Catalyst Project

Background and Goals

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Gifted Education Policy organizes the Catalyst Project. Catalyst is a year-long mentorship program for high school juniors and seniors to work alongside Masters in the fields of chemistry and art. The program, funded by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, focuses on providing top-notch research experience, guidance and peer support for talented students with a demonstrated interest in these fields.

The Catalyst project is designed to provide support for transforming students with demonstrated talents in chemistry into the next generation of innovators by integrating the creativity of eminent scholars (Masters), rising stars in the field (Associates), and high-achieving adolescents who demonstrate exceptional abilities (Scholars). The core idea behind Catalyst is based on Benjamin S. Bloom’s (1985) theory of talent development, which states that there are three stages in the developmental process:

  1. The Romantic Stage — falling in love with a particular subject or activity

  2. The “Getting Down to Business” Stage — learning the techniques, rules and knowledge

  3. The Mastery Stage — the master-teacher/student-disciple mentoring relationship of conservatory or professional study.

Catalyst focuses on the third stage by providing Scholars with a demonstrated interest incChemistry an opportunity to take their study to the next level by providing mentorship by a top ranking Chemistry Master.

Catalyst also strives to provide an opportunity to explore the creative processes involved in discovery on both a scientific and artistic level and to show the similarities between the two. By exposing the young Scholars to a broad spectrum of creativity, Catalyst hopes to elicit their own curiosity and imagination in the completion of a year long projects.

Overall Catalyst program goals include:

  1. Providing an opportunity for highly gifted adolescents to learn from and be guided by mentors in their fields of interest

  2. Planning investigations that would serve as a basis of mentoring relationships

  3. Discussing in a safe forum the joys, psychological stresses and expectations associated with talent development at the very highest levels

  4. Establishing a venue for fertilization of ideas about talent development across disciplines

  5. Show the parallels in the discovery process when creating products in both science and art and how equal understanding can benefit both fields


Four Masters represent their respective subfields of chemistry. Each Master works in a team comprised of three Scholars, and one or two Associates the Master may bring to the summit. These Associates are highly talented and accomplished individuals in their field who will assist the Masters develop their daily meetings during the Catalyst week and help the Scholars develop their projects during the postsummit school year. Other Catalyst summit participants include Resident Assistants who will ensure the safety and community of the Scholars and APA staff.

In addition to the four Chemistry Masters, three eminent artists are also invited to give lectures and participate in all activities. Although these Masters do not have Scholars, they play an integral role in demonstrating the parallels in the creative process between science and art as well as using this as a springboard for discussions during roundtable sessions.

Before the Summit

Application and Selection Process: APA speaks with each Master individually to determine what qualifications, interests and abilities he/she would like their Scholars to bring with them to the Catalyst Project. This information is used to create a customized application that is distributed through our networks of talent searches. We make every effort to find students who live in close proximity to the Master they are applying to work with. The Masters read the applications and select the students whose application seem most suitable.

During the Summit

The summit is comprised of several components:

  • Team Meetings: Masters meet with their team each morning for 2 ½ hours for lectures/tutorials and also to help develop a project with each of the Scholars to be conducted during the next academic year. 

  • Master Presentations: Each Master presents a talk to all of the other Catalyst participants on a topic of interest in her or his field, followed by a question-and-answer session.

  • Meal Q & A: During the next lunch or dinner time, the Master hosts a more informal conversation, where participants can continue discussing the ideas raised in the presentation in a more casual setting. This important meal time discussions also include topics about career development and the stresses and joys of working in creative fields.

  • Cultural events: The summit incorporates visits to outstanding artistic venues in the Berkshire Mountains, such as Tanglewood and the Shakespeare Theatre.

  • Talent Show: Catalyst features a talent show in which Scholars and Associates participate at the end of the week. 

  • Free time: Time is also set aside to socialize with other participants during dinners, recreation, hiking, a barbecue and more.

After the Summit

Project: Each Scholar develops a research project with the help of the Master that they will present at the Catalyst reunion the following year. Masters and Associates guide the students’ work closely during the summit week, then follow up with their Scholars over the course of the succeeding academic year as Scholars develop their projects. Each Scholar isexpected to have regular contact with his or her Master and/or Associate(s) on campus or via email or phone. The Scholar is expected to drive the process related to completing the project and should connect with the Master or Associate(s) once a month over email or phone.  

Reunion: Masters, Scholars and Associates return to Catalyst during the following summer for a reunion weekend with all participants in order for Scholars to present their projects and for everyone to meet and greet the next class of Catalyst participants.