RALEIGH – Triangle teacher Joann Blumenfeld is one of 10 individuals named to the TIME Innovative Teachers 2022 list, which were selected by a committee who considered nominations of teachers from across the United States.
Blumenfeld is a special-education teacher in Raleigh at Broughton Magnet High School. And she’s also an innovator launched and now directs Catalyst, a program at North Carolina State University that opens opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to high school students with disabilities.
“These kids have so many skill sets, and so much to give to the community in business, industry and government,” Blumenfeld told TIME. “We’ve just got to figure out a way to train them better.”
According to the TIME profile, Blumenfeld believes that this program could serve as a national model, one that could be replicated across the country.
“Everyone can do what I did. It’s nothing special. It’s just we need people to do it,” Blumenfeld told TIME.
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A catalyst for change
Blumenfeld also told TIME that she sought to develop a better system, one that would allow innovation to occur, and that would advance opportunity for her students and for students across the region.
And there’s projected to be a huge need for individuals with STEM talent and training. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM occupations are expected to grow by 8% compared to 3.7% growth across all occupational types by 2029.
But there’s also a huge discrepancy in unemployment rates for those who have a disability compared to the national average, according to BLS data was cited in a column written by John Samuel for WRAL TechWire in July 2020.
Competition for technology workers is strong across North Carolina, with more than 50,000 technology roles open across the state, according to the most recent NC TECH IT Jobs Report. And the State of North Carolina sought job applicants with a disability for many roles, including technology and STEM jobs, in a job fair held earlier this year.
As technology jobs pay well, including some roles that pay in excess of $100,000 annually, there are other opportunities for students beyond gaining technical knowledge: there are careers available, and those jobs can increase economic mobility.
In fact, Blumenfeld told TIME that the best way to break cycles of poverty is to give students an “upward-bound economic trend, and STEM jobs pay well, beside the fact they’re so interesting.”
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How the program works
North Carolina State University profiled the program in a blog post that ran in January 2022. According to the blog post, the program serves rising 9th and 10th grade students with any disability.
As of January, the program had students from more than 35 of North Carolina’s public high schools, who learn STEM content and skills through hands-on labs and research.
Those students “participate in STEM field trips, mentoring opportunities and internships, while improving workforce readiness and soft skills and exploring STEM educational pathways and careers,” according to the blog post.
The program also helps match students with internship opportunities, provides workforce training, and other experiences, according to the program website.
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