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Rathmann Challenge Win for WIST and Soil and Waste Discipline
Recognition comes with $10,000 cash award

A proposed project to improve Central Sands soils with compost created from paper mill sludge, potato and vegetable processing by-products, and other material was named an Honorable Mention winner in the 2017 Rathmann Challenge. The win comes with an award of $10,000 to WIST and the Soil and Waste Resources discipline, units within the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, in recognition of their past work finding creative solutions to problems and successfully implementing programs.

"We are delighted to be recognized as one of the top five applicants from a pool of approximately 100 proposals," said Paul Fowler, executive director of WIST. "This award gives credence to our collaborative and entrepreneurial approach to problem solving and recognizes the regional importance of our work at WIST."

The Rathmann Challenge was initiated in 2014 to engage organizations "with forward thinking ideas and a willingness to challenge themselves and their professional colleagues to come up with a better solution," according to the Rathmann Innovation Center website. The 2017 challenge ask ed applicants from across the United States for proposals on "Mitigating Climate Change by Expanding the Use of Compost."

The winner in the challenge was awarded $100,000 for past work and the exclusive opportunity to apply for an additional $200,000 grant with an Even Bigger Idea®. The top award went to the Center for EcoTechnology in Massachusetts, Rathmann announced Wednesday.

In their Rathmann Challenge entry, Fowler and Rob Michitsch, associate professor in soil and waste resources, outlined initiatives already accomplished or ongoing at UW-Stevens Point. These included the wide range of composting education and composting activities at the Stevens Point campus and the development and commercialization of a range of new fine art printmaking papers.
Students in the 2017 Midwest Compost School hosted at UW-Stevens Point prepare compost piles.

For their Even Bigger Idea in the Challenge application, Fowler and Michitsch drew on WIST's links to the paper and agricultural industries established through its research and laboratory service functions, and the Soil and Waste Resources knowledge and experience in composting. They proposed research and programming to prove the viability of large-scale composting in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin to build and sequester soil carbon; improve water retention capacity in the soil and reduce irrigation rates; improve nutrient retention and reduce the requirement to apply fertilizers; and improve crop yield.

The College of Natural Resources is noted for providing its undergraduate students research activities beyond the classroom, and Michitsch noted that an undergraduate student in Soil and Waste Resources, Serena Kuczmarski, helped develop the project proposal.

"She put in a lot of work and was part of the project from the start," Michitsch said.

Although their application was not selected for further development of the Even Bigger Idea, Michitsch and Fowler said they were honored to receive recognition for their work in the College of Natural Resources.

The $10,000 award will be split between the two units and used to strengthen their respective operations.
Read more about the Rathmann Challenge winners 
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