Graham Sustainability Institute

Carbon Neutrality

Distinguished Award Guidelines

Campus-wide Engagement

This campus-wide competition for applied sustainability projects is designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and engaged learning at the graduate level. Teams work with a project partner on a year-long project. The competition is intended to engage the broader U-M community and is open to students not participating in the Dow Fellows Program and students who have not received previous Dow Fellows support. All teams must be led by U-M Ann Arbor campus graduate students but may also include external stakeholders and consultants.

  • All eligible project teams must submit a Letter of Intent (maximum 2 pages). All eligible teams that have submitted a Letter of Intent will be invited to submit a full application. 
  • See the LOI and Application Page for the following details: Eligibility, Project Proposal Requirements, and Project Review and Award Selection Criteria.

Important Factors

Leadership & Coordination

  • Distinguished Award teams will select a Team Leader responsible for completing and submitting forms, reports, and updates. The Team Leader agrees to be the key contact for the project duration, and remains in good standing at U-M until the completion of the project. 
  • Team Leaders coordinate the signature of a U-M Project Advisor identified in the application and submits all necessary documentation of project-related activities and expenses.
  • Team Leaders ensure the engagement of the team in Dow Fellows seminars, presentations and other activities, designed to help ensure project success.

Communication is the Key to Successful Teams

  • The most successful teams meet weekly, throughout the duration of the project, using a variety of tools (shared documents/folders, phone calls, email, etc.)
  • Teams are expected to communicate regularly with their client (every 2 weeks), faculty advisor (every 2-3 weeks), and the Dow Fellows Program leaders.
  • Project Advisors and Team Leaders agree to oversee and communicate the progress of the team.
  • Project reports will be published on the Dow Fellows Program website and be available to the public.
  • The acknowledgment of support from the “Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at the University of Michigan” must be included in all publications (e.g., reports, electronic presentations) and interaction with media. Please encourage news media to include this acknowledgment.

Project Team Awards

  • One or two projects are selected annually, with total program funds not exceeding $60,000 annually.
  • All awards will be disbursed in two segments, 1) At the beginning of the project, and 2) Upon satisfactory progress, at the project mid-point. Faculty Advisors and Team Leaders help ensure satisfactory progress and achievement of milestones throughout the project duration. 
  • Each team awarded funding will receive a formal notice of award and additional information about program requirements.

Project Team Requirements 

  • Review, sign, and return a copy of the Award Terms and Conditions Form to the Dow Fellows Program (form will be provided to teams awarded funds). 
  • Fully engage with your entire team (client, UM Advisor, stakeholders, and other experts) throughout the project duration.
  • Respectfully engage with the project client and others who may provide resources and different perspectives.
  • Submit brief progress reports and presentations to the Dow Fellows Program and colleagues.
  • Participate in team assessments and Dow Fellows seminars.
  • Fully participate in project activities and the submission of required reports and final deliverables.
  • Submit a professional, final report following a template, and provide copies to your client, and the Dow Fellows Program.
  • Participate in and deliver a professional presentation summarizing the project results and impacts at the annual Dow Fellows Symposium.
  • Reports & Presentations: All teams must submit two written progress reports and a final project report, as well as draft and final presentations to the Dow Program by the due dates specified. Note: Most teams develop customized deliverables in addition to the final report and presentation.

All Teams Must Follow Project Expenditure Guidelines and UM Policies.

  • Teams must expend project funds by the end of the calendar year and return any unused funds to the Dow Fellows Program within 30-60 days of project completion.
  • Requests for no-cost extensions must be submitted at least 30 days in advance of the original project end date. All extensions are limited to six months.
  • Use project funds for direct expenses incurred in the implementation of the project  (e.g., meeting with clients, stakeholders, and communities).
  • Disbursement of funds: Funds will be staged to the unit of the Project Advisor and requires the Advisor's signature. Funding is contingent upon satisfactory progress identified in the approved project proposal. The Project Advisor and unit is responsible for the administration of the funds in accordance with Dow Fellows Program and U-M guidelines. Project funds must be distributed through the unit of the U-M Project Advisor. Funds may not be transferred to another unit without approval from the Dow Fellows Program. Disburse funds for direct expenses related to project activities. Funds may NOT be used to offset faculty or staff salaries, for graduate student assistantships (GSI, GSRA), or tuition support.
  • U-M Policies: Project participants must abide by all applicable U-M policies (e.g., Academic Integrity, Conflict of Interest/Commitment, Procurement, and Expenses, Research with Human Participants, etc.), including any respective unit policies and guidelines. Students needing guidance regarding departmental requirements and processes should consult with their advisor and the administrative or business office within their home unit.
  • Expenditures for equipment are discouraged unless they are directly related to developing a prototype and a clear plan for future use (beyond the project duration) addresses long-term storage and other issues.
  • A change in scope, budget, team composition, or Advisor must be reported to the Dow Fellows Program. The project will be suspended until changes are approved. If the team is unable to continue work, all remaining funds must be returned to the Dow Fellows Program. The majority of funds should support active engagement with clients, stakeholders, and communities. Expenditures for equipment are discouraged.
    • Scope Changes: A significant change in direction, objectives, and methodology may delay or impact the ability to complete the project objectives or meet the timeline provided in the approved proposal. If this occurs, the student team lead must contact the Dow Program to discuss this change and submit a request to modify the project scope. If approved, you will be notified of the acceptance of the request and your project may continue. If your request is denied, all activity for this project must cease immediately and any remaining funding will be returned to the Dow Fellows Program.
    • Budget Changes: Each project proposal is a guide of expected expenditures. However, situations may occur that the budget may need to be revised. If you anticipate that line item expenditures will exceed 20% of the total award amount in the approved proposal budget, the Team Leader or Faculty Advisor must contact the Dow Program to discuss the budget change and submit a budget revision request before any additional expenditures occur. No additional funds will be granted – requests must adjust line items to be approved but keep total amount granted the same. If your request is approved, you will be notified of the acceptance of the request and your project may continue. If your request is denied, all activity for this project must cease immediately and any remaining funding will be returned to the Dow Fellows Program.

    • Over Expenditures: Any over expenditure of the awarded amount on the project is the responsibility of the Project Advisor and the school/college disbursing funds to the student team.

    • Timeline Changes: Any extension of the project timeline (No Cost Extension) is subject to Dow Fellows Program approval. However, no additional funds will be awarded . Please submit a request to the Dow Fellows Program for a no cost extension at least 30 days in advance of the initial project completion timeline, briefly describing the need for the extension.

Additional Information and Resources

    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Supporting sustainability scholars, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program is aligned with U-M's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Program efforts focus on ensuring that each student thrives. Scholars learn that diversity is key to empowerment and the advancement of sustainability knowledge, learning, and leadership at U-M and worldwide.

    The U-M Graham Sustainability Institute administers the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, including the Dow Distinguished Award Competition. Contact email:, phone: (734) 615-8230.

    Community Engagement Resources