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Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan

Jennifer Haverkamp

Director’s Letter

Dear colleagues and friends:

When I took Graham’s helm in 2018, I inherited an impressive legacy that began in the early 2000s with one powerful idea.

Our key benefactor, Don Graham ’55, ’56, ’09—loyal alumnus, successful businessman, lifelong sustainability advocate, and generous supporter of units and initiatives across the university—recognized the necessity of taking an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to tackle existential challenges like climate change. Read the entire letter »

Director’s Letter

Jennifer Haverkamp

Dear colleagues and friends:

When I took Graham’s helm in 2018, I inherited an impressive legacy that began in the early 2000s with one powerful idea.

Our key benefactor, Don Graham ’55, ’56, ’09—loyal alumnus, successful businessman, lifelong sustainability advocate, and generous supporter of units and initiatives across the university—recognized the necessity of taking an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to tackle existential challenges like climate change. He also saw a unique opportunity for the University of Michigan, through its extraordinary students and faculty expertise across a host of disciplines, to lead the way toward a more sustainable future.

And so the Graham Institute was born, with a mission to deploy U-M’s vast expertise to solve the most complex challenges while training the next generation of sustainability leaders.

We are proud of our early work. We connected disciplines across U-M, established a strong and extensive network of external partners, forged new paths in collaborative, engaged research, and shifted U-M’s culture toward sustainability. We also established some of our most longstanding and impactful programs, such as the Graham Sustainability Scholars Program (the first non-degree sustainability program for undergraduates from all schools and colleges across the university) and the innovative Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, which remains an exemplar of graduate-level co-curricular education. To date, these programs have prepared more than 1,900 future leaders for a lifelong commitment to sustainability, and they are stronger now than ever before.

By the time I assumed Graham’s leadership, we were well established as an effective bridge organization, linking the research excellence of the U-M community with the experiential knowledge of our external partners to co-produce high-impact, scalable, transferable sustainability solutions. In the years since, much has evolved at Graham and across the university, especially in terms of sustainability.

In 2020, Graham refined and formalized its focus with a new strategic plan that identifies 5 areas of deep expertise where we make exceptional contributions and have significant impact. Climate change and water resources are chief among those.

Our Center for EmPowering Communities—a key component of our climate work—is an outgrowth of the tremendous efforts of former Dow Doctoral Fellow Dr. Sarah Mills, who joined Graham in 2019. Hallmarks of the center include a strong partnership with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and a focus on supporting rural communities across our state through the clean energy revolution.

Our Water Center, led by Dr. Jennifer Read and established with a generous grant from the Erb Family Foundation, continues to set the standard for practicing  and teaching collaborative science. At the same time, the Water Center has prioritized diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and access in its work, helping our state progress toward available, affordable, safe, and sustainable drinking water and sanitation services for all.

Shortly after arriving at U-M, I was honored to be appointed as co-chair of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN), a group charged with investigating and recommending scalable, transferable pathways for U-M to achieve carbon neutrality. Graham’s managing director, Drew Horning, was also instrumental in that process, and he has continued to move the work forward since the university committed to pursuing carbon neutrality in May 2021.

The PCCN process was vital in raising awareness of and commitment to sustainability across the institution. We are delighted that university leadership provided Graham with the resources to extend our Planet Blue Ambassadors Program to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. This program, which numbers over 8,000 participants, has been pivotal in nudging our community toward greater sustainability, as evidenced by the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program—another groundbreaking initiative supported by Graham.

Along the way, we’ve expanded our engaged, place-based work to solve problems beyond our campus. In the 2022 fiscal year alone, we partnered with communities from Benton Harbor to Bucaramanga, Colombia. A year earlier, with anonymous donor support, we launched our Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program, infusing $5 million into U-M research efforts for the ultimate benefit of people across the globe. Across all of our research programs, Graham helps faculty achieve broader impacts by facilitating stakeholder engagement, policy integration, and translational science communication.

As we look ahead, we feel highly optimistic about our opportunities to improve sustainability—locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who have supported and partnered with Graham over the years. Our success is your success. We look forward to your continued partnership as we grow our programs and impact, working together to create a more sustainable future.


Jennifer Haverkamp 
Graham Family Director



A just and sustainable world where policy and practice are powered by science, collaboration, and creativity


Mobilize the expertise and passion of scholars, partners, and decision-makers to work together and bring world-class research to real-world sustainability challenges


Purpose-driven | We know that society, the environment, and the economy must thrive together. We pursue this ambitious goal with unwavering focus and determination.

Collaborative | We build interdisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships in search of well-informed solutions. We are committed to sharing information, decision-making, and responsibility.

Inclusive | We intentionally engage diverse and representative perspectives because they are essential for just and equitable outcomes now and into the future.

Science-based | Positioned within one of the world’s great public research institutions, we ensure that rigorous analysis provides the foundation for our work.

Impactful | We foster solutions that are practical, measurable, and widely applicable today while developing the sustainability leaders of tomorrow.

