Project WaterFed

Student team wins national award

Corning Community College student Jacob Zelko, of Horseheads, N.Y., is leading a team that was named a finalist in the Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC). The team is assisted by Assistant Professor Sri Kamesh Narasimhan as faculty mentor. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the challenge invited community college students to tackle real-world problems using science, technology, engineering and mathematics innovation skills. Zelko’s team is one of only 10 finalists from around the country.

"We couldn't be more proud of these students, and their ability to leverage science and technology to realize their mission," said Dr. Katherine P. Douglas, President, Corning Community College. "Jacob's compassion for those in need, his willingness to be an advocate, and his ability to be an agent of change are exemplary. The Community College Innovation Challenge inspires both transformational thinking and the kind of action that will improve the quality of life for people here and around the world."

As a finalist, Zelko and his team will attend an expense-paid trip to an NSF-AACC sponsored Innovation Boot Camp in Arlington, VA, June 12-15, 2017. At the boot camp, students learn how to make real world changes by putting their proposals into action. CCC’s team is the only team from New York State. Other finalists come from community colleges in Pa., Ill., Texas, N.C., Mich., Calif., Md., and Colo. During the boot camp, teams will present on Capitol Hill to congressional representatives, dignitaries, and business people. These presentations will be judged to determine the top 2 projects. The first place honor carries with it a $1500 prize for each team member; members of the second place team will go home with $1000 each.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for Jacob and his team,” said Narasimhan. “The team is a true illustration of the great advancements that can be achieved by anyone, regardless of where they choose to study. This experience will surely help these students build the confidence they need to do well in life.”

Led by Zelko, the team includes Joseph Davis, (studying humanities and social sciences), Andrew Diffenderfer (studying engineering science), Casey Hale (studying math and sciences), and Patrick Pruden (studying Mechanical Technology). Zelko and Hale also worked with Professor William Jarvis as components of Project WaterFed were part of an Honors Project last semester. In addition, Joseph Davis, president of Culligan Water and father of student Joe Davis, serves as the Industry Partner and has provided consistent and constructive feedback as well as tools that facilitated advanced testing.

CCIC fosters development of crucial STEM skills to solve problems facing society. Teams consisting of three to five community college students, a faculty mentor and a community or industry partner proposed solutions identified with one of three themes:

  • Maker to Manufacturer
  • Energy & Environment
  • Security Technologies

“No one’s future should be compromised because a basic need goes unmet,” said Zelko, whose project falls into the Energy and Environment theme. “Once this project goes live, people will no longer have to devote time and energy to finding safe water. Without that worry, it is my hope that people all over the world will turn their attention to other areas, maybe developing economic opportunities that have the potential to improve their quality of life.”

Zelko graduates this semester from CCC and intends to pursue a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. He has applied to multiple colleges and hopes to be accepted to Georgia Institute of Technology. For more information on Project WaterFed, visit or