Junior mechan­ical engi­neering major Andy Benn spends as many as 60 hours per week in a campus lab building an off-​​road buggy for the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity chapter of Baja SAE, an inter­col­le­giate design com­pe­ti­tion run by the Society of Auto­mo­tive Engineers.

The motor­sports team, which has devel­oped a strong rep­u­ta­tion for con­sis­tently placing in the top 20 per­cent of more than 200 clubs for the past 15 years, will show­case the design, speed and maneu­ver­ability of its 445-​​pound all-​​terrain vehicle in a com­pe­ti­tion on May 2 in Port­land, Ore.

Working on the vehicle is an invalu­able learning expe­ri­ence,” said Benn, a co-​​captain of the club. “It teaches you about engi­neering, but it also teaches you how to be a project man­ager, which is what you have to deal with in the real world.”

The club hopes to raise $2,500 through the new Cat­a­lyst pro­gram launched last week by the Office of Alumni Rela­tions and the North­eastern Fund to finance its 3,000-mile cross-​​country road trip to the “City of Roses.” Two other student-​​based orga­ni­za­tions — the North­eastern chap­ters of both Net Impact and Engi­neers Without Bor­ders — are also vying for funding to sup­port their projects.

Prospec­tive donors can browse through the projects on the Cat­a­lyst web­site and make a gift in any amount, starting at $1.

The Cat­a­lyst pro­gram makes it easy for alumni, family and friends to follow, con­nect with and sup­port some of the most inno­v­a­tive and inspiring stu­dent projects at North­eastern,” said Jack Moynihan, the vice pres­i­dent for alumni rela­tions and the North­eastern Fund. “Projects are chosen based on their pro­fes­sion­alism, inno­v­a­tive qual­i­ties, social impact and fea­si­bility,” he added.

Northeastern’s under­grad­uate chapter of Net Impact is designed to equip, edu­cate and inspire busi­ness stu­dents to use their skills to foster social and envi­ron­mental change. It hopes to raise $2,500 through Cat­a­lyst to fund some of the prize money that will be awarded to the most impactful stu­dent ven­ture at the Net Impact Forum for Stu­dent Social Inno­va­tion at the Microsoft New Eng­land Research and Devel­op­ment Center on Nov. 17.

Engi­neers Without Borders–USA works on some 350 water, renew­able energy and san­i­ta­tion projects in more than 45 devel­oping coun­tries around the world. Northeastern’s stu­dent chapter of the orga­ni­za­tion, founded in 2005, has brought clean water to fam­i­lies in Hon­duras and Bbanda, Uganda.

In less than one week, the stu­dent chapter raised $2,500 through Cat­a­lyst to fund travel for two stu­dents to Bbanda in August 2012. The stu­dents will assist in the imple­men­ta­tion of phase one of a dis­tri­b­u­tion system to pump water throughout the vil­lage, in which more than 1,100 people must now carry dirty water for miles just to meet their basic needs.

Senior mechan­ical engi­neering major Keith Nelson, who has twice vis­ited Bbanda, praised the organization’s human­i­tarian calling, noting, “we’ve already helped hun­dreds of school kids here have access to the only source of clean water in the village.”

Working on projects like this give stu­dents an under­standing of big pic­ture engi­neering,” he added.