Green Team Teens Dig In to Heal Their Watersheds

In 2009 Calvin College faculty members Gail Heffner and Dave Warners launched Plaster Creek Stewards after learning that Plaster Creek (named for the plaster mill set up in 1840 to use the creek’s gypsum) is the most contaminated creek in West Michigan. Plaster Creek Stewards is a collaboration of Calvin faculty and students working with local schools, congregations, and community partners to restore health and beauty to the Plaster Creek watershed.

In the summer of 2012 Heffner and Warners added a new Plaster Creek Stewards initiative to involve local high school students in watershed restoration. The Green Team students learn about watershed ecology, develop job skills, and help install and maintain rain gardens. The Green Team soon doubled in size when Trout Unlimited sponsored another group of teenagers living in the Rogue River watershed to work with them.

Now a diverse group—the Plaster Creek urban students and the Rogue River suburban and rural students—bonded in a shared mission to improve the environments where they live. These new friends can be heard singing as they work and sharing lunch together sitting in trees!

The 16 Green Team students are addressing the problem of excess storm water that flows into local creeks after heavy rains. So much of the land that once absorbed the rain has been paved over that now storm water flows over streets, parking lots, and sidewalks. That runoff carries pollutants like gasoline and herbicides into the storm sewers where it drains directly into Plaster Creek, Rogue River and eventually into the Grand River and Lake Michigan.

Green Team members learn how to install green infrastructure such as rain gardens and bioswales that capture storm water where it falls. Here the Green Team is creating a rain garden by digging out the land between the sidewalk and street and planting native Michigan plants whose long roots will capture the polluted runoff water before it reaches the creek. After planting the curb is cut so that storm water can flow naturally into the rain garden. This short colorful video tells the whole story.

While cleaning up two West Michigan watersheds is one obvious objective, another goal is to encourage Green Team members to consider college after they graduate. The high school Green Team students work in the field alongside college student mentors and they have classroom sessions at the college, all helping to de-mystify the college experience. This exposure to higher education has inspired this diverse group of teenagers to go on to college after high school.

 

WMCAT Rhymes with ‘WINcat’—For Good Reasons

West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology, an afterschool program for urban high school stdents, opened in 2005 downtown after three Steelcase leaders flew to Pittsburgh to learn about a similar non-profit there. Spearheaded by Jim Welch, the trip convinced Jim Hackett and Peter M. Wege that what Bill Strickland had started in Pittsburgh could be replicated in Grand Rapids.

A gang member growing up in the 1960s, Strickland was headed in the wrong direction until he stumbled on pottery making. Because this creative activity saved him from street life, he started a program called Manchester Bidwell offering after-school educational classes to inner-city teenagers.

Today WMCAT is serving 150 GRPS students who come after school to their building on Fulton where they take classes in the Teen Arts + Tech program. Class size is limited to 12 students and all the art classes are taught by professional teaching artists.

Art students learn ceramics, illustration and fashion design. Students in the technology side learn to make video games, create audio and video productions, and study photography.  In addition, WMCAT has 36 under- or unemployed adults who come four days a week to learn  medical billing, coding, and pharmacy tech so they can find good jobs in the healthcare field.

WMCAT—pronounced WIMcat—also operates a commercial screen-printing business called Ambrose that trains five-ten apprentices  a year. The apprentices graduate from the program with a marketable job skill, knowledge in entrepreneurship,  and the real-world experience of having run a for-profit business.

Last fall WMCAT’s success was recognized nationally. At a November  White House ceremony, First Lady Michelle Obama named WMCAT one of the top 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Awards from among 251 nominees. Along with a $10,000 grant, this honor identifies the nation’s best after-school and out-of-school youth programs that use the arts and humanities to improve academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollments.

Pictured Above: From the left, Gen-Dairec  Buchanan and Earl Shepherd, two Ambrose apprentices, Jody Price and Kary Furtado Wege Foundation, Wege family members Patrick Goodwillie, Jenny Wege, and Christopher Carter holding the new bags they made  in Ambrose, the closeup shows the WMCAT logo. Supporter of WMCAT from its beginning, The Wege Foundation provides multi-year grants supporting the Teen Arts-Tech program.

Ambrose apprentice Gen-Dairec Buchanan helps Patrick Goodwillie make his screen print. In the background is Adam Weiler, WMCAT’s Director of Social Enterprise. The Wege Foundation is a lead supporter of WMCAT’s l $8.5 million campaign to double their space by moving to the west side of Grand Rapids.

