WQP 2018 Young Professionals: Fountain of Youths

Feb. 28, 2018
Five young professionals making waves in the water treatment industry

About the author: Amy McIntosh is managing editor of WQP. McIntosh can be reached at [email protected].


For the fourth year, WQP profiles a selection of young professionals in the water treatment industry. The five individuals featured here exhibit the qualities necessary for success in the water industry. Still early in their careers, they already are making an impression on the companies they work for and the industry as a whole. Many are involved in their communities, and all have the drive and dedication to make an impact.

RELATED: Nominate for WQP Recognition Programs: Industry Icon, Young Professionals & Dealer of the Month

Craig Widenski

Territory Sales Manager Guthrie & Frey Water Conditioning, LLC

Age: 31

Education: Bachelor of Science

Previous life: Territory manager in the golf and higher education divisions of a company that manufactures products from HDPE

Greatest personal accomplishment: Achieving Eagle Scout and developing his relationship with his wife, Amanda

Professional accomplishments: Widenski was promoted to manage sales in the company’s Ozaukee County office, as well as 90% of all companywide residential new construction, within six months of joining Guthrie & Frey. He has grown his territory on an annual basis by developing strong relationships with vendors, colleagues and clients.

Memorable projects: “I have had the pleasure of working with a few breweries and a local distillery. Although I handle the water treatment side, it is a pleasure to be able to learn the rest of the brewing process. It is rewarding to see their products being sold on the shelves, knowing that I played a role in the process.”

Career goals: Continue to develop his territory and create additional growth for the company. Widenski ultimately would like to create a fully independent operation in a new territory in Wisconsin.

Greatest influence: “My parents, without a doubt. My mother has always had the drive to move up. She does not settle and will always fight to find the next best opportunity to develop her skills and help support the family. My father has owned his own business, and is as hard working as they come.”

Hobbies: Golf, traveling, hiking and camping

Hidden talent: “I am terrible at video games, but enjoy any opportunity I have to hustle friends and family in Mario Kart.”

Fun fact: Widenski and his two brothers are Eagle Scouts, led by their Scout Master father.

Giving back: Works with the local Boy Scouts troop as a member of the rank advancement board

Memorable moment: “Proposing to my wife will [always] be one of the best experiences in my life. Having my family and hers all together for that moment will be something we can all share for the rest of our life. It was important for me to have everyone there together.”

Lessons learned: “Every project is different—the client, the water quality, the installation, etc. It is exciting knowing that every day brings a new challenge and new opportunity to learn.”

Kyle Stephan

President Katadyn Desalination, LLC

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor’s degree in organizational management

Professional certifications: Dow Water training in reverse osmosis troubleshooting, SnowPure electrodeionization qualified OEM, U.S. Coast Guard 100 Ton captain’s license

Previous life: First mate with the Tall Ships, teaching teenagers how to sail a traditional ship and work as a team.

Greatest personal accomplishment: When Stephan was 25, he taught a nautical science class at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. “I was barely older than the students I was teaching.”

Professional accomplishments:

  • Moved from an entry-level customer service job at Spectra Watermakers to technical director, to general manager within “a couple years”
  • Headed the development project that launched the SP5 and SP20 high-pressure pump and energy recovery device
  • Project lead on a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency research project to build a low-maintenance, efficient, high- pressure pump and energy recovery device for the seawater desalination market

Memorable project: In 2012, Stephan and his team designed a series of desalination systems for the island nation of Tuvalu. The nation was running out of water and had a broken desalination plant, and ultimately declared a national emergency. The new systems had energy recovery to operate on solar and wind power. “The equipment provided much needed relief for a group of people with very little money and a rapidly diminishing freshwater supply on the island.”

Career goals: “I want to be a part of an organization that builds a better future for all of us. ... It’s 2018 and no one should be without a safe drinking water source. That should be a basic human right, but it’s not. I think we can change that with technology, hard work and dedication to something greater.”

Greatest influence: His wife, whose dedication to nonprofit work has shaped his own worldview Hobbies: Sailing, snowboarding, riding motorcycles, and fixing—and sometimes driving—vintage motorcycles and cars

Fun fact: Stephan and his wife have a penchant for adopting older dogs. Giving back: Helps maintain a 1958 vessel at the Spaulding Marine Center, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping traditional boat building methods alive Passions: Using his skills to bring solutions to some of the world’s most challenging issues, sailing, snowboarding

Memorable moment: Nine weeks into a 10-week Tall Ships sailing tour with a group of 15-year-old boys, Stephan’s team put the boys in charge of navigating the ship. When a thick fog rolled in 500 miles offshore, the boys split into teams, using GPS and radar navigation, giving steering instructions, watching for traffic and weather shifts, and keeping the ship’s log. “It was impressive to watch a group of 15-year-old kids from such different backgrounds pull together like that. I didn’t sleep at all, but they did exceedingly well and I learned a lot about people that night.”

Lessons learned: “We practice something we call ‘mistake culture’ here. Mistakes happen for a variety of reasons, but almost none of them are because of malicious intent. Rather than blame anyone for a mistake, we try to figure why it happened in the first place, and [whether] our communication [can] be clearer in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. … People are dynamic, and in general we all want to be good at our jobs. As cliche as it is, mistakes really are just opportunities for improving the overall organization.”

Kevin Davitt

Owner Homer’s Soft Water LLC

Age: 39

Education: High school diploma

Professional certifications: Class 3 Water Treatment Specialist license

Past life: Worked in carpet cleaning and mold remediation

Greatest personal accomplishment: Owning a business in his 30s

Professional accomplishments: Working with those who have been affected by river flooding contaminating their water wells, and specializing in bacterial iron, high hydrogen sulfide, high hardness water.

