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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.

Spring 2024 Catalyst Challenges:

Landscape of hills surrounded by autumn trees in La Crosse, Wisconsin

Wild Card

The wild card challenge allows your group to identify, choose, and research problems related to a general area of inquiry, as long as a majority of mentors approves them. You can explore and analyze your own topic, and make innovative proposals to address the issues you encounter. The project must be original and unrelated to previous CTL 300 projects. During the research process, be sure to consider several points of view by contacting and talking to various parties involved.

If your group chooses this option, it must

  • a) quantify and describe the problem in two or three sentences, and
  • b) provide a preliminary list of books, peer-reviewed articles, and links about your topic in your “Topic (Challenge) Selection” assignment submission.

(Consult the “links to starting resources” module link for sample lists about other challenges). For the topic to be approved, the group must convince the mentors that it is significant and engaging enough for an innovative project.

Nature and Human Wellbeing

We depend on nature for our wellbeing: nature provides us with goods and services as well as with aesthetic, spiritual, and recreational fulfillment. At the same time, humans change landscapes and overuse resources. Changes in land use, pollution, and climate change threaten wildlife globally. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that one million species on land and below water are at risk. Extinction of this magnitude will greatly limit human wellbeing, particularly as environmental benefits and risks are not evenly distributed among populations. Among others, some examples include exclusion of native tribes from their land to toxic exposure in communities of color. (https://www.ipbes.net/ )

This challenge focuses on the relationship between nature, environmental justice, and human wellbeing. As a group, identify and research a specific problem related to this relationship, and make an innovative proposal to address it. Make sure to reach out to interested parties and integrate their points of view into your project.

Enhancing Northeast Wisconsin Community Life

The Fond du Lac Area Foundation strives to enhance community life in the region by promoting philanthropy, awarding grants, and fostering sustainable leadership initiatives throughout northeast Wisconsin. Their “Bi-annual Grant Cycle” and “Rural Vitality Grants” award funds to proposals related to solving community problems, agriculture, entrepreneurship/small business development, housing initiatives, youth/adult leadership development, rural education, volunteer programs and workforce development. https://fdlareafoundation.com/types-of-grants/

Identify a significant community problem in our area and come up with a proposal that you think the foundation might fund. To be successful, you must conduct intensive research on the problem, analyze its components, and propose innovative solutions to improve it. Contact stakeholders and interested parties to better inform your project.

Reducing Inequalities

In many countries, women, people of color, LGBTQ+, religious minorities, low-income, indigenous people, and people with disabilities lack access to and power over resources while facing disproportionate risks. Among other concerns, they are more likely to be victims of violence and prosecution, face environmental risks and social exclusion, lack access to healthcare and education, not receive equal pay, and have a limited ability to participate in decision making.

The purpose of this challenge is to address the root causes and consequences of inequalities in a specific community at the local, state, national, or international level. Identify a context, research the people, places, and issues relevant to it, and propose innovative solutions to mitigate the inequalities you discover. Be sure to interview several stakeholders and interested groups to better inform your project.

Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 970 million people across the globe live with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders (among others). They often do not have access to effective care, and are frequently stigmatized, which can result in social exclusion and disproportionate exposure to other risks. Moreover, mental health care relies heavily on expensive medications and therapy while innovative treatments are limited. In the United States, the dissolution of mental health care systems often parallels the rise in homelessness and incarceration rates too.

This topic challenges your group to explore the causes and consequences of a significant mental disorder, research it as much as possible, and propose an innovative program to address it in a way that promotes a greater well-being for all. To inform your project, reach out to experts and other interested parties during the research process.

Food, Glorious Food

Food is essential to human survival: it fuels our bodies and provides livelihoods. Our lands and oceans produce enough food, yet about one-third of its global production is wasted every year. Annually, about 44 million people in the United States face food insecurity, including 13 million children (https://www.feedingamerica.org/). Many do not know where their next meal might come from, and suffer from malnutrition. Other concerns related to food include safety, access, nutrition, rising costs, food processing, working conditions, and sustainable agricultural and fishing practices to name a few. Moreover, the future of the food supply will be further challenged by climate change, environmental degradation, and worldwide poverty and inequality. 

For this challenge, consider one aspect related to food and identify a problem within that aspect to solve. Research the problem and propose an innovative solution to address it, so that current and future generations are able to have access to safe, healthy, high quality, and culturally appropriate food. As you develop your project, be sure to contact and interview people, organizations, and pertinent groups so you can incorporate their insights.