A ‘Catalyst’ for innovation


Junior mechanical engineering major Andy Benn spends as many as 60 hours per week in a campus lab building an off-road buggy for the Northeastern University chapter of Baja SAE, an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The motorsports team, which has developed a strong reputation for consistently placing in the top 20 percent of more than 200 clubs for the past 15 years, will showcase the design, speed and maneuverability of its 445-pound all-terrain vehicle in a competition on May 2 in Portland, Ore.

“Working on the vehicle is an invaluable learning experience,” said Benn, a co-captain of the club. “It teaches you about engineering, but it also teaches you how to be a project manager, which is what you have to deal with in the real world.”

The club hopes to raise $2,500 through the new Catalyst program launched last week by the Office of Alumni Relations and the Northeastern Fund to finance its 3,000-mile cross-country road trip to the “City of Roses.” Two other student-based organizations — the Northeastern chapters of both Net Impact and Engineers Without Borders — are also vying for funding to support their projects.

Prospective donors can browse through the projects on the Catalyst website and make a gift in any amount, starting at $1.

“The Catalyst program makes it easy for alumni, family and friends to follow, connect with and support some of the most innovative and inspiring student projects at Northeastern,” said Jack Moynihan, the vice president for alumni relations and the Northeastern Fund. “Projects are chosen based on their professionalism, innovative qualities, social impact and feasibility,” he added.

Northeastern’s undergraduate chapter of Net Impact is designed to equip, educate and inspire business students to use their skills to foster social and environmental change. It hopes to raise $2,500 through Catalyst to fund some of the prize money that will be awarded to the most impactful student venture at the Net Impact Forum for Student Social Innovation at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center on Nov. 17.

Engineers Without Borders–USA works on some 350 water, renewable energy and sanitation projects in more than 45 developing countries around the world. Northeastern’s student chapter of the organization, founded in 2005, has brought clean water to families in Honduras and Bbanda, Uganda.

In less than one week, the student chapter raised $2,500 through Catalyst to fund travel for two students to Bbanda in August 2012. The students will assist in the implementation of phase one of a distribution system to pump water throughout the village, in which more than 1,100 people must now carry dirty water for miles just to meet their basic needs.

Senior mechanical engineering major Keith Nelson, who has twice visited Bbanda, praised the organization’s humanitarian calling, noting, “we’ve already helped hundreds of school kids here have access to the only source of clean water in the village.”

“Working on projects like this give students an understanding of big picture engineering,” he added.