GRCC Steps In To Right an Academic Unfairness

In 2011 Grand Rapids Community faced a serious problem. While 15% of all students graduated after two years, only 5% of African- American males did. Determined to do something about this inequity, GRCC Counselor Dr. Andre Fields and administrator Eric Williams started a program called Alpha Beta Omega as part of the college’s Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center.

ABO invites African-American male students to sign up for an academic brotherhood that provides each of them a mentor, tutoring, school counseling, and the mutual support of their fellow members. ABO students also have the opportunity to work confidentially with a counselor on personal issues. “And it’s free!” Dr. Fields adds.

ABO’s core values speak to the program’s goals. Fellowship. Scholarship. Ownership. Leadership. Citizenship. Inc

Of the first sixteen students who joined ABO in the fall of 2012, five of them graduated from GRCC and a third will finish this year. Two of the five went on to four-year schools and one graduated from the University of Michigan last winter and another founding ABO student will graduate from Ferris State University this fall.

Over the five years GRCC men have joined ABO, twenty-six have graduated. Four have gone on to earn university degrees and twenty seven have transferred to four-year schools including the University of Michigan, Davenport, GVSU, and Ferris State University, among others.

Last fall the ABO enrollment went into triple figures for the first time. One hundred students enrolled in ABO for the 2016-17 academic year. Kathryn Mullins, Executive Director of the GRCC Foundation, says they wanted to grow ABO slowly but are now ready to expand. “The Wege Foundation’s grant will allow us to sign up 350 students over the next five years.”

Dr. Mullins is looking for new students through referrals from area high schools, letters sent to prospective members, and handouts of ABO literature at school events. She wants to offer more young men what the ABO motto promises. Knowledge is power. We are power. Our fate is blessed. Our destiny is blessed.

*Pictured above: Chris Wege, Mary Nelson, Leslie Young, Sara O’Connor, Christopher Carter, and
Kathryn K. Mullins, Ed.D. Vice President for College Advancement & Executive Director of the GRCC Foundation, meeting with faculty and students in GRCC’s ABO program.

Chris Wege with ABO student Jamarri Key at Grand Rapids Community College.
Sara O’Connor and ABO student Artrell Coker.

Chris Wege, Mary Nelson, Sara O’Connor, and Christopher Carter are all members of the Wege family and Leslie Young is the Wege Foundation’s Program Assistant Director.

The Children’s Assessment Center Beams Light on a Dark, Destructive Secret

Every year an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 children in Kent County are sexually abused. Only 1 in 15 of those cases is ever disclosed. The Children’s Assessment Center was created in 1993 as a safe, caring, place where sexually abused children come—800 of them last year—for investigation, therapy, and healing in a child-centered setting.

This month the CAC kicks off the final portion of a $2.65 million capital campaign allowing them to serve more children whose young lives are traumatized, most often by people they know. The Center will move into a LEED-certified, renovated building at 2855 Michigan NE with 14,000 square feet more than doubling their current space. This larger new facility means children will get treatment as soon as they disclose. Right now forty sexually abused children are on a waiting list for one to two months before they can start counseling—adding to the trauma they’ve already experienced. To date, the CAC has raised $2.25 million.

“The support from the community has been overwhelming,” including The Wege Foundation, said Susan Shannon, the CAC’s Executive Director. She wants to see more public recognition that this dark secret—99% of the abusers are relatives or acquaintances—must enter the light of day to protect innocent children. 53% of the children are under age six. Under six years-old.

Susan Shannon likened it to an “epidemic. And we have to talk about it.”

The CAC is talking about it through KIDZ Have Rights, the Center’s outreach program for children from kindergarten through fourth grade. With age-appropriate language and props, the CAC’s educators make the sensitive topic developmentally appropriate. They help children identify a safe adult to tell if they ever receive “selfish” touches.

The good news is that 21,000 children in Kent County from 18 of 20 school districts participate in the KIDZ program every year. That means five times through their K-4 th grades these students hear what to do if this happens to them.

With the CAC’s new larger building, abused children will no longer have to go on a waiting list before their healing process can begin. And with heightened awareness, more adults will be able to recognize and report when abuse takes place. The CAC is now asking for the community’s help to make this happen.

