After years out of the workforce, Artichoke Alum Kelly Westerhoff launched her second career as an entrepreneur, developing sustainable water treatment solutions for NASA.
Kelly Westerhoff, P.E., is President of H2Optic Insights, a startup company committed to developing innovative water treatment technologies based on cutting-edge research to meet critical water treatment needs. During her time out of the workforce, she served as a Board Member and advisor to several not-for-profit corporations. Currently, she volunteers as an IRS-certified tax preparer with a local non-profit, Masters of Coin, started by a former Scottsdale Community College (SCC) instructor (and personal mentor), that provides eligible individuals with free income tax preparation services.
Westerhoff earned her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Union College and received her Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her interest in environmental engineering is shared by her husband, a Professor of Environmental Engineering at Arizona State University, whom she met in graduate school.
Together they started H2Optics Insights, which, in partnership with ASU, was just awarded its second Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract from NASA. H2Optics is developing engineered optical fibers to distribute UV light into hard-to-reach places (like tubing in space, for example). “You know the slime in your dog’s water bowl?” Westerhoff asked. “That’s biofilm. We’re working on a clean, chemical-free way to prevent biofilm in space.”
Westerhoff left the workforce for a number of years to raise their children — three within two years. She was introduced to SCC through her kids. Her daughter, who just graduated from college with her own electrical engineering degree, earned credits during her high school years by participating in SCC jazz ensembles, thus introducing Westerhoff to the SCC campus. Her three kids also participated in SCC’s Dual Enrollment program. (Westerhoff’s twin boys are also studying engineering: one at ASU and the other at the University of Arizona.)
“I was impressed by the campus — the accessibility of everything. It was easy to gain access to these educational resources. SCC felt like a really manageable experience.” When the kids left for school, Westerhoff did the same. “It was time to create myself again,” she said. “Time to relaunch my career.”
But new beginnings take courage. “I was scared to get started. It was hard to go from working full time to being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, and it was hard going from full-time mom to being a student again. SCC afforded me that opportunity.”
Rather than face a classroom full of nineteen-year-olds, Westerhoff signed up for online courses, hoping she could remain anonymous. “It turns out I had to engage.” She started with basic accounting. “I loved the way the classes were set up,” she said. “Not only did I benefit from the interaction with other students, but I learned the skills I needed to run a business. This is what I needed to know to be successful. There was great value, not only in the price of the class but also in the practical skills — I didn’t have to hire someone to design a website. I took a class at SCC and did it myself.” Westerhoff earned her Bookkeeping Certificate in the Spring of 2020, and then took additional classes in Web Design and MatLab, a computer programming platform specifically designed for engineers and scientists.
Westerhoff discovered something she hadn’t anticipated: a community. “I was expecting to be able to hide behind my computer, but I was required to post assignments for other students to comment on and critique. There was a lot of interaction during our online class discussions that I wasn’t expecting, and I really liked it. It felt like we were all changing each other’s lives. Everyone was so nice, and we were just trying to support each other.”
Westerhoff emphasized that getting started wasn’t easy, but the end result was worth it. “The community college system has been so important for me helping to relaunch a career after raising a family.”