Every child has a spark in them. Each has the capability to deliver positive change to the society in the future and create advanced methods that will bring comfort to the citizens’ misfortunes. Most of these children are not quite ready. Some of them have lost their drive to make the country more economically developed, while others have yet to learn how to ignite them. Their potential must be honed, their minds must be enhanced, and their hearts must be filled with zeal for science and technology before they can make the most practical and creative solutions to the obstacles the country is currently facing.

The UP Chemical Engineering Society, Inc. (UP KEM) organization wants to ignite the passion for science and technology in students and generate innovators the society needs. They believe that knowledge and skills extracted from the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics can be used to create feasible solutions to our country’s problems. The power of innovation can bring an end to the daily struggles of every citizen. Thus, the birth of Catalyst.

HOW CATALYST CAME TO BE

UP KEM strongly believes that “the youth is the strongest catalyst of change in society.”  However, there is a need for more students to be equipped with scientific knowledge and technical skills to be able to yield change in the society through producing practical inventions. To fulfill this, UP KEM has come up with Check Marks The Spot, “an umbrella project that consists of three sub events with the goal of igniting passion for chemistry, physics and mathematics to students. The three subevents are ChEcklist (now known as Compass), CAReS and ChEmaraderie (now known as Collab).

However, with the K-12 program’s implementation, UP KEM decided to refocus its mission to enticing high school students to enhancing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). With this new agenda in mind, UP KEM paved way for the onset of a new sub-event, Catalyst. This brand new sub-event was established in 2017 with the intention of promoting students to think of creative and innovative ways to solve some of the most prominent issues the Philippines is facing.

CATALYST 2018

Every year, schools from Luzon are invited to select teams, composed of 4 members each from junior or senior high school, to participate in Catalyst. The contest runs for a duration of 3 days with 3 different major events, namely: a series of talks and speeches coming from professionals in the scientific and start-up faction in the Philippines, a mentoring session, and the final pitching competition.

Last 2017, the theme was Energy Security while, this 2018, the general theme was Food Security, otherwise entitled as “Guard our Grub: The Food Security Innovation Challenge”.

The issue of Food Security is relevant at present because malnutrition and hunger are major issues for Filipinos, specifically those living in urbanized and impoverished areas. In fact, according to an SWS survey, in the fourth quarter of 2017, the number of Filipino families who have experienced hunger was reported to be at 16.7 million, or 15.9% of the population while the number of families who have experienced severe hunger was said to be at 3.9 million, or 3.7% of the population. The state of extreme hunger has led to severe malnutrition as well, especially in children. In fact, last January 2017, 7 million children were estimated to have been diagnosed with malnutrition, as mentioned by Mocon-Ciriaco of Business Mirror. Thus, it is evident that improving and easing the access of all Filipinos to fresh, healthy and affordable food is necessary for alleviating the harsh effects that hunger and malnutrition bring.

Therefore, six teams from 3 schools, Antipolo Science High School, La Salle Greenhills and Colegio San Agustin-Makati, were gathered together to solve this issue in the most inventive manner possible.

The Experience

First day: Introductions

The program on the first day, 15 January 2018, started with a short ice-breaker of introducing yourself to other teams by saying our most embarrassing moment, greatest failure or greatest achievements. In this activity, we got to know the other teams from Antipolo Science High School, La Salle Greenhills and Colegio San Agustin-Makati better. As our timid and shy exteriors were slowly unveiled, we began to feel casual around each other, and see others not as competitors, but as potential friends. After the ice-breaker, the tension and awkwardness in the room shifted into a more friendly atmosphere.

A number of speakers, such as Janina Aurelio, Marlon Llana, Dustin Masancay, and Misha Rabat, engaged the students in talks about different situations like Nescafé’s way of helping farmers by giving the excess coffee ground material to them for soil conditioning, a description of NASAT Labs, and most importantly, Design Thinking, which was most likely the most enjoyable talk for the students because it was quite interactive and challenging. One of the activities is the bubble sheet. The sheet is composed of 30 circles. The goal is to draw objects that are shaped like circles. Within a few minutes, the student must be able to fill as many circles as possible with different objects. Every activity he shared focused on a skill that every aspiring innovator must learn. Mr. Masancay emphasized the importance of fast creative thinking. The faster the ideas come, the faster the final product of this idea will be implemented. A reminder to bear in mind was to create an innovation that is technical and efficient and suits the demands of the public.

Second Day: Mentoring and Evaluation

This day was dedicated to consultation of the prototype. Each group will be given a mentor to give his/her constructive criticism on the prototype. These mentors have enough experiences and knowledge in the scientific, technological and business field. One of these mentors is Cid Azcarraga who worked with UP Center for Student Innovations in designing a flagship program. Another mentor was Ines Fernandez, who is the Executive Director of Arugaan, an organization that provides a support system for working women with infants and young children. Because of this, they were able to clearly explain the pros and cons of the prototype proposed by the team and helped in giving tips on a good pitch. Judging by the friendly smiles and intelligent questions spewing from the mouths of the students, it was clear that most of the students felt comfortable in talking to their mentors.

Third Day: Pitch

As soon as our group entered the room, it was clear that everyone was exerting effort to deliver a good pitch. There were some students in the corner of the room rehearsing their speech while others checked their prototypes for any errors or problems. Our team had a problem since a portion of the material wasn’t functioning properly. We had to alter the structure of the prototype in a span of 5 minutes in order for the prototype to serve as a realistic sketch of our product and not a rough draft. When the time came for the actual pitching, we all exerted our best effort in delivering our speeches and in explaining the workings of our different prototypes. Although some of us were nervous, which led to some stuttering, we all managed to deliver excellent presentations. When it came to the announcements of the judges (Jules Guiang, Fidel Rodriguez and Sam Sanchez), the butterflies in our stomachs were all fluttering in anticipation. The organizers announced that a cash prize of Php 1000 was to be given to the team that placed 3rd, a cash prize of Php 3000 and an internship in SGD Coffee were to be given to the team that placed 2nd, and a cash prize of Php 5000 and an internship in SparkLabs were to be given to the team that placed 1st. Finally, the winners were revealed to the crowd. La Salle Greenhills’ team with the portable air conditioning unit prototype won 3rd place, Antipolo Science High School’s team with the affordable desiccant box prototype won 2nd place, and Colegio San Agustin-Makati’s team with the prototype of rice husk ash as a desiccant for palay won 1st place. The participants rejoiced all around, and celebrated their victory that was all hard-earned and well-deserved.

Catalyst 2018, indeed, was an insightful event that brought the brilliant minds of the youth together to solve this pressing situation of food insecurity. The event, no matter how brief it was, has surely left an impact and will serve as a memorable and enlightening experience in the lives of the participants.