International student design competition at Ferris draws largest field yet

The 2020 Wege Prize competition is just getting started, yet the 7-year-old annual international student design competition is already setting records.

Wege Prize, an international student design competition that inspires collaboration across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to solve persistent real-world problems and rethink the way economies work, drew a field representing 24 countries, 64 academic institutions and 100 academic disciplines, the largest field to date for the competition, organized by the Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids.

Largest crop of young leaders
Organizers are calling the field the “latest crop of young leaders” drawn to Wege Prize, a field of 29 teams of five, each required to represent different academic institutions and disciplines. It’s the largest and most diverse field in the competition’s seven-year history.

Mark Musinguzi presents for team Wet Technik during Wege Prize 2019. Photo courtesy Ferris State University

Each team has identified a complex, systemic problem (also known as a “wicked” problem) they’re interested in addressing, and has begun building a foundation of research to identify where the best opportunities for intervention exist.

Over the next six months, they’ll grow that research into a product, service, business, nonprofit organization, or other solution that solves the problem through the lens of the circular economy, a rapidly emerging economic model that emphasizes designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Along the way, teams are guided by feedback from Wege Prize Judges, a diverse and accomplished group of professionals whose collective expertise spans the circular economy, sustainable business, green chemistry, industrial design, UX/UI design, digital fabrication, biomimicry, public policy, education, and more. In addition to this intellectual and professional growth, teams have the opportunity to win a share of over $30,000 USD in total cash prizes to help move their project forward.

Education meets action
Gayle DeBruyn, a professor of collaborative design at KCAD, called Wege Prize a “space where education meets action.”

“We’re empowering young people to actively learn how to approach problems from multiple perspectives and how to solve them by collaborating with others whose expertise and experiences differ from their own,” DeBruyn said. “But we’re also giving them support and resources to understand how they can make their ideas a reality.”

Past Wege Prize winners have developed a sustainable, circular online tourism platform for indigenous communities in Mexico, designed a system to convert harmful waste byproducts from cocoa bean farming into powerful and affordable organic fertilizers, and created an on-site waste treatment system for hospitals that minimizes environmental impact while maximizing the potential for resource recovery, among many other innovative solutions.

Wege Prize award winners from 2019.

Wege Prize 2020 teams are tackling a wide variety of issues, from reducing dependence on single-use plastic by turning an abundant invasive water weed into bioplastic, to using big data to help homeless individuals in Brazil make a positive transition back into society, to reimagining Detroit as a city of the future through an influx of sustainable infrastructure.

As the competition progresses through its four distinct phases, those teams whose ideas inspire the greatest hope for real-world success will advance, while others will carry the constructive feedback they’ve received from the judges into their future problem-solving efforts, and more broadly, their personal and professional lives.

Follow along with Wege Prize 2020 on Facebook (@wegeprize), Twitter (@wegeprize), and at, where competition updates are posted regularly.