Amazon offers prize for solutions to food insecurity

By Jordan Van Beek

Western is the newest host and sponsor of the Amazon Catalyst Competition. Ten thousand dollars is the prize for the person who can help increase access to food on campus for students struggling with food insecurity by seeking problems and solutions.

The submission period began Oct. 31 and will end on Dec. 6 at 11:59 p.m. The judging period begins on Dec. 7 and will end on Feb. 17. 

The competition will be judged based on level of innovation, feasibility, scalability, generalizability and level of understanding of the student experience. Level of innovation is weighted at 40%, while the remaining four factors are 15%, according to Brian Burton, associate vice president for academic affairs.

“We are looking for ideas that address the issue in innovative and scalable ways and that will work at Western,” Burton said.

According to the competition website, proposals from any field are welcomed, including the humanities, engineering, sciences, fine arts and liberal arts.

The competition is open to all Western students, faculty and staff and the $10,000 prize will be awarded to the solution that meets the judges’ criteria. The judges may decide to split up the winnings between up to three proposals.

“Amazon is providing the prize money and the online platform where proposals will be submitted,” Christa Countryman, manager of corporate partnerships,  said. “This is an opportunity to propose unique solutions to an issue that many people must confront daily, both on campus and beyond our campus.”

Food security is defined as the availability of food and one’s access to it. According to a 2018 study, an estimated 20% to 30% of students at four-year colleges experience food insecurity.

“Amazon Catalyst has only been hosted by two universities, the University of Washington and Washington State University,” Burton said. “Amazon is working to scale the Catalyst program, and Western is the first, and currently the only, university chosen to participate in this new format.”

Participating in the competition gives students, faculty and staff at Western an exciting opportunity to use their skills, knowledge and experience to find solutions to real-world problems, according to the competition website. 

“We’re excited to team up with Catalyst, and to provide this unique opportunity to our campus community,” the website says.

The website also said they are looking for proposals that address a visible problem in the world and must present an original, practical solution to bring awareness to that problem.

Once the winners are announced, all ideas will be published so that the general public may benefit from them. Burton said finding a way to implement the projects is something they’re looking into.

“Implementation is certainly a favorable outcome, and we’re exploring ways internally to incentivize implementation for the winning project or projects,” Burton said.

“Amazon is interested in encouraging and supporting people who dream big and whose innovative ideas can have positive impacts,” Burton added. “Amazon knows Western as a university with students, staff and faculty who care about society and want to work to address society’s problems, as well as a university that can work on events such as this and conduct them successfully.”

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