*Pictured above: CAC Executive Director with Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, Mary Nelson, Leslie Young, Wege Foundation Program Assistant, and Susan Bailey from Steelcase who co-chairs the CAC’s new capital campaign.

Wege family members Jonathan Wege, Andrew Goodwillie, and Mary Nelson and Sarah Zuidema, Clinical Director, observe Detective Matt Hooker working with Jaycee, the therapy dog at the Children’s Assessment Center. Jaycee and the toys in this CAC room are ways abused children are healed. Detective Hooker deals with the criminal abusers.

Si Se Puede

At Wyoming’s San Juan Diego Academy every morning begins the same for the mostly Latino students. The Catholic school’s Principal Dr. Manuel Brenes gathers the 210 K-8 th grade students in the cafeteria for a happy greeting, a short prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America.

But then comes the most important exchange of the day. The charismatic principal calls out to his students, “Si Se Puede.” And they all yell back, “Si Se Puede! I will succeed in school. I will graduate from San Juan Diego. And I will go to college!”

This Guatemalan-born man with a Ph.D from WMU has done this every day since he became the Academy’s principal four years ago. And this daily motivator is clearly working as his first class of eighth-graders just graduated from high school and every one of them is going on to college. This simple, but effective, morning ritual evolved from Brenes’s dissertation study that showed only 45 out of 100 Latino students graduate from high school.

That wasn’t good enough for Dr. Brenes so he had to find out why and then do something about it. His vision for San Juan came out of that research. “Number one is motivation,” he says—hence the Si Se Puede. Second is parental involvement; third is a school environment that supports culture and their heritage; and, finally, friends who help support other.

Classes are taught in English, but since many are children of Spanish- speaking immigrants, Spanish is taught as an academic subject. Because San Juan Diego is a college-prep school, the students have a rigorous basic-skills curriculum along with art, music, and technology.

The private Catholic school opened in 2011 when six priests saw declining enrollments in their parish schools and decided to merge them into one school. Since Principal Brenes took over in 2013, the student numbers have climbed from 135 to 212—a growth he is rightfully proud of.

At $5,100 a year tuition, few San Juan Diego families could afford to send their children there. That’s where generous donors like The Wege Foundation come in. Every family has to pay something based on income. But the scholarship grants make sure no K-8 th grade Latino child misses the chance to chant five mornings a week, “Si Se Puede! I will succeed in school. I will graduate from San Juan Diego. And I will go to college!”

*Pictured above: Bethany Beachum, Fr. Stephen Dudek, Dr. Manuel Brenes, Emily Aleman-McAlpine, Laura Wege in back;  Elizabeth Hetys, Diana Wege and her sister Johanna Osman visiting the K-8th grade Catholic School in Wyoming.

Diana and Laura Wege watch Ivan Rubio, 5th grade student, working at his computer.
Pictured here on a visit to San Juan Diego Academy are from The Wege Foundation Emily Aleman-McAlpine, Johanna Osman, Dr. Manuel Brenes, School Principal, Bethany Beachum, Development Coordinator, Elizabeth Heys, Development Director,
Fr. Stephen Dudek, Cannonical Administrator, Diana and Laura Wege.

Wege Prize Winners Announced 2017

Global Student Design Competition Focused on the Circular Economy Names Winners of $30,000 in Prizes

Winning teams announced in Wege Prize 2017; 2018 competition launched

Collaborative team from Brown University, University of Michigan wins $15,000 top prize with solution to transform organic waste into  animal feed and agricultural fertilizer;  plans real-world prototype with Texas-based microbrewery

Grand Rapids, Mich. May 19, 2017  Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design has announced the winners of Wege Prize 2017, the fourth iteration of the annual design competition challenging transdisciplinary teams of college/university students from around the world to rethink and redesign the way economies work.
The five finalist teams in Wege Prize 2017 presented their solutions to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability at the 2017 Wege Prize Awards, held on May 19 at KCAD. The teams’ solutions were evaluated on factors such as depth of research, technological and financial feasibility, alignment with circular economic principles, and potential for impact.
 
