Introducing the first in a series of interviews with CATALYST alumni, in which we give our students a space to reflect and a platform to share their Change Projects. These projects are a central part of CATALYST programming through which students identify and work to address a problem in their local community. With our “fireside chats”, we also hope to shine a light on the intellectual and personal developments of our alumni both during and after their time with CATALYST.
Our first interview with Pat kicks us off with a look into her personal motivations for her Change Project and where she is taking it next, as well as her recent reflections on what it takes to change the world. Pat was part of CATALYST’s inaugural Summer 2022 programme and is currently a student at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok, Thailand.
Patsara’s Change Project
Pat’s Change Project proposed introducing renewable energy micro-grids and solar home systems to Thailand’s 200+ islands that are not on the national grid.
- What is the problem?
There are over 200 inhabited islands in Thailand but only a few are connected to the national grid. This leaves the rest of the islands using diesel generators for electricity which creates various issues in terms of unreliable electricity, health problems through air pollution, and contribution to climate change due to the combustion of fossil fuels.
- Why is change needed?
Unreliable energy is a major issue on the populated islands, where blackouts, brownouts, and power shortages are frequent. This affects the lifestyle of the local people, as it is hard for them to work, and it impacts children who are disadvantaged by having to attend school in these conditions.
Pat’s Change Project essay explored two key solutions - renewable energy micro-grids and solar home systems - as well as identifying key stakeholders, resource requirements, and both the inhibitors and enablers of local adoption of new systems.
From a young age, Pat was interested in climate change, engaging her father who works in the traditional energy sector in discussions about sustainability and the challenges of shifting energy systems:
"The CATALYST Change Project heightened my interest in sustainability, but I’ve always been interested in the climate. I like geography at school and I really want to do geography at university."
"And when I was younger I would come back from science class at school and ask my Dad questions like, “Where does fossil fuel come from? Is fossil fuel a thing of the past? Shouldn’t we abandon it?” and we would have very meaningful discussions.Now I realise that my relationships with my Dad and his work has been something that has really impacted my academic thinking."
Reflecting on the CATALYST experience
Unlike traditional educational rhythms, CATALYST asks students to continuously revisit and question their Change Project throughout the programme. During our interview, Pat reflected on her Change Project through the programme, and how it impacted her outlook moving forward:
"At school if you have a piece of work, then you do it and you finish and you hand it in and you move on to the next assignment. And it's always been like that ever since I was young.So I really felt the change of pace and I really liked the continuity. The question is always there and it's always what I'm thinking of. And even when we were talking about other areas like AI and moral philosophy, it was all linking together, giving me new ideas and insights."
"[Our teacher] told us every day: Think about your Change Project every single minute because it will link and it can link with what we’re studying. And think about what you can add and what you can learn from the experience. Even if it's not the content, it's the thought process. It's the ideas it generates."
Pat’s cohort and the bonds they established proved to be just as valuable to furthering learning and growth:
"[Students were] researching what people were talking about, sending them potentially useful links and talking. Like something they mention, if it’s something I had personal experience with I would bring it up to them and be like, this might be useful to you."
Pat’s Change Project since CATALYST
Pat intends to study geography at university and continue learning about renewable energy solutions and how to implement them in local communities. Thinking further ahead, Pat also spoke of the insight her Change Project provided regarding her professional life and the importance of pursuing a career in an area she is passionate about, in this case, the environment.
"[Building a career around the environment] is something I really look forward to."
CATALYST is dedicated to our alumni community and strives to continue supporting our students long after they complete a CATALYST programme. Alongside 1-2-1 coaching, CATALYST also strongly encourages alumni to keep pursuing their Change Projects.
Not long after completing the summer programme, Pat took the initiative to pitch her Change Project to her school’s upcoming TEDx talk (the theme of which is, most suitably, change). The impetus and preparation required proved to be a constructive exercise in itself, providing the opportunity for further reflection and a deeper understanding of how to communicate her topic:
"I went through [my Change Project] again and reread it, making sure to ask the right questions. As someone else who's never heard of this area before, if you're reading it, do you feel the passion? Do you understand the ideas? Do you think the figures, and the statistics are convincing enough? I understood it needed to resonate with everyone, no matter their background."
As our discussion came to a close we asked Pat to share some of her more personal takeaways and learnings from CATALYST and the continuing work on her Change Project.
First is Pat’s emphasis on the role of empathy in driving positive change. For example, often, those who endeavour to address complex issues, like climate change, aren’t necessarily the ones who will experience the direct benefits of their work.
"If you want to do meaningful work you have to be ok with it not directly impacting or improving your life. Yes, ultimately the environment impacts everyone, but the people that will see that drastic change are the people, for example, living on the islands, not me."
"I think the ability to know that and be okay with it and be happy about it is something unique and something I really appreciate that I was born with."
Pat also shared how the experience has reframed how she views progress. Though the scale and complexity of Pat’s Change Project make this a very long-term project, she also recognises the value of ‘doing the work’ anyway:
"When I first started and also after CATALYST, I told everyone that yes, I do like my CP, but I genuinely don't think I can do anything about it right now.But what I learned is that maybe I don't have to achieve the “ultimate goal”. Just talking about it, reaching out, spreading awareness - that can be good enough because it still makes a difference. It’s how it all starts."
"Achieving something small is better than not doing it. Just putting yourself into the work, you will always have something that will come out of it that makes it worth it."
When asked how she feels about the world’s future in times of such fast-paced change, Pat left us with a closing thought: that adaptation is part of who we are, we just need to lean into it.
"Humans have an innate sense of needing to feel relevant, like constantly. So maybe that's part of our DNA, being able to adapt to stay relevant. Individuals don’t adapt, populations adapt.I see this kind of repetition going on in older generations, how it's like, “Oh, it's up to the next generation.” But it’s not. I disagree about how it's too late.Learning and adapting is in our nature, and we should all continue to push that cycle where we can to kind of, propel the human race."
Thank you for reading!
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