Memorable project: Working in West Texas on some large commercial softeners at hospitals, and getting exposed to how high the hardness can be in that area. Career goals: Continue to grow the company and pass it along to his son

Greatest influence: His father-in-law, who gave him his start in the industry and taught him how to do business

Giving back: Davitt volunteers with local with Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts. Passions: Reading the Bible, world history, the Alamo, watching and attending baseball games

Community involvement: Involved in a global Bible study campaign

Memorable moment: A 2015 family vacation to the Grand Canyon. “Being able to enjoy the grand beauty of it with my wife and kids is something I will always cherish.”

Lessons learned: “Never think you have learned it all. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in the industry, you will still learn new things weekly. Customers are getting more educated. You have to make sure you and your team [are] up to par regarding new technologies and treatment. Also, it pays off to buy the better pricier tools. Cheap tools are not worth it and can slow you down.”

Amali Abraham Amali

Graduate Student Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics, Cologne University of Applied Sciences

Age: 28

Education: Bachelor’s degree in agricultural and environmental resources engineering from the University of Maiduguri in North Eastern Nigeria, currently completing Master’s of integrated water resources management.

Professional certifications: Certifications in flood risk management, and health safety and environmental management Greatest personal accomplishment: Led a focus group to raise funds, enroll and sponsor an underprivileged child through primary basic education

Professional accomplishments:

  • Received the African Development Bank (AfDB) recognition award for best submission on evaluating the AfDB High 5s for transforming Africa at AfDB Evaluation Week 2016
  • Received the Professor M.A. Haque’s Prize for Best Graduating Student, in combined departments of Agricultural & Environmental Resources Engineering and Computer Engineering at the University of Maiduguri in 2010 and 2011
  • While serving as a water sanitation volunteer, reduced cholera spread by training 50 household heads on water filtration and purification techniques using a locally made sandbox filter membrane
  • Increased food productivity and resilience to drought by training 20 smallholder farmers on conservative practices in vegetable production using irrigation water-saving techniques during dry seasons.

Memorable project: Improved livelihood of 501 street children and teenage mothers in Accra, Ghana, by granting access to health premiums on the National Health Insurance Scheme

Career goals: Contribute to society by pursuing knowledge, enrolling in and completing a Ph.D. program, working as a post-doc on water projects and, ultimately, working as an active researcher in the water sector to problem-solve in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond

Greatest influences: His circle of three friends: Michael, Eni, and Izu. “They hold me accountable to my dreams and [are] quick to put me [in] check when I am going off track.” Another influence: Professor Francis A. Adeniji, one of Nigeria’s first soil and water professionals. “He has shown me strength in his silence, and perspective in his stories. I studied, lived and worked under him and built all my knowledge of water resources around his principles. From him, I learnt how to supervise and motivate a team and convey professionalism at all times. He publicly recognises accomplishments and handed down tough criticisms on tasks, firmly but tactfully and respectfully. I aspire to apply these principles in the near future.”

Hobbies: Traveling, networking, creative writing, research, volunteering and playing board games

Hidden talent: Public speaking

Fun fact: Amali loves animated movies because the characters “live in a world with no impossibilities, presenting simplistic views to complex problems.”

Passions: “My passions are embedded in my core values for humanity. I am passionate about making my efforts count, helping others achieve their goals and creating a difference; where, when and with whom. Providing solutions to problems sometimes at my own expense have been my happiest moments. Engaged in this, I don’t struggle for motivation, it flows on its own. I measure success by how much of myself I lose to achieve it.”

Giving back: Amali currently volunteers with Engineers Without Borders on projects that provide water and electricity to rural sub-Saharan Africa.

Memorable moment: “A memorable moment for me would be spending my breaks as an undergraduate in the fields visiting family members and friends who had dedicated their lives and profession to community service. This interaction brought me in touch with water plights of communities and formed the bedrock of my inspiration for the water sector.”

Lessons learned: “Learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Justin Kauffman

Director of Asset Management and Field Services Aqua America

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Science in environmental geoscience from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s degree in geography from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, currently pursuing an MBA from Liberty University

Previous life: Kauffman has been in the water industry since the beginning of his career, operating water and wastewater treatment plants in college. “I’ve never strayed too far from water and thoroughly enjoy being at a utility now.”

Greatest personal accomplishment: “I could have gotten ahead faster by making choices my colleagues did, but knowing I did things without compromising my values or altering who I am to achieve success has been my greatest professional reward.”

Memorable project: As an asset and work management consultant, Kauffman helped utilities across the country use data as an asset, improving their operations. He thrives on implementing common-sense solutions to help utlities make strategic, risk-based decisions.

Career goals: Kauffman’s goals include helping his company implement its asset management program, and staying active in conferences and publications. “I try not to get caught up worrying about what’s next; my success has come from doing a great job on the opportunity I have at the time.”

Greatest influences: “The collection of dedicated and passionate field staff I’ve had the pleasure to meet over the years. I’ve learned more from conversations in ride alongs and over a cup of coffee with them. They’ve all taught me the importance of listening and not over complicating a solution.”

Hobbies: Road bicycling

Hidden talent: “Listening. Taking the time to be in the moment with someone and not worry about the phone buzzing or the emails piling up.”

Fun fact: Kauffman knows how to rope a calf. “My father chased his dream to become a cowboy when I was young. While I’ve never taken to horseback riding, I’m a decent roper and keep one at my desk to remind me of his determination to chase his dreams.”

Passions: His family Giving back: “I’m very involved in my church and supporting our mission partners.”

Lessons learned: “There have been many, but a very wise colleague reminds me to not reinvent the wheel. It’s simple advice, but has saved me from attempting to solve a problem that others have already.” 

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