Winners:
1st Place – $15,000 
Team name: Kulisha
Maya Faulstich-Hon – Environmental Science, Brown University (Undergraduate) 
Eric Katz – Business, University of Michigan Ross School of Business (Undergraduate)
Jon Luthy – Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering(Undergraduate)
Katie Matton – Computer Science, University of Michigan College of Engineering (Undergraduate)
Viraj Sikand – Environmental Science, Brown University (Undergraduate)
Solution:
 Kulisha developed a solution focused on working with food and beverage processing plants to convert their organic waste products into an insect-based protein that can be used in animal feeds and as an agricultural fertilizer. Their system integrates a type of insect called the black soldier fly into food and beverage plants to decrease disposal costs while creating additional value from waste that would otherwise be discarded.The team has already secured a relationship with an Austin, Texas-based microbrewery, where they’ll soon begin testing a prototype of their system in an on-site facility.
“This solution is a genuine contender to solve two problems: eliminating a major food waste problem while providing a viable alternative to the current method of depleting fish stocks to generate the protein used in animal feed,’ said judge Colin Webster, an education programme manager with UK-based nonprofit The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “It was clear to the judges that a tremendous amount of effort has been put into the development of this solution. It’s on the cusp of being trialed in a major way, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how that unfolds.”

2nd Place – $10,000
Team name: 
SOMOS
Enrique Andrade – Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
Taylor Axdorff – Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
Ian Culver – Collaborative Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University(Undergraduate)
José Sanabria Vindell – Renewable Energy Engineering, Autonomous University of Nicaragua Faculty of Science and Engineering (Undergraduate)
Alex Santiago Ramírez Cárdenas – Environmental Engineering, Autonomous University of Nicaragua Faculty of Science and Engineering (Undergraduate)

Solution:
 SOMOS developed a solution focused on helping small coffee farmers operating in Nicaragua’s Miraflor Natural Reserve halt the negative environmental impact of their production process while also taking advantage of the waste byproducts of that process to produce other raw materials which can be exported for additional revenue.
The team’s solution was informed by extensive localized research and observation. Team members from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University travelled to Nicaragua on several occasions to interview key stakeholders in Miraflor’s coffee production industry alongside their Nicaraguan teammates.
“SOMOS was succinct in both their presentation and the way they addressed our questions, and that allowed the strengths of their solution to come to the surfaces,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator and nationally known sculptor who’s also a Next-Gen Board Member of The Wege Foundation. “What really impressed us most was the team’s on-the-ground approach; they went to the source of the problem and were deeply inspired by what they encountered. This solution could be adopted by other mountainous coffee farming regions, and that’s a great story.”

3rd Place – $5,000
Team name: 
Cheruvu

Nikhitha Rao Cheeti – Public Policy, University of Michigan Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy(Graduate) 
Aniket Deshmukh – Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering (Graduate)
Shamitha Keerthi – Resource Ecology Management, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Samhita Shiledar  – Chemical Engineering/Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan College of Engineering/School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Kavya Vayyasi – Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (Graduate)
Solution: Using their home country of India as a case study, Cheruvu developed a solution focused on the creation of a sustainable enterprise that employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to help farmers in India increase crop yields, mitigate risk, and improve their economic standing by providing them with access to high-resolution data on best agricultural practices, soil nutrients, climate, and satellite imagery.

Like SOMOS, the members of Cheruvu developed their project largely through on-site interaction with those most affected by the problem they were trying to solve. The team, composed of five students originally from India who are currently pursuing their graduate studies at the University of Michigan, conducted extensive interviews with farmers in India who are struggling to maintain profitability, as well as other key stakeholders.

“We were really struck by the depth of the ground fieldwork undertaken by Cheruvu. The team was able to prototype their solution in a real-world context, and we were touched by how much they cared about helping small farmers compete in what is an increasingly complex and evolving industry,” said judge Gretchen Hooker, a biomimicry specialist with the Biomimicry Institute. “Moving forward we’re interested to see how their solution can help farmers reduce their dependence and chemical fertilizers and encourage them to adopt a circular model that prioritizes the ongoing health of the soil.”

