Led by Joann Blumenfeld, a Kenan Fellow Alumnus, Catalyst is a high school program at NC State’s Science House designed for students with disabilities to motivate and prepare them to enter post-secondary educational training programs and careers in STEM. Catalyst achieves this goal by providing participants with hands-on STEM activities, job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, mentors, field trips to STEM research labs and businesses, and counseling on postsecondary education and training options. In FY 2022-23, Catalyst collaborated with NASA staff on various topics, including robotics, drones, algorithms, humans in space, and others.
This culminated in a trip to NASA (April 6-9, 2023) including a visit with Tracy Minish, who is visually impaired and currently a Mission Control Flight Center Manager for NASA. 36 high school students with disabilities participated in this trip and also visited the historic Apollo 11 Mission Control where they spoke with Astronaut Rex Welheim about his work and career path and Mission Director Garrett Heham. Catalyst students participated in hands-on STEM activities at NASA’s training facilities along with Astronaut Drew Morgan. The Catalyst program and students have received recognition from Former President Barack Obama, Former Governor Pat McCrory, Governor Roy Cooper, Senator Thom Tills, Temple Grandin, and others. Joann Blumenfeld was recognized by the NC State Friday Institute for Educational Innovation with the Friday Medal in November 2022 for her work advancing educational equity. KIETS support of the Catalyst initiative leveraged resources from NASA, NC Space Grant, The Rossi Fund, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Red Hat, Eastman, ABB, NC State College of Sciences, and NC Vocational Rehabilitation.