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Catalyst Day — held each fall and spring — is designed to showcase Ripon College’s Catalyst curriculum and celebrate the achievements of the students who are completing the junior-level collaborative capstone. Throughout the day, attendees will have the opportunity to watch teams of students present problem solving projects that tackle worldwide issues.

The Challenges

Catalyst 300 students are tasked with developing solutions to prominent real-world issues. This term, students were given the choice of the challenges listed below or a “wild card” option for students to choose their own topic they are passionate about, pending approval by the faculty members.

Fall 2023 Catalyst Challenges:

2 deer in opening of field

Human and Animal Conflict

Human-Animal Conflict is usually described as any interaction between humans and animals where negative consequence exist for one or more party.  Conflicts arise in both domesticated species (pets, farms, etc.) as well as with wild species. Conflict between humans and animals leads to the injuries and deaths of both people and animals each year.  These can come from increased interaction due to encroachment and habitat loss or from perceived threat to persons or domestic animals (Demello, 2021).  As more households acquire pets, conflicts within the home with animals are also increasing, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic (Tulloch et al., 2021).  Governments spend millions of dollars each year to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and try to prevent problems with domestic animals. 

The goal of this challenge is to identify and research in-depth a conflict between humans and animals that impacts a particular place or a particular species.  After evaluating existing programs for their impacts on humans and animals, propose an innovative solution to the conflict that takes into account the needs of both people and animals in trying to deal with the problem. 


Health Care Delivery Reform

Submitted by Mike Kanter, Ripon College Economics major, class of 1967. “A seasoned alum who has fought the health care wars for many years.”

According to Robert Smith, Executive Director of the Colorado Business Group on Health, “The one thing we know about health (in the US) is that it is driven by economic self-interest”. Focus on economic self-interest leads to multiple negative ramifications. A 2021 report by The Commonwealth Fund, the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, and the World Health Organization, measured “access to care,” “care process,” “administrative efficiency,” “equity,” and “health care outcomes” in eleven wealthy nations. The analysis ranked the US dead last in all categories except for “care process.”

This challenge is to come up with an innovative plan to improve an aspect of our healthcare delivery system that you believe needs significant reform without completely undermining existing stakeholders. To do so, you must identify a specific problem, research and analyze its various components, and propose innovative solutions to improve it.

Young student looking at his paintings during art class

Enhancing Culture, Education, and Local Economies via the Arts

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, Wisconsin currently ranks 49th in the nation for state arts funding. For the creative community, this is particularly disheartening given that Minnesota, our next-door neighbor, provides one of the highest rates of state funding toward the arts in the nation. Although some monies are available through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), all federal funds granted through this program must be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state, and Wisconsin does not allocate enough money for this to have a truly significant impact.

The Wisconsin Arts Board addresses this problem by providing grant opportunities to support the arts throughout the state

This challenge is to develop an innovative program related to the arts to enhance Wisconsin’s cultural experiences, educational programming, and/or local economies. To do so, you must identify and research the needs of a region, city, or cultural group in Wisconsin, and come up with original proposals to address them.

Using the intelligence of a laptop to interact with an artificial intelligence. Innovative automation technology.

Digital Technologies and Artificial Intelligence

The continuous development of digital technologies has led to significant societal progress due to innovations in artificial intelligence, automation, communications media, computing, and interdisciplinary research. For example, with regard to artificial intelligence, it can help people with improved health care, safer cars and other transport systems, and easier access to information, education and training, and much more.

Whereas many appreciate the progress digital technologies bring about, others are fearful of its potentially negative ramifications. Concerns about digital technologies include problems related to job insecurity, data insecurity, the spread of misinformation, plagiarism and copyright, and privacy and surveillance issues, to name only a few. 

This challenge is to identify a significant problem related to digital technology, research its various implications, and come up with an innovative solution that benefits society while avoiding significant harm.

Mother and toddler twins playing with wooden and felt montessori toys in basket

Childcare in the United States

The United States does not provide as much public funding as other developed nations to help support young children’s care. Across the nation, issues related to childcare increasingly cause economic and pragmatic problems for families. In Wisconsin, common problems related to childcare include availability, waitlists, costs, staffing, and quality of service, and families often struggle to figure out their transportation, work schedules, finances, and other aftercare activities for the good of their children. Hardships related to childcare have led to significant declines in available workforce, birth rates, and deteriorating economic health in many regions across the state.

This challenge is to identify a significant problem related to the U.S. childcare industry, research and consider its various ramifications, and come up with an innovative federal or state solution that goes beyond what a private business might do to benefit its own employees.