Q&A with Catalyst Collective’s Founder Carmen DeMint
By Josy Jones
STEAM. It is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. Across the country, organizations are attempting to empower and teach students to think critically and have access to hands-on training in these fields. This method of teaching these disciplines is said to be more effective for student success and helps to cultivate confidence in those who have the opportunity to be exposed to it. Although effective, it takes funding and community initiative to make STEAM education accessible and impactful. After a series of roundtable discussion in 2012 discussing “STEAM education, specifically including Arts and Music” and asking the questions, “How do we play a role?” and “How do we remove barriers and create opportunity in our own community?” the Catalyst Collective, formally known as Ladies of the Round Table (LORT), was born. And through it, founder Carmen DeMint and her team, including new additions like Tammy Monroe, Chief Operating Officer, the Catalyst Collective has been able to help other organizations make a difference in students’ lives and help students reach academic success. Founder, Carmen DeMint was happy to chat with us.
Carmen: I founded the company in 2012. In 2017 Tammy Monroe joined The Catalyst Collective as our Chief Operating Officer.
J: Can you describe what Catalyst Collective does using only three words?
C: Educate, encourage, empower.
J: You’ve been around since 2012. What was your beginning like?
C: We started out as “The Ladies Of The Round Table” because, initially, our organization was working on a national level with clients all across the country. [It] focused on only women and girls in STEAM.
J: How has the organization grown and shifted in these 6 years?
C: In 2017, we re-branded ourselves, starting by changing our name to “The Catalyst Collective.” Our next step was revising our mission statement to include all students, no matter what their gender orientation, [then] bringing our resources back home to Akron to bring change to the community I call home.
J: You also conduct Think Tanks. Can you explain that process?
C: A Think Tank session is a round table discussion designed to bring together a cross-section of community collaborators, and unite us in the fight to end educational inequity, and highlight STEAM careers. Our provider partnerships connect across communities, ethnicities and economic lines to ensure strong, diverse perspectives are represented at the table.
J: Can you explain a typical session?
C: Think Tank session is focused on drawing out the best ideas in STEAM education. The members of the Think Tank are comprised of our provider partners, educational stakeholders, university researchers, STEAM program leaders, corporate members, and informal educators. Program examples: Best Practices in Curriculum & Teaching for out-of-school programs, getting Started in STEAM – What do we mean? How is it different? How do you do it? How can Catalyst best utilize and showcase local museums, universities, science centers, and businesses to give our students hands-on experiences and access to STEAM careers?
With high quality presentations, workshops and Think Tank discussions, all participants are able to discuss and learn from each other, translating lessons learned from all the Stakeholders. Additionally, the Think Tank produces new connections and ongoing conversations amongst these groups. Our focus is to assess the effectiveness of the programs offered as well as build on our curriculum inviting STEAM professionals to share their skills by mentorship. In effect “working together to ignite success.”
J: Which aspect of Catalyst Collective came first?
C: I worked in corporate consulting for over ten years, with a strong focus in diversity training, performance management processes and increased equality in the workplace. As such, the idea of helping organizations was a natural addition to my passion of creating workshops for students. The workshops [are] for students or helping organizations expand their outreach. While this may seem like a perfect example of the“Chicken or the Egg” question, they have always been hand in hand for me.
J: How has including the “A” of STEAM affect your mission and impact?
C: We focus on infusing the arts into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We include an
intentional integration of skills and capacities learning through the arts. In the arts you create something and put it out there for public criticism. This allows our students to learn perseverance, creativity and symbolic understanding and collaboration. This speaks to our direct approach in building our students’ leadership skills. In fact, by taking ownership of their work, students gain the confidence to utilize their new skills and knowledge when they enter the workforce.
J: How long do the assessments take for organizations looking to be involved?
C: Each organization is unique. Therefore an assessment is specific to the brand. We take as much time as is necessary to ensure mutual understanding of the organization’s immediate and long-term needs or goals. The assessment is a critical step, and we recommend 1-2 in-person meetings to ensure alignment.
J: What kinds of companies could benefit from working with the Catalyst Collective?
C: Anyone interested in working to transform how students view STEAM, and in creating an innovative
network to allow for economic growth here in Akron Ohio.
J: The Catalyst Collective encourages community engagement and outreach. Why is that so
important to your mission?
C: Our community is made up of organizations, businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs and all of these groups have a direct impact on our students. These students will soon join our workforce, open businesses, join our local government, and shape our community. Our mission is focused on the success we all gain working together as one.
J: As an example, what kinds of opportunities have been provided to help an organization
volunteer/engage in their community?
C: Hands-on Workshops specific to a career field of study give a business or organization the ability to use their skill set to help with STEAM Outreach. We have worked with organizations such as Ladies First and Working In Progress to help organize workshops, summer camp programming, providing both engagement and the opportunity for peer-peer learning. Our peer-peer learning program allows students (college and high school students teaching K-8th grade curriculum) to interact with other
students to attain educational goals. [This] increase participation, motivation and student engagement and College students gain volunteer hours.
C: We would love to have a few more providers in theatre production and set design, sound recording technology, arts and crafts and fashion design. If an organization or individual wants to participate. Providers can be individuals or businesses who wish to mentor youth and introduce kids to STEAM-based careers. This includes people and organizations that support the community by utilizing their
professional skills at our STEAM student workshops and activities.
J: And what do they need to do if they’re interested. How can they get involved?
C: Anyone who wishes to get involved may submit a provider application via our website thecatalystcollective.org/register.
J: What qualifications must they meet?
C: A strong work ethic and a drive to impact the community. A genuine interest in becoming mentors and role models to K-12 youth. Dedicated to providing opportunities to help create a safe environment for expanding young students’ mastery of technology and the arts for today’s rapidly changing society.
J: What has been the most rewarding part of being a part of Catalyst Collective?
C: The most enjoyable part of the job is having the opportunity to work with our provider partners. When the community started seeing how we were meeting the objectives of creating a professional and personal community, supporting others with leadership development opportunities and engaging in collective action, I really found a deeper appreciation for The Collective’s impact on our students.My favorite part of my work is the knowledge that I’m playing a little part in shaping a better future. Seeing the kids helping one another, both academically and socially, is so gratifying
J: What do you wish the Akron community knew about Catalyst Collective?
C: We are committed to providing STEAM outreach to our local youth, and increasing STEAM literacy.
J: Anything else you’d like to add?
C: The Catalyst Collective gives kids exposure to STEAM technology so that students are learning, using the very technology they use in their everyday lives, including computers, mobile phones, art supplies, baking, and the internet. This ensures that by the time they arrive in high school, they are in a position to know how their interests and strengths align with careers so they can make intelligent choices about their career pathways.
Learn more about the Catalyst Collective on social media at:
Or by visiting their website at:
Want to be a service provider and help them serve students? Fill out an application at: http://thecatalystcollective.org/register
Josy Jones is a vegetarian who enjoys ice cream on cold days.
(All photos courtesy of Catalyst Collective)