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Time Magazine Recognizes Catalyst’s Joann Blumenfeld as a 2022 Innovative Teacher

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Time magazine has recognized Joann Blumenfeld, Catalyst program director at the Science House at NC State, as an Innovative Teacher of the year.

A former public school teacher, Blumenfeld found herself dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for students with disabilities to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While STEM occupations are projected to keep growing, unemployment rates for people with a disability remain higher than for those without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Blumenfeld has set out to help create an inclusive, diverse and innovative workforce, founding Catalyst as part of the Science House in 2014. The program, which enrolls 40 students, is designed to teach STEM content to ninth and 10th graders with disabilities through hands-on labs and research.

Joann Blumenfeld

Catalyst also provides participants with STEM skills and content, paid STEM internships, workforce readiness and college readiness skills. In the past, students have interned at NC State, NASA, SAS, Fidelity, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“I can teach them all the science I want,” Blumenfeld told Time. “But if I don’t set them up with workforce readiness skills, I’m not really helping them totally.”

Catalyst hires NC State undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities as teachers and mentors for the high school participants, and adapts curriculums and materials to better suit the needs of students with disabilities.

“STEM taught in high schools tends to be text-based, and students with disabilities may experience more challenges in this area,” said Blumenfeld. “Catalyst is designed to address these needs.”

She noted that every Catalyst graduating high school senior has gone on to enroll in a STEM course of study in college, with several receiving scholarships and attending schools such as Wake Technical Community College and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Expanding on the program’s success, Blumenfeld launched Connecting Students with Autism to Geographic Information Systems (GIST) in January, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. GIST is a multiyear drone piloting program for ninth and 10th-graders.

Previously, Catalyst has won a Program of Excellence Award in 2021 from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association and a Special Project Award in 2020 from the National Energy Education Development Project.

“I am proud to be included in Time Innovative Teachers 2022, but I am even more proud of our students in Catalyst and GIST,” said Blumenfeld. “The programs demonstrate that with innovative programming, students with disabilities can succeed in STEM educational pathways and careers.”