| Teen journeys across continent in the name of water research
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Teen journeys across continent in the name of water research

A 12-hour trip from Gambell, Alaska, to Golden, Colorado, didn't stop high school student KatieMae Apatiki from pursuing her passion for water research and innovation. And the American Water Works Association (AWWA) helped make it happen.

Alaska high school water researcher KatieMae Apatiki Apatiki, 16, recently made the long journey from her remote community on St. Lawrence Island to the Colorado School of Mines campus to represent her state in the national competition for the United States Stockholm Junior Water Prize, a prestigious award for high school-level water science projects. Several organizations contributed to help fund the trip, including AWWA’s Alaska Section and its philanthropic organization, Water Equation.

Apatiki and her high school research partner, 17-year-old Keralei Apassingok, created a 3-D printed carbon/mineral-based filter to remove water contaminants. Their project was selected from the water-related projects at the 2023 Alaska Science and Engineering Fair, earning them a spot representing Alaska in Golden. (Pictured above, Apatiki with her research poster.)

“It is a 3-D printed water filter that uses activated carbon, carbon cloths, sand, gravel and eggshell powder,” Apatiki described.

KatieMae Apatiki and other contestants at the Stockholm Jr. Water Prize competition in Golden, Colorado“Several different organizations rallied to help KatieMae pursue this award,” said Michelle Hektor, senior manager of development & donor relations for Water Equation. “This became a real community of the Alaska Section members, Golden Heart Utilities for donated AK Air miles, and Water Equation.” (Pictured left, Apatiki with other competition representatives.) 

She added, “It’s important to support student education to encourage the next generation of the water workforce. I hope KatieMae and other students are positively impacted by the community that came together to fund the trip. Maybe one day they’ll become AWWA members, and we’ll hear about them doing great things for the water sector.”

Apatiki was accompanied by her aunt, Mali Apatiki. The competition drew entries from 34 states and Puerto Rico. An entry from Connecticut was named the winner of the cash prize of $10,000, a crystal trophy, and the opportunity to represent the United States at the international Stockholm Junior Water Prize held during Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden.

The experience provided Apatiki an opportunity to hone her design skills and network with other students with a passion for water. "It was a lot of fun," she said. "I made friends with a few of the other contestants."