Western Washington University to Host Newest Amazon Catalyst Competition

Western Washington University will partner with Amazon’s Catalyst program to launch a new initiative built to harness the creative problem-solving abilities of the campus to solve pressing societal problems.

Western Washington University’s Catalyst will focus on the theme of food security on campus. Participation is open to all faculty, staff and students at WWU.

Starting on Thursday, Oct. 31, the WWU Catalyst web portal at https://catalyst.amazon.com/programs/wwu/ will go live and begin accepting proposals for solutions around the many issues of food security faced by campuses across the nation. Proposals are welcomed from any field, including the humanities, engineering, sciences, fine arts, and liberal arts.

The portal will close for submissions on Dec. 6, with judging of proposals to occur by a six-member panel (two WWU students, two general staff, and two faculty members) during the winter quarter. A total of $10,000 will be awarded to the winning proposal. The judges may also decide to split the winnings between up to three proposals.

Food security is defined by access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. A late 2017 study of more than 30,000 college students found that approximately half of two-year and four-year students are food insecure. In fact, at least one-third of two-year students are also housing insecure, while up to 14 percent are battling homelessness on top of hunger – and lack of housing goes hand-in-hand with food insecurity.

Though the fundamental cause is lack of money, in all cases, there are various contributing factors. Students experiencing this level of food insecurity show lower academic performance than those who are not, and although statistics are hard to come by, food-insecure students likely also show lower retention and graduation rates, as well as increased levels of depression and anxiety. Food security is vital to success in any educational setting, and no student should experience hunger or homelessness.

All proposals must meet competition rules and will be evaluated using these criteria:

Level of innovation

  • Feasibility – is it a realistic solution?
  • Scalability – could it work at other campuses?
  • Generalizability – could be it understood and implemented by a wide range of campus partners?
  • Level of understanding of the student experience


Proposals may utilize any of the following prompts as a place to get started; they do not have to do so.


  • How do we increase access to food on campus for food insecure students?
  • How can we bridge the gap between an overabundance of “food waste” and food insecure student populations?
  • How can we use technology to increase student food security?
  • Some students live within “food deserts” where access to nutritional food is minimal. How do we serve students who don’t have access to nutritious food due to transportation challenges?
  • How do we support food insecure students as they are transitioning from home to the residence halls (with little kitchen access) and from the residence halls to off-campus living where they are buying their own food?
  • How do we best provide information on economical food purchasing choices?
  • How can universities alleviate student food insecurity when there are limited resources such as space, money, and staff time?



  • What are ways to reduce barriers and increase engagement for community participation in donating items such as food, funds, or meal swipes at dining halls?
  • What are the ways to sustain the donation and community engagement over time?
  • How do we maximize student access to donated food items or food that might be recovered from on or off campus restaurants and eateries?
  • How can we reduce the “bystander effect” in which people think that “someone else” is taking care of the problem of food security?



  • How do we remove the stigma of food insecurity and increase student dignity while providing resources?
  • How can we facilitate awareness of student food insecurity by those who aren’t currently experiencing food security issues?


Reducing barriers:

  • How do we reduce the number of students who are experiencing “double burdens” such as students who are experiencing both food insecurity and medical issues?
  • How do we support students with families experiencing food insecurity where there are multiple mouths to feed and a lack of time to access resources?
  • How do we address generational food insecurity?

For information about Western Washington University’s ’s Catalyst competition, contact Brian Burton, associate vice president of Academic Affairs, at Brian.Burton@wwu.eduFor more information about the theme of food security for this Catalyst competition, contact Seth Vidaña, director of Sustainability at WWU, at Seth.Vidana@wwu.edu.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 12:29pm