This year marked the third year for The Dow Chemical Company’s Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge. Each year, teams of graduate students are challenged to submit a sustainable solution to one of the world’s most urgent social, economic or environmental problems.


Eight teams comprised of 46 graduate students from universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, China and Brazil were selected as this year’s winners with each winning team receiving a $10,000 grant. The winning submissions came from the following eight universities:


  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of Cambridge
  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
  • University of Michigan
  • Northwestern University
  • Peking University
  • University of Sao Paulo
  • Tufts University

Winning ideas from this year’s competition include a third-party credit reward programs that encourages participants to use their reward points to fund clean energy projects, a glacier melt and runoff research project and a project from Northwestern University designed to improve efficiency at the Northern Illinois Food Bank.


I had the opportunity to ask Joseph Warfel (pictured above, in the middle), a member of Northwestern University’s winning team, about his background via an email interview.


MNN: How long have you been interested in sustainability issues?

Joseph Warfel: I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in sustainability; as someone whose primary tool is mathematics, it seems obvious to me that finite resources cannot indefinitely serve exponentially increasing demand.  


What inspired your project?

My advisors, Karen Smilowitz and Seyed Iravani, have been working on issues related to operations at the Greater Chicago Food Depository for several years. My project is similar to some of their previous work, but informed by observations at a wider range of food banks. I am especially interested in food banks that serve rural areas.


What words of advice would you give to younger students interested in participating in the challenge in the future?

Research in sustainability can take on many different forms, as evidenced by the variety of projects recognized in the challenge. If sustainability is important to you, nearly any field can provide an opportunity to carry out research in topics related to sustainability.


For more information on this year’s challenge winners, visit The Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge website.

Students recognized for sustainable innovations
College students from around the world recognized in the third annual Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge.