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Dow Chemical starts $10 million fellowship program with University of Michigan

Dow Chemical will fund anew, $10 million fellowship program at the University of Michigan.

The Dow Sustainability Fellows program is designed to support 300 graduate students over six years.

Graduate students from a variety of backgrounds can become fellows. But they must focus their research on a topic related to environmental sustainability.

Dow CEO Andrew Liveris says if that sounds broad, it’s by design. He says the point is to develop human capital to address a complex, hard-to-define issue.

“I like to say that today’s business world is three-dimensional chess. Or it’s like not just looking around one corner, but the second corner," Liveris said.

"So to get the complex system we’re all operating in down to the human level, you have train it.”.

Both sides stand to benefit. Dow gets access to the university’s expansive research portfolio and builds expertise it can tap; Michigan can draw more top students and expand its research profile.

University President Mary Sue Coleman insists the effort can also help make Michigan into the economic powerhouse it once was.

“The legacy that exists here--from the educational sector, the manufacturing sector, the natural resources that are available--if we can’t make it work, nobody can make it work," Coleman said.

Some environmental groups are concerned about the program, however.

"The details of the relationship between Dow and the University of Michigan have not been made public, but groups are raising questions about the possibility that through the gift, the company could have inappropriate influence over the university," a coalition of environmental groups, led by the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, said in a written statement released just after the announcement.

They're urging Dow and the University of Michigan to reveal what, if any, "strings" come attached to the fellowhsip money.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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