Strategic Priorities

These strategic priorities guide the work of the Graham Sustainability Institute. They include areas where we intend to grow and new areas we are eager to explore. They are intentionally broad, flexible, and directional.

Advance the discovery of science-based strategies to combat climate change and its impacts by growing critical partnerships, programming, and financial support for engaged research.

Read more »

Engage all stakeholders, but particularly historically underrepresented and underresourced communities, in policy- and management-relevant processes that contribute to restoring, enhancing, and sustaining the water and water-dependent resources that benefit them.

Read more »

Foster the next generation of sustainability leaders from across the university, providing them with opportunities to tackle real-world challenges in collaboration with external partners.

Read more »

Build the Institute's capacity to integrate leading-edge academic research into policymaking to generate real-world decisions that are science-based and sustainable.

Read more »

Help faculty increase their impact by seeding new research, providing engagement expertise, and improving communication products to extend the reach of research findings and their real-world applications.

Read more »

Strategy in Action: Climate Change

  • Through the Energy Futures Initiative, address key challenges of decarbonizing the electricity sector in the Great Lakes region and beyond, using U-M’s own decarbonizing efforts to prooftest solutions at scale.
  • Launch and build out the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program, including distributing funds and providing programmatic support for faculty research.
  • Play a key role in bringing to scale and facilitating the transfer of practical and equitable solutions that emerge from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality.
  • In partnership with other university units, significantly expand research support for, and U-M’s excellence in, climate strategies.

Strategy in Action: Water Resources

  • Address water resource challenges throughout the Great Lakes region by effectively integrating the diverse expertise, skills, and knowledge of stakeholders within and beyond the University of Michigan.
  • Co-develop and advance solutions related to water resources, public water infrastructure, regional climate change, and the nation’s estuaries.
  • Deliver innovative and impactful collaborative research program management, so that our Water Center is a national leader in collaborative research knowledge and techniques.

Strategy in Action: Leadership Development

  • Focus the Dow Fellows Program on graduate teams that actively engage with climate change and circular economy projects, examining the interconnectedness of sustainability issues and resource use.
  • Work to ensure the Graham Scholars Program develops undergraduate sustainability leaders reflecting the diversity of communities they will serve.
  • Grow the Planet Blue Ambassador Program as a means of promoting sustainability to the entire university community and to connect with multiple aspects of campus sustainability efforts.
  • Leverage all co-curricular education efforts to engage organizations and community partners in mutually beneficial and sustained partnerships supporting experiential learning.
  • Strengthen connections with the sustainability alumni network, cultivating an intentional cycle of engagement, mentorship, and life-long learning.

Strategy in Action: Policy Integration

  • Facilitate partnerships between researchers and policymakers, encouraging broader academic and community engagement in the policymaking process.
  • Strengthen Graham’s in-house policy expertise through the establishment of a policy-focused visiting fellows program.
  • Explore and adapt the best practices of other U-M boundary-spanning organizations and outside institutions.

Strategy in Action: Broader Impacts

  • Partner with faculty on their research grants by leveraging the Institute’s expertise in collaborative research to help shape research questions, convene partners, and facilitate projects.
  • Leverage the lessons, techniques, and skills learned through our programs to amplify and demonstrate the impact of the collaborative research conducted by U-M researchers, faculty, and students.
  • Expand our translational science communications efforts to broaden faculty awareness and their use of these services.
  • Continually evaluate and apply best practices across all programs to maximize our efficiency and effectiveness.

Levers of Change

Facilitating Engaged Research

We work to advance a wide range of research efforts that share a common commitment to partnering with communities and decision-makers. Together, we seek practical approaches and pioneering solutions to the sustainability issues that threaten our collective future.

Developing Sustainability Leaders

We strengthen and train the next generation of sustainability leaders through real-life, experiential learning opportunities. Our programs help build professional skills, model inclusion, and foster an interdisciplinary approach.

Informing Policy & Practice

We believe that research and education must move beyond the university’s academic environment and into the everyday world. We’re focused on making sure that policy and practice are grounded in the best available evidence of what really works.

Strategic Decision Filters

While the strategic priorities provide key goals for the years ahead, these decision filters are designed to help evaluate opportunities for growth and new initiatives.

  • Fills a critical gap, or offers a new solution, that addresses real-world need
  • Consistent with Graham core values (collaborative, purpose-driven, inclusive, science-based, and impactful)
  • Leverages U-M expertise and contributes to scholarship
  • Reflects external partners’ priorities
  • Aligns with funder interest and capacity
  • Compatible with U-M strategic initiatives
  • Balances effort with potential impact
  • Builds on Graham’s staff knowledge and expertise or is a strategic opportunity to grow our capacity in new directions

An Invitation

With this strategic plan, we renew our commitment to co-creating goals and actions in collaboration with others across the University of Michigan, throughout our communities, in our region and nation, and across the globe. We invite you to partner with us so that we may together solve sustainability challenges great and small, and lay the groundwork for a better future.