The other two finalist teams—EcoReturns and Remade in China—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award for earning a place in the final stage of the competition.
EcoReturns, which included undergraduate and graduate students from the University of British Columbia, Yale University, and Lund University, focused on rethinking seafood production in ways that directly address the impact on marine ecosystems while promoting community involvement and consumer engagement. The team presented an investment model that enables individual and institutional investors to support marine ecosystem restoration and the adoption of sustainable, small-scale management practices in British Columbia’s fisheries while obtaining both ecological and financial returns.
Remade in China, an all-graduate student team representing Parthenope University of Naples, Beijing Normal University, and Delft University of Technology, presented a solution focused on the development of a modeling tool that can help urban environments develop food, energy, and water systems that unite policy and technology to meet consumer needs while maximizing both the value of resources and the systems’ ability to recover and reuse them. 
Previous competitions were open exclusively to undergraduate students, but for 2017 Wege Prize was open to both undergraduate and graduate students worldwide. Teams were asked to create a solution to the following “wicked” problem: How can we create a circular economy? Each team – composed of five students and representing different academic institutions and majors of study – had to leverage its transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business, non-profit organization, or other solution that could function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economy.

Unlike our current linear model, in which we take, make, and dispose, a circular economic model is restorative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. Using a systemic approach, teams had to not only design a compelling and innovative solution, but consider its economics and viability within natural, social, and financial systems as well.
“All of the finalist teams in Wege Prize 2017 have displayed an extraordinary amount of courage, dedication, and compassion for the future of our world, and for that we thank them,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “I challenge all of our finalists to use their experiences in this competition to continue moving forward, to expand on their existing ideas and to remain fearless in building the future.”
The five finalist teams were chosen out of an original field of 25 teams representing 38 different academic institutions from 17 countries around the world. Over the course of seven months, teams developed their ideas from a one-page proposal into a multifaceted design solution informed by their own research, ideation, and experimentation as well as direct feedback from the judges, culminating in the final presentations on May 19.
“With the inclusion of graduate students for the first time in this year’s competition, we were thrilled to see an increase in participation and geographical reach as well as many teams combining undergraduate and graduate students,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD Sustainability Officer, Collaborative Design program chair and Wege Prize organizer. “As the competition grows, so too does the commitment of the teams and the strength and cogency of their ideas. As we congratulate this year’s winners, we also look forward to the incredible possibilities that lie ahead.”
 
Thanks to the continuing support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2018 will be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will again be focused on the circular economy. 
 

Team registration will open in August 2017, but those interested in participating are encouraged to begin building their teams and brainstorming ideas now by connecting with other potential participants on the Wege Prize Facebook Group. Educators and other professionals who are interested in contributing their expertise are encouraged to contact wicked@wegeprize.org for more information.

Details about Wege Prize 2018 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org. 

About Wege Prize:
Wege Prize, a West Michigan-born concept developed by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’ (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is a collaborative design competition that gives teams of college students the chance to work across disciplines, use design thinking principles, and contend for $30,000 in total cash prizes, all while helping to show the world what the future of problem solving looks like. The challenge is to design a product, service, or business model that can function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economic model. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org. 
 
About The Wege Foundation:
Planting seeds that develop leaders in economicology, health, education, and arts, and enhance the lives of people in West Michigan and around the world. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.org.

About KCAD:
Located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation, and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu.

Wege Family Tours Blandford Nature Center

*Pictured above from the left, Laura Wege, Blandford Nature Center President Jason Meyer, Blandford Development Director Corey Turner, Wege Foundation staff member Katy Furtado, Patrick Goodwillie, Diana Wege, Wege Foundation staff member Jody Price at the Nature Center’s new visitors center named for Blandford’s founder Mary Jane Dockeray.

 

In April 2017, Patrick Goodwillie, Diana Wege, and Laura Wege, three members of the Wege family, and Jody Price and Katy Furtado, Wege Foundation staff members toured Blandford Nature Center. They were among the first to visit the new the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center named for the Nature Center’s founder. And they saw the original visitor’s building renamed for their father and grandfather.

This partnership between Blandford and The Wege Foundation began in 2009 when the 143-acre Nature Center lost Kent County support and became a 501 C-3 non-profit funded by private donations. The first giver when the taxpayers could no longer keep it going was The Wege Foundation. Peter Wege made a five-year commitment to fund Blandford from 2009 until 2014.

Blandford’s President/CEO Jason Meyer summarized the significance of that first gift. “Simply put, Blandford Nature Center may not even exist today had The Wege Foundation not stepped in to support us through our transition to nonprofit management.

“Our nature center, and the thousands of people we reach with our mission each year, are thankful for The Wege Foundation’s generous support. We are proud to call our fully-renovated former facility the Peter M. Wege Environmental Education Center.”

Jody Price, Katy Furtado, Diana Wege, Laura Wege, Jason Meyer, and Patrick Goodwillie on the nature trail at Blandford Nature Center.

