Students analyze solutions to climate-related issues

Rishika Dugyala, Reporter

Students will analyze solutions to “impossible” climate-related global issues under the Northwestern Impossible Challenge, which groups students into multidisciplinary teams to explore these problems.

The Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University, the Buffett Institute for Global Studies and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation are partnering on the new project, which will run from November to early May, said Jeffrey Strauss, NIC project manager and director of industry programs at the Buffett Institute.

Strauss and David Paul, author of “Standards that Measure Solutions: A Guide to Solving 21st Century Problems,” developed the program based on the methodology of Paul’s book, which argues that people might go about solving complex global problems by breaking them down into phases.

At NIC, students will pick one of the four projects’ target solutions, or pitch their own for this year’s chosen problem — climate change — and explore a solution that could work at a global scale, Paul said. Under the guidance of faculty and outside advisers, their job is to apply the methodology from Paul’s book to discern if their chosen solution is a good one.

Monika Wnuk, ISEN’s integrated marketing and communications manager, said people have been focusing on climate change in a very isolated manner. In reality, it is a deeply rooted, interconnected problem that requires many people with very diverse backgrounds to work together.

For the pilot year, Wnuk said there will be six to eight teams with five students each from different fields of expertise. Students can apply in groups of no more than three people and once accepted, will choose the rest of the members of their team at the first training session, Wnuk said. Students will also work with NU faculty and outside mentors from different fields.

The idea is to apply categories to a problem like climate change so people develop a standard way of talking about it, Wnuk said. This application gives people a sense of the intensity of the problem and motivates a reaction or action from them, she said.

Students will look at their solutions from six different dimensions: political feasibility, economic impact, business case, technological feasibility, social feasibility and net beneficial effect.

For each dimension, they will produce a score from zero to five, with zero standing for very negative probability and five for very high positive probability, Paul said.

“The public doesn’t have the time to understand the details of an argument,” Paul said. “But they can understand a classification, a grade. So it’s important to have something simple that everybody can understand if it’s done in a way that is unbiased and relatively accurate.”

Each team will receive a stipend, paid in three installments, to compensate for their time commitment to the program and to help launch their ideas in the world following the program, Wnuk said.

“This should be a multiyear program,” Paul said. “This is just the first year, and we’re refining it, working on the rough edges. But hopefully this will lead to an incredible amount of spin-off projects and work over time at the University.”

Strauss said the first information session on Oct. 8 generated a good response to the program, but hopefully the one on Tuesday, Oct. 20, will bring in even more people.

“We immediately had folks submitting applications,” Wnuk said. “Students at the University are looking for opportunities like this to really make an impact on the world.”  

A previous version of this story misspelled Monika Wnuk’s name. The Daily regrets the error.

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