Student Profile-Dow Sustainability Fellow Merritt Dailey

1. What is your degree? 

Energy Systems Engineering 

2. Where are you from? 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

3. Undergrad degree? 

Bachelor of Arts; History, Astronomy, and Philosophy Majors with a Concentration in Business from Columbia University

4. Can you explain what the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program is?

The Dow Sustainability Fellows Program works with interdisciplinary groups of students from different UM colleges and backgrounds– from public policy to environmental engineering– on sustainability challenges. Over the course of one calendar year, students work in collaboration with an external stakeholder such as an NGO, environmental startup, or local government, and receive $5,000 to apply to their assigned project with the expectation that they deliver an actionable solution to their external partner by the end of their fellowship. In addition, as a highly competitive program with only 34 students admitted annually, fellows receive up to $20,000 in tuition funding for that academic year. 

5. What made you apply for it? 

I first heard of the Dow Sustainability Fellowship through the Dow Program Director, Margaret Wooldrige. At the University of Michigan, I took her Auto 533 course in energy engineering and learned so much from her in just one semester. She taught me most of what I know in the field, and I constantly use her class as a reference point. I was also inspired by the work of the Graham Sustainability Institute, which sponsors the program. Looking to further focus on real-world solutions and to work with an interdisciplinary team of students on tangible sustainability challenges, I decided to apply — and I’m really glad that I did. It’s been an amazing privilege, and I’ve learned so much.

6. What project are you working on? 

We’re rolling out a climate adaptation strategy with The Parks and Recreation Department of Washtenaw County. We are assessing how resilient their parks and ecosystems currently are in the face of climate change — like their capacity for rising flood levels, for example — and are advising the county on how to reduce their carbon emissions across their environmental management programs. . 

7. Who makes up your team? 

In addition to myself, specializing in Energy Systems Engineering, our all-female team is made up of an Information Systems student, a Nutrition Science student, and a Public Health student. 

8. How have you felt that ISD has helped you? 

I actually initially started the academic year at Yale’s Forestry and Environmental Science school, but quickly realized that the program was not as technically focused as I had hoped. Since I had heard great reviews about the UM program, I called the ISD department in early August, hoping for a late enrollment at UM. I was referred to an ISD Program Director, Ronda Hamilton. Ronda has had my back through it all and guided me through the application, registration, and financial aid mazes. It is no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here without her. She is an incredible and invaluable ally to ISD students, and we are so lucky to have her. It is also worth noting that she helped me in the application for the Dow Fellowship. Dina Kurz,  was also very supportive and gave me valuable feedback in the application process, connecting  me with other ISD personnel, including ISD Chair Di Brei, who was kind enough to write my letter of recommendation. Overall, ISD is a very hands-on, personally committed department that has been instrumental to my graduate experience to date. I feel incredibly lucky to be here with the department – they are some of the best administrators I’ve ever worked with.

9. What made you interested in this degree? 

Before UM, I worked at Google for just over four years as a Solution Consultant. While I learned, my passion is sustainability, particularly when it comes to climate change mitigation and energy. We’re in the midst of a climate crisis that has been largely, if not exclusively, driven by an energy demand that has increased exponentially over the years. The fact is: we need new energy alternatives, and we need them now. The global economy is not going to stop producing or stop growing until there is a sustainable solution; corporations and governments will continue to use the energy resources that they have on hand until there are economically viable and efficient alternatives. In the meantime, these fossil fuels are only further digging our world into a metaphorical hole. That’s what drew me to the Energy Systems Program: the opportunity to do more than feel discouraged after reading climate change headlines. I wanted to be part of the solution.

10. What are your plans after graduating?

I’m thinking of continuing my studies and getting a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering with a focus on carbon sequestration and direct air capture. Given the technology’s increasing pace of development, and our increasing need for it, I think that there is an amazing and desperately needed opportunity in that space. I’m also considering working for a climate change related start-up, or starting my own as a graduate student. 

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