Matthew Bertrand in the forest

Green Gifts for Our Blue Planet

Donors help U-M’s newest school get up and growing

U-M alumnus Don Graham (BSEIO ’55, MSE ’56, HDEng ’09) spent his childhood Saturdays roaming the halls of the Dana Building, home to what was then U-M’s School of Forestry and Conservation. Don’s father, the late Samuel A. Graham, served on the school’s faculty from 1927 to 1961. The elder Graham was renowned for his contributions to the school and its students during his 33-year tenure. His scientific contributions, first in forest entomology and later in economics and zoology, were invaluable in helping the new school establish a national reputation of excellence. By his retirement in 1961, he had directed the largest number of graduate students in U-M history.

Today, Don Graham is carrying on his father’s legacy. Alongside his wife, Ingrid Graham (BSDes ’57), Don honored the memory of his late father by establishing the Samuel A. Graham Deanship at U-M’s new School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). Thanks in part to the Grahams’ gift, SEAS welcomes world-renowned climate scientist Jonathan “Peck” Overpeck as its inaugural Samuel Graham Dean. Overpeck has authored more than 200 published works, including coauthorship of a Nobel Prize-winning report on climate change.

Matthew Bertrand in the forest
SEAS student Matthew Bertrand (MLArch ’17) at Saginaw Forest. The forest has been home to numerous research projects and field courses for decades, including “Woody Plants,” “Forest Ecology,” “Freshwater Ecology,” and “Soil Properties and Processes.”

As U-M’s newest school, SEAS is built on the strengths of its predecessor, the School of Natural Resources and Environment. In U-M’s third century, the restructured SEAS will take on broader responsibilities and engage faculty from across the university. The school’s porous boundaries will allow it to work collaboratively with other schools, institutes, and programs at U-M. Together, they will move the needle on the most challenging sustainability issues facing society today.

Overpeck welcomes the challenge of bringing the U-M community together to serve society and achieve a healthier, more equitable global environment.“Our goal is to be the best,” he says. “We’re only going to achieve that by bringing everybody together and making the sum better than the individual parts. That’s what SEAS is charged with doing: to be a catalyst, to be an empowerer. We not only need to help get our university to the very top of environmental research, but to have more impact in society than any other university in the world.”

For Overpeck and the SEAS community, donor support throughout the Victors for Michigan campaign has made all the difference. “The donor partnerships with the University of Michigan are nothing less than mind-blowing,” Overpeck says.

“There are so many partners helping us do these things right now. The Erb Family Foundation, in creating the Erb Institute, a partnership between the Ross School of Business and SEAS, is another example where we have a uniquely powerful program with world-leading synergy. It’s amazing what we can accomplish in terms of helping business partners understand how they can create a more sustainable and just world.”

The dean of U-M’s newest school also acknowledges the Wege Foundation for its support of the Center for Sustainable Systems, a partnership between SEAS and the College of Engineering. And for SEAS’ Victors for Michigan Campaign Chair Peter C. Mertz (BS ’74, MBA ’81), Overpeck has equally high praise. “He has been visionary in his support of our students. I cannot overstate the critical impact that he’s had for our master’s students, and how important that is to the success of those programs.”

Leading environment and sustainability initiatives at U-M is no small feat. Thankfully for Overpeck, he’ll have world-class assistance. “It would be so difficult to acknowledge all of the partners who provide life-changing support to our students, not to mention the vision and expertise they provide for our programs,” he says. “We have so many wonderful collaborators who are making U-M a better place.”

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Interested in learning more about the School for Environment and Sustainability? Read our full interview with Dean Overpeck.

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