Throughout her extensive career, Joann Blumenfeld has confronted a disheartening statistic⸺80% of individuals with disabilities between the ages of 24 and 64 face unemployment. Undeterred by the bleak figure, Blumenfeld has dedicated much of her career to addressing this issue. Her focus centers around developing programs that empower and create opportunities in STEM fields for students with disabilities.
Recognizing the challenges in public education, including large class sizes, Special Education teachers with limited STEM backgrounds, and insufficient resources to address the needs of students with disabilities, Blumenfeld saw an opportunity to establish pathways in STEM for these students. In 2014, she launched the Catalyst program at N.C. State University to equip students with disabilities with the essential skills, knowledge and experiences required to contribute to building the future STEM workforce.
Catalyst provides diverse programs and services for students with disabilities, ranging from building STEM content knowledge and skills to workforce and college readiness, life skills, paid STEM internships and advocacy skills. The program has earned multiple national awards. Catalyst participants have pursued careers in engineering, astrophysics and as electricians and cybersecurity specialists.
Last year, Catalyst students experienced a transformative visit to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, thanks to a Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science grant. Tracy Minish, a NASA Mission Control manager and engineer with visual impairment, organized the special three-day program.