The Wege family also celebrated The Wege Foundation’s role in the recent real-estate transaction that doubled the Nature Center’s property when the Land Conservancy of West Michigan took over the 121-acre former Highlands Golf Course adjacent to the Center. The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Ken and Judy Betz family, and the Cook Foundation made the lead gifts to buy the property.

Adding the former golf course’s 121 acres to Blandford’s gives the Nature Center 264 acres of permanently preserved green space inside the city limits open to the public. Consistent with The Wege Foundation’s original environmental focus, instead of the proposed development of the century-old golf course into homes and condos, the land is being converted back to its natural state rich with wetlands and wildlife habitats.

Wege Prize competition organizers are thrilled to announce the finalist teams for Wege Prize 2017!

Finalist teams named in international design competition focused on the circular economy; 
five innovative ideas will face off for $30,000 in total cash prizes
 
Wege Prize 2017 finalists will present complete solutions on May 19, 2017;
Internationally-recognized judges to evaluate and award $30k in prizes at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI
 

Grand Rapids, Mich. April 19, 2017 – Wege Prize, a uniquely transdisciplinary design competition based in West Michigan focused on rethinking and redesigning how our economy works, has selected five teams of college/university students from around the world to move on to the final stage of the fourth annual competition. Now, those efforts will culminate in a presentation to a panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability.

At the 2017 Wege Prize Awards on May 19, 2017 at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A., the five teams will present their ideas in full to the judges, who will choose a first, second, and third place winner. The top award of $15,000 will be given to the winning team, with awards of $10,000 and $5,000 going to the second-place and third-place teams, respectively.

Teams were asked to create a solution to the following “wicked” problem: How can we create a circular economy? Each team – composed of five college/university students, both undergraduate and graduate, representing different academic institutions and majors of study – had to leverage its transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business, non-profit organization, or other solution that could function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economy.

Unlike our current linear model, in which we take, make, and dispose, a circular economic model is restorative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. Using a systemic approach, teams had to not only design a compelling and innovative solution, but consider its economics and viability within natural, social, and financial systems as well.
 
Wege Prize is organized by KCAD’s Wege Center for Sustainable Design with support from the Wege Foundation.
 
“KCAD is proud to work alongside the Wege Foundation to empower students from around the world to be bold and broad in their consideration of the world, their place in it, and the challenges we all face together,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “Wege Prize is a powerful platform for elevating discourse and inspiring action, and we commend these finalist teams and all of our competitors for their collaborative and creative spirit, their thirst for innovation, and their dedication to realizing positive and lasting change.” 

Wege Prize 2016 Finalists
 
  • Team: Cheruvu
    Schools represented: University of Michigan, College of Engineering; University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment
    Cheruvu has developed a solution focused on the creation of a sustainable enterprise that employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to help farmers in developing countries increase crop yields, mitigate risk, and improve their economic standing by providing them with access to high-resolution data on best agricultural practices, soil nutrients, climate, and satellite imagery. 
  • Team: EcoReturns
    Schools represented: Lund University (Sweden), Yale University (United States), The University of British Columbia (Canada)
    EcoReturns’ solution is focused on rethinking seafood production in ways that directly address the impact on marine ecosystems while promoting community involvement and consumer engagement. They’ve created an investment model that enables individual and institutional investors to support marine ecosystem restoration and the adoption of sustainable, small-scale management practices in British Columbia’s fisheries while obtaining both ecological and financial returns.
  • Team: Kulisha
    Schools represented: Brown University (United States), University of Michigan (United States)
    Kulisha has developed a solution focused on working with food and beverage processing plants to convert their organic waste products into an insect-based protein that can be used in animal feeds and as an agricultural fertilizer. Their system integrates a type of insect called the black soldier fly into food and beverage plants to decrease disposal costs while creating additional value from waste that would otherwise be discarded.
  • Team: Remade in China
    Schools represented: Beijing Normal University (China), Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), Parenthope University of Naples (Italy)
    Remade in China’s solution is focused on the development of a modeling tool that can help urban environments develop food, energy, and water systems that unite policy and technology to meet consumer needs while maximizing both the value of resources and the systems’ ability to recover and reuse them.
  • Team: SOMOS
    Schools represented: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (United States), National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (Nicaragua)SOMOS has developed a solution focused on helping small coffee farmers operating in Nicaragua’s Miraflor Natural Reserve halt the negative environmental impact of their production process while also taking advantage of the waste byproducts of that process to produce other raw materials that can be exported for additional revenue. 

Wege Prize 2017 began with a field of 25 teams representing 38 different academic institutions from 17 countries around the world, including, for the first time, graduate-level students. Over the last five months, teams have developed their ideas from a one-page proposal into a multifaceted design solution informed by their own research, ideation, and experimentation as well as direct feedback from the judges. Now, the five finalist teams will have two months to translate their work into a cohesive and compelling presentation.

“As part of our mission to continue growing the scope and reach of the competition, we opened Wege Prize 2017 up to include graduate students, and we’re thrilled with the diversity­—both disciplinary and geographical—of this year’s field,” shared Gayle DeBruyn, Wege Prize coordinator and Chair of KCAD’s Collaborative Design program. “We’re anticipating well-considered, fully developed solutions from our finalist teams that are both elegant and actionable.”

For the final competition on May 19, the judges will gather in Grand Rapids to converge their own unique perspectives, knowledge, and talents to determine which solution inspires the greatest hope for success. Solutions will be judged on a variety of factors relating to process, understanding of the circular economy, depth of research, effective communication, and economic and logistic feasibility.

 

Judges include:

Michael Werner – Environmental Program Manager, Google Mountain View, CA
Colin Webster – Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation  Endinburgh, United Kingdom  
Gretchen Hooker – Biomimicry Specialist, Biomimicry Institute  Kalamazoo, MI    
Nathan Shedroff  Associate Professor, California College of the Arts San Francisco, CA
Christopher Carter – Independent educator, animator, and sculptor Miami, FL
Those interested in seeing the teams compete in person are warmly encouraged to attend the 2017 Wege Prize Awards event, which is free and open to the public. For those who cannot physically attend, an online live stream of the event will be made available on wegeprize.org. 

2017 Wege Prize Awards
 
Date: May 19, 2017
Time: 10:00am
Location: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s Woodbridge N. Ferris building (17 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.)Event Schedule
9:30 am     doors open
10:00am – 12:30pm          finalist presentations
12:30pm – 2:00pm             judges’ deliberation/lunch break
2:00pm – 2:30pm               presentation of awards
2:30pm – 3:30pm               media/interviews

Individuals with disabilities who require special accommodations to participate should contact the KCAD President’s Office at 616.451.2787 x1150 at least 72 hours in advance.

Need for Inclusion in Environmental Non-profits

Pictured above: Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss congratulates Dr. Taylor after the University of Michigan professor delivered The Wege Lecture at Aquinas.

Artist and Wege Foundation Trustee Chris Carter introduced Dorceta E. Taylor Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, as the presenter for the 21st Annual Wege Foundation Speaker Series in early April at Aquinas College

Dr. Taylor’s Untold Stories of the Conservation Movement opened with poet Phyllis Wheatley who was brought to this country as a slave in 1761 as an eight-year old. Educated by her owners the Wheatleys, in 1773 Phyllis published a book of her poetry, the first African-American to publish in the colonies.

While Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are well known as nature writers, few Americans have ever heard of Phyllis whose poetry influenced them. These images from one of Wheatley’s poems could easily be mistaken for Emerson’s:

The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays, On ev’ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays, Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display To shield your poet from the burning day. But the ‘burning day’ for Wheatley as a slave would have been quite different than for the Cambridge poets.

Dr. Taylor also recounted the environmental abuse inflicted by the early settlers when they stole the Native tribes’ lands because the white sportsmen believed it was their right to have good hunting grounds. She talked about the Trail of Tears in 1838 when President Andrew Jackson drove the Cherokees off their ancestral homelands in the Southeast forcing them on a brutally cruel trek west to Oklahoma.

The inequity for minorities is not over in the environmental world, Dr. Taylor said, when 38% of the population are minorities but they hold only 15% of the jobs in environmental organizations. “You need to go out and recruit them,” she told the attentive audience.

Andrew Goodwillie and Sara O’Connor, two of Peter Wege’s grandchildren, at the 21st annual Wege Speakers Series at Aquinas College.
Two of Peter Wege’s children Jonathan and Diana Wege, Chair and Vice-president of The Wege Foundation, at the reception for Dorceta E. Taylor Ph.D. after her talk on the history of social injustice in the conservation movement.