Wege Prize 2020 Design Competition Winners

Global Student Design Competition  Ignites Game-Changing Sustainable Solutions  for the Economy of the Future, Provides Powerful  and Accessible Platform for Systemic Change

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)
Announces Winners of Wege Prize 2020 Design Competition; 2021 competition launched

Team of students studying in Uganda and the United States wins top prize of $15,000 USD with a proposal to transform one of the world’s most invasive plants into a biodegradable raw material that could help make single-use plastic products obsolete.

Grand Rapids, Mich. June 3, 2020 – Covid. Climate. Injustice. Waste. Disparity. Hunger. Poverty. So much is at critical mass in our world that we have no choice but to address multiple interconnected global issues simultaneously. And if we’re to solve these complex, layered problems, we need individuals capable of working across the barriers that divide us to drive systems-level change.

That’s why Wege Prize—an annual international design competition organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)—provides a powerful and accessible platform for any college or university student in the world to develop tangible solutions to “wicked” problems through a collaborative process that transcends disciplinary, cultural, and institutional boundaries.

Wege Prize teams are inspired to reframe the way we produce and consume by developing products, services, business models, or other solutions that address systematic issues while also helping power a transition from our current linear economy—in which we take, make, and dispose—to a circular economy that’s regenerative by design.

At the recent 2020 Wege Prize Awards, the five finalists that emerged from an initial field of 29 teams— representing 24 countries, 64 academic institutions, and 100 unique academic disciplines—presented bold ideas that evolved over nine months of intensive research, testing, networking, prototyping, and direct feedback from the competition’s panel of expert judges.

The winners of Wege Prize 2020 are:

1st Place ($15,000) – Hya Bioplastics – Click here to learn more about the Hya Bioplastics team.

Institutions represented: Georgia Institute of Technology (United States), Makerere University (Uganda)
Disciplines represented: Commerce, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Civil Engineering, Industrial Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering

Solution: What if one of the world’s most invasive plants could help spell the end for single-use plastic?
Hya Bioplastics is developing a process that blends dried water hyacinth fibers and boiled cassava starch into a biodegradable raw material for the production of disposable plates, cups, silverware, and packaging. At the same time, the process helps mitigate the threats posed by the spread of water hyacinth.

With approximately 86% of the more than 400 million tons of plastic produced in the world each year entering the waste stream, the need for alternatives has never been more dire. Similarly, water hyacinth is invading already-scarce freshwater sources around the world at an alarming rate, growing up to 17.5 tons per hectare per day and harboring disease-spreading organisms, compromising drinking water supplies, and negatively affecting other marine life in the process.

The true elegance of Hya Bioplastics’ idea lies in its use of one problem to solve another, and in the team’s keen understanding of the systems they’re disrupting. The team has already developed prototype sheets of its proposed material, begun testing product designs with it, and vetted its compostability through a number of different methods.

“We’ve seen a lot of examples of bioplastics out there, but the use here of local invasive species as feedstock is particularly insightful,” said judge Alysia Garmulewicz, an associate professor at Universidad de Santiago de Chile and fellow at the University of Oxford who researches digital fabrication and the circular economy. “This solution is also incredibly replicable and scalable, with a promising potential for real-world implementation.”

2nd Place ($10,000) – Further Food – Click here to learn more about the Further Food team.

Institutions represented: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (United States), Grand Valley State University (United States), Oakland University (United States)
Disciplines represented: Collaborative Design, English Literature, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Graphic Design, Nursing

What if we could streamline and reduce pre-consumer food waste at a university level by offering to-go meal packages and on-campus composting?
Further Food is developing a regenerative system that transforms unused food from campus dining services into packaged meals made available to students during the final hours of cafeteria operations, while leftover waste is diverted to an on-campus composting facility. The system keeps nutrients cycling through campus while also creating economic value, social capital, and educational/research opportunities.

In the United States alone, university students each produce an estimated 142 pounds of food waste each year, while the equally-wicked problems of hunger and food access persist. By interfacing with campus dining services at their respective institutions and engaging in extensive customer validation studies, Further Food was able to envision a viable, profitable, and scalable service that designs out waste, increases food access for students in need, and generates additional revenue, material capital, and educational opportunities for universities.

In addition, Further Food’s solution has the potential to help reverse the stigma around leftover food in ways that could have a profound impact not just on campus dining services, but across our society.

“We’ve heard ideas about campus food waste before, but what really impressed the judges is how this team’s vision extends beyond a single campus and into a model that could be replicated on any campus,” said judge Colin Webster, a learning content manager with the UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global leader in circular economy research, advocacy, and development. “But the biggest implication for me is the potential for this to go beyond a campus and into all sorts of different environments. If you get this right, the model could really take off and become a new normal for how to deal with food waste.”

3nd Place ($5,000) – Pellet – Click here to learn more about the Pellet team.

Institutions represented: Ashesi University (Ghana), EARTH University (Costa Rica), Trinity College (United States)
Disciplines represented: Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering

What if organic waste from urban restaurants and residences could give rural farmers access to affordable and environmentally friendly fertilizer?
Pellet is developing a system to do just that by tackling persistent waste streams while creating economic opportunity, nurturing soil health, and aiming to jumpstart a budding industry in Rwanda in the process.

With 80% of Rwandans involved in agriculture, and the industry comprising 30% of the country’s GDP, the demand for fertilizer is incredibly high, around 49,000 megatons in 2019 alone. Most famers rely on imported synthetic fertilizer that are not only expensive, they contaminate groundwater, damage existing microorganisms, and contribute to global warming due to their volitization.

At the same time, the lack of proper waste disposal in cities like Kigali creates a host of social and health problems. So, instead of discarding organic waste into poorly-designed landfills, Pellet proposes to upcycle this waste into organic fertilizer pellets that promote soil health, increase crop yield, and negate detrimental environmental impacts, all at a 35% cheaper cost to the farmers.

Pellet has already prototyped their process and product at EARTH University, where they achieved 50% greater yield on a maize crop planted with their organic fertilizer versus a crop fed with imported synthetic fertilizer.

“Pellet brought incredibly solid research, proven results, and a rock-solid business model to the table that really impressed the judges ,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator, seasoned animator/story board artist, and a nationally-known sculptor who’s also a trustee and board member of The Wege Foundation, which provides financial support for Wege Prize. “More than just filling a need, their product impacts the social, economic, and agricultural sectors of Rwanda in interconnected ways that could serve as a powerful example for other areas in the region to follow.”

The other two finalist teams—Team Biochar and yOIL—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award.

Team Biochar, composed of Ghanaian students studying in Ghana, Kenya, the Netherlands, and Uganda, developed a system to convert Ghana’s abundance of pineapple waste—which is currently either burned, discarded on the ground/in bodies of water, or buried in the soil—into biochar and compost that can be used to improve soil fertility, increase crop yield, and enhance food security while eliminating environmental pollution and reducing the spread of disease. Click here to learn more about Team Biochar.

yOIL, a team of Canadian students studying at the University of Calgary, developed a biological system for addressing the problems Canada’s unpredictable climate and short growing season pose to the country’s canola oil industry, namely excess chlorophyll from seeds diluting the quality of the oil while raising production costs, and a fungus that leaches nutrients from canola crops in cold and humid conditions. The team’s system removes chlorophyll from the oil and repurposes it into an anti-fungal treatment, reducing costs and waste while increasing product quality. Click here to learn more about the yOIL team.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Wege Prize Awards were the first to be held in an entirely virtual format. Despite the challenges of social distancing, all of the five finalist teams were able to create what judges collectively called the competition’s strongest body of finalist ideas in its seven-year history.

“With everything the global COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing loss of normalcy has taken from us, it’s also given us an enormous opportunity,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize organizer. “Because why should we settle for returning to normal when we have a chance to build something better? A world where we stop accepting wicked problems like waste, environmental degradation, poverty, and inequality as inevitable and start challenging, rethinking, and redesigning the systems that perpetuate them. Wege Prize is about so much more than the awards; it’s about empowering ourselves and each other to embrace new ways of thinking, seeing, and working together.”

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2021 will again be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will be focused on developing a circular economy.

Team registration will open in August 2020, but interested faculty, students and professionals are encouraged to begin making connections, building teams, and generating ideas now.

More details about Wege Prize 2021 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’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is an annual competition that ignites games-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries and redesign the way economies work. To learn more, go to wegeprize.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.

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.com.





Kids’ Food Basket: Growing Direct Food Access and Urban Agriculture in Grand Rapids

Written content by Amanda St. Pierre • Videographer/photographer by Bryan Esler.

The Wege Foundation was pleased to support the construction of the new Kids’ Food Basket headquarters and its sustainable urban farm program.

Kids’ Food Basket was founded in 2002. Each weekday throughout the school year and summer, the organization provides equitable access to a healthy, balanced evening meal, called a sack supper, to local elementary children (ages 3-12) who live in food-insecure households. They currently serve 8,600 children across four counties in West Michigan.

The organization’s new headquarters and urban farm is located on Plymouth Avenue near Leonard Street on Grand Rapids’ northeast side.

Each day during the growing season, student groups and volunteers from the area come to the 10-acre chemical-free, sustainably-grown farm to learn about cultivating, harvesting, and providing fresh fruits and vegetables for our community.

Developing Urban Agriculture in Grand Rapids

Kids’ Food Basket’s urban farm and brand new LEED-designed headquarters was only a dream four years ago. As the organization began to consider how to best deliver on its mission to nourish children to reach their full potential, they began looking around the country to see what other organizations were doing.

“We learned that the most successful organizations were combining direct access to food, like our sack supper program, with education. We need to teach kids where food comes from and how to make life-long healthy food choices. We decided that this is how we would continue to grow,” said Bridget Clark Whitney, Founding CEO of Kids’ Food Basket.

Up until this point, Kids’ Food Basket had rented its facility. In the organization’s 17-year history, it had moved five times to accommodate growth in response to community needs.

They saw an opportunity to change this with the property at Plymouth and Leonard—the last remaining farmland in the City of Grand Rapids. After being farmed for over 100 years, the lot was vacant and for sale. In addition to land for farming, space was also available for a new Kids’ Food Basket headquarters. It was serendipitous.

“We embarked on our Feeding Our Future Campaign three years ago. The Wege Foundation’s grant was the first gift to this campaign. They stepped up and said we believe in what you are doing, and we want to get behind you,” said Afton DeVos, Kids’ Food Basket Chief Operating Officer.

In its first full growing season, Kids’ Food Basket served 87,000 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm. Another five tons were donated to local nonprofits, including Feeding America. Totals from 2019’s harvest are still being calculated as the farm continues to produce.

Growing Environmental Sustainability

“We know that kids are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. If properly cultivated, those values can mature into ecological literacy and ultimately into sustainable patterns of living,” Bridget said. “We’re so grateful for the leadership of the Wege Foundation in this space. From them, we’ve learned about environmental sustainability and the kind of organization we want to be. They’ve made us better.”

Sunflowers on the farm are great for the bees and other pollinators. They will eventually breakdown to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. They also make great gifts for Kids’ Food Basket friends.
Troy Vos, Kids’ Food Basket Youth Engagement Manager with students from Allendale Middle School

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 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.


Now in its fourth year, Wege Prize is a global transdisciplinary design competition that gives teams of five college/university students the chance to work collaboratively, 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.


Any college/university student, in any program, anywhere in the world! New for 2017, both undergraduate and graduate level students are eligible to compete. Students must be enrolled in a full-time (or equivalent) program.



Teams must leverage their transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business/non-profit organization, or other solution that addresses the following wicked problem: How can we create a circular economy?

A circular economy is one that is restorative by design, aiming to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times – where resources can be re-adapted for use without limiting the desirability of products or the flow of revenue.



Wege Prize is designed to provide a robust learning experience, broken down into four phases. After each phase, teams will receive direct feedback from the judges in order to continue developing their solutions.



Whether you’re a new or returning student looking to participate, a faculty member looking to inspire your students towards new experiences, or a professional interested in spreading the word or getting involved as a mentor, it’s easy to get started.

Explore the competition further at wegeprize.org and join the Wege Prize Facebook group, where you can share ideas, connect with other wicked problem solvers from around the world, and begin building a team!

Team registration is now open, and teams must be registered by November 30, 2016 to be able to compete

Please feel free to reach out to wicked@wegeprize.org with any questions you may have, and stay tuned to all the latest Wege Prize updates via the social media links below: