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A Catalyst for Change

After 36 years as founding director of Evanston's Youth Organizations Umbrella agency, Don Baker is looking toward retirement. Amid the issues surrounding his transition, Baker realized that most of the nonprofit's policies and procedures were "in my head and not on paper." So, with a team of five undergraduates from Northwestern, Baker created a manual that his successor could use.

"They've done incredible research," Baker said of the students. "They've actually created a template for us to use in the future."

The Northwestern students came to Baker and Y.O.U. as part of campusCATALYST, a new Chicago-based organization that gives undergraduates the opportunity to help solve the problems faced by nonprofits by combining academic experience with a community consulting engagement.

Under the guidance of a Kellogg School of Management student mentor with consulting experience, student teams of five work with local Evanston nonprofits on quarter-long consulting projects ranging from creating a business mentorship program to developing an evaluation process of a nonprofit's services.

CampusCATALYST, which launched its for-credit program during winter quarter, is the brainchild of Molly Day (SESP07) and Kunal Modi (WCAS06). They wanted to develop a program that would allow students to engage in and critically think about volunteerism in their own communities.

"We felt that students had the tools and resources of this University to leverage," Modi said. "And they also had the passion, determination, energy and intellect to put those tools into action."

In addition to nonprofit experience, Northwestern participants earn course credit through Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences' Business Institutions Program.

The idea proved popular. Even with minimal advertising, Modi and Day received 80 applications for 25 spots in the program's first quarter.

Peter Koelsch, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences junior and part of the student team that worked with Y.O.U., said the class allowed him to apply his social science skills to a real-life situation.

Day and Modi disagree with the suggestion that it might seem presumptuous to have "student consultants" address problems that nonprofit directors can't fix themselves. "One of the things we've heard the nonprofits say is, 'We were aware of these problems, but there was no way we could tackle them without these extra hands and minds,'" Day said. "There's mutual respect and real collaboration going on here."

Scott Sode (J08)

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Catalyst Group
From left, Bryan Wynn, Catherine Shen, Sudhansh Neravetla, Caroline Kemp, Quan Li and Laura Melle prepare a final report for the Youth Job Center of Evanston.Photo by Andrew Campbell