UW-Whitewater student wins international water competition, university to host event in 2015

September 17, 2014

Kesselhon, pictured left.Guelph, Ontario, has a growth problem.

Population in the Canadian city has risen nearly 40 percent in the last two decades -- making it one of the fastest growing places in the country.

As a result, the city's wastewater treatment plant is running out of capacity, and people are looking for solutions.

A UW-Whitewater student won an international competition by developing ideas to address the city's challenges.

Chesten Kesselhon, a post-baccalaureate student, was one of two UW-Whitewater students to participate in the Wetskills Water Challenge.

Held in June at Ryerson University in Toronto, the two-week competition challenged people to develop innovative solutions to water problems. The competition drew water-focused college students from universities in North America and Europe.

Kesselhon's team won the competition.

"The integrated science-business major at UW-Whitewater has opened up some big doors for me," said Kesselhon, who collaborated on the winning project with a Jamaican studying in Canada and two Dutch students.

His team was tasked with coming up with solutions for Guelph's wastewater capacity issues. After some initial team-building activities, Kesselhon's team tackled the problem. It was a big undertaking with a small timeframe, he said.

Kesselhon's team

"We were trying to come up with out-of-the box ideas," he said. "It was really hard to not get bogged down in the details."

Kesselhon's team developed an environmentally friendly plan for Guelph that involved the separation of waste streams from homes. The plan involves decentralized wastewater treatment, the capture of waste for fertilizers and the use of an anaerobic bio-digester to capture methane gas.

"We developed a holistic solution for the city," Kesselhon said.

Linda Reid, associate professor of business law and director of UW-Whitewater's Institute for Water Business, said members of the Netherlands Consulate approached her about UW-Whitewater entering the competition when they were touring the Global Water Center in Milwaukee this year.

Reid said Rich Meeusen, president and CEO of Badger Meter and a 1976 UW-Whitewater alumnus, graciously agreed to underwrite the students' trip.

"And off they went," she said.

Reid said she wasn't surprised that UW-Whitewater students were successful in the international competition.

"We have a really unique program and our students are exposed to things, both in terms of the courses they take and in opportunities for research, that a lot of other students don't get to experience until they are in graduate school," she said.

Kesselhon, pictured rightBefore receiving his bachelor's degree in May, Kesselhon was an affiliated scholar at the Institute for Water Business and president of the UW-Whitewater Water Council. Today, he works for Stonehouse Water Technologies, a company that seeks to improve water access in the developing world.

In the challenge, Kesselhon competed with students who also had resumes soaked with water experience. Some competitors were pursuing water-related doctoral degrees.

"There were some impressive pitches," Kesselhon said.

The judges liked the plan presented by Kesselhon's team the best. The team received top honors in a ceremony at the Canadian Water Summit, held June 18 in Toronto.

Stacey Kondrakiewicz, who graduated from UW-Whitewater in May with a Bachelor of Business Administration, was on a team that also tackled a municipal wastewater capacity challenge.

While Kondrakiewicz's team did not win at Wetskills, she said the competition opened her eyes to the many water issues that cities face. She said the chance to collaborate with students from different academic backgrounds and different countries was invaluable.

"All of these students share a passion for water," she said.

UW-Whitewater is about to play an even larger role in Wetskills. Reid said the university, in cooperation with the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, will host the 2015 competition in June.

"We are looking forward to hosting the competition, building this partnership and collaborating with smart water minds globally," Reid said.


Jeff Angileri

Sara Kuhl

Photos (top and bottom): Chesten Kesselhon consults with David Northey, a partner at Coolwater Farms, located in rural Deerfield, Wis. on July 18, 2014.  The fish farm produces yellow perch and walleye. Kesselhon's research focues on aquaponics -- growing food in a symbiotic environment with fish. While there are no formal plans in place for aquaponics at Coolwater Farms, Northey is open to using waste produced by his fish farm as plant nutrients in an aquaponics operation and is learning more about it from Kesselhon. In return, Kesselhon is getting invaluable feedback and practical information from a farmer.  ©UW-Whitewater/Craig Schriener

(middle right) Kesselhon meets with teammates in the Wetskills Water Challenge. ©Wetskills Canada blog