds during the dry season and use it as natural crop fertilizer.
    • Student team: Adithya Dahagama, School of Natural Resources and the Environment; Leon Espira, School of Public Health; and John Monnat, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
  • SECOND PLACE: “Community Developed Aquaponics for Sustainable Food Production in Rural El Salvador.” Growing vegetables, legumes and other produce is difficult for poor rural farmers in El Salvador for a variety of reasons. As a solution, this student team developed a system that allows healthy produce to be grown where conventional field-grown production is not possible.
    • Student team: Samuel Tuck, College of Engineering; Sarah Baruch, Medical School; and Samantha Cabala, School of Public Health.
  • THIRD PLACE: “Bluelab India.” BLUELab is an abbreviation for Better Living Using Engineering laboratory. Through engineering solutions, this nine-member BLUELab team is working to improve human health and standards of living for families in the poor, agricultural village of Dolatpura, India.
    • Student team: Michael McGahren-Clemens, Erica Dombro, Cameron Polack, Rachel Ross, Brian LaBelle-Hahn and Mitchell Borchers, College of Engineering; Jonathan Scott Minion, Ross School of Business; and Thomas Veraart and Zoha Momin, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

“The Dow award will allow us to access additional expertise outside our core group, which is necessary for a project with such varied research objectives. We’re really looking forward to taking our project to the next level,” said Monnat, a member of the first-place team.

Award winners were selected from among 16 student teams that received seed funding through the competition. In addition to being recognized at the symposium, the top teams gave formal presentations about their sustainability projects.

The Dow Sustainability Symposium provided several opportunities for students to feature their work and included other activities to encourage interdisciplinary engagement. The afternoon session featured small group discussions on nine topic areas as far-ranging as sustainable megacities, water as a human right, sustainable energy, and trade-offs between climate adaptation and mitigation.

Dow Corporate Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Neil Hawkins was a keynote speaker, along with Susi Moser, an expert on translating complex science into decision-ready information.

“We can only achieve sustainability by working together, across all sectors and disciplines,” said Hawkins, who discussed the power of collaboration. “These fellows will make a real difference in their work around the world—through collaboration and innovation—and we are honored to be supporting such worthwhile endeavors through this unique program.”

Made possible by Dow Chemical Co., the University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellows Program supports full-time graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable and meaningful sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales.

Saturday’s symposium was a “zero-waste event,” with at least 90 percent of potential waste (food, paper, etc.) having been diverted from the landfill.


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M planet blue: the sustainable differenceU-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu.