Students get real-world experience with Catalyst projects

Makeup guru Erin Jung has always loved makeup and the way it makes her feel. This summer she Kickstarted her own makeup company, Candela, where she formulates and creates her own products, and tests them on herself as well as her friends.

Though starting a company as a high-school senior may seem nearly impossible, Erin is fortunate to participate in the Catalyst program at SAS.


A class outside of a classroom, the Catalyst program grants students the opportunity to pursue their passions and push themselves beyond their limitations.

Much like the changes that have taken place within the library, the Catalyst program enhances the way students learn at school.

With the help of the Center of Innovation coordinator Dennis Steigerwald, librarian Bob Helmer, and science teacher Martin Williams, students have been able to collaborate with teachers, classmates, and mentors of their respective fields to create projects which they shared in a 25-minute presentation on Dec. 1.

The event took place in eight locations within the Center of Innovation, enabling 48 students to share their hard work and ideas.

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During the last nerve-racking hour before students stood in front of an audience of peers, parents, and other adults, four students spared some of their time to speak about their projects.

Reflecting upon the semester class, students recognized the various advantages of taking the course.

“I’ve always wanted to do a bigger scale film project,” senior Chris Chan said. “Here, I had the support behind me. Mr. Steigerwald, Mr. Helmer, and Mr. Williams pushed me to the next level, [and helped me] go further in my passion.”chris

After deciding to create a documentary on “The Art of Food,” Chris selected Iggy’s as his focus, one of the Top 50 Restaurants in Asia according to the San Pellegrino guide. But before the 18-year-old could wander the kitchen of a world-renowned restaurant, he had to sit down with Iggy’s owner, Ignatius Chan, to discuss the logistics of his projects. Chris went on to produce a film that not only entertained his viewers, but one that he is deeply proud of.

“The class pushes you, [and] gives you a reason to go out and do something you’re passionate about but wouldn’t have done to that degree,” said Chris.

Hello (1)Senior Kelly Chung also liked having the framework to follow a passion. Though Kelly had the idea of creating the I Am project prior to the Catalyst program, she lacked motivation to pursue the project in her own time. Kelly said the class served as an “incentive” to creating her own project.

“It provided a platform for me to reach out to any support or resources that I needed, and a mentor that I could work with to create my project,” the senior said. 

Senior Ashvita Prabhu also admired the environment of the class.

“We didn’t have a specific [traditional] classroom. It was the Makerspace, and we were allowed to just go anywhere we wanted in the library,” said Ashvita. “They [the three teachers] would be around the area and we could go to them or they could come to us. [In a traditional classroom] you’re restricted to one teacher.”

Yet students also offered improvements that could enhance the class.

“[At certain times], it starts to feel like busy work,” Kelly said. “Like towards the end, we wanted more time to work on our projects, rather than write reflections to hand in for a grade. I think maybe they could do a portfolio system, where people could write anything they want to without deadlines.”

But all agreed that the class provides a great opportunity to work on their passions and collaborate with students and adults they couldn’t have collaborated with otherwise. Not only did they learn more about an area of interest to them, but they also gained important life lessons.

HelloCaroline Comeau’s research on a cure for acid reflux required some professional advice – unfortunately many doctors turned down her request for a mentor. But Caroline didn’t give up asking for guidance and ended up having the benefit of speaking to other professionals in the medical field.

“It led me to always try to find a solution to things. It’s kind of nice because if you fail, there’s a cushion and this class actually helps bring you back up,” said Caroline.

These four students successfully shared their ideas and even offered a 5-7 minutes interactive Q&A session at the end of their presentations.

The class has proven to be so successful that many, like senior Erin Jung, have plans to keep going.

“I’m actually doing an extended Catalyst, so for next semester, I think I’m going to focus on marketing, getting the products, and planning a big launch event with some kind of press coverage.”

For many, the journey ended on Dec. 1 – with applause and appraisal. But for others, the journey has just begun.

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