STEM, a commonly used acronym, refers to the notion that our nation needs to improve education to better prepare our youth for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM efforts include initiatives to interest students (especially girls) in STEM careers as well as a variety of programs to prepare students academically for the careers.
The acronyms STEAM and STREAM have also been used to refer to including Arts and Reading in the STEM curricula. Arguments have been made favoring the longer acronyms and discounting them. The arguments in favor include reminders that the arts and reading are critical to preparing students for STEM related careers. The divergent arguments against are a) that the STEM subjects need to be
emphasized above all the rest, b) that the arts and reading are being cheapened by being added to STEM because they may be camouflaged when embedded in STEM , and c) that they are already an integral component of every element of STEM so separating them may be meaningless or else tell technology people they don’t need to focus on them because it is someone else’s job to do so (though those people may not exist). One educator I spoke with recently said it’s all just EDUCATION.
Regardless of what you, as artists, think about this issue, it is important to highlight a few ways in which the arts may help to prepare students for technology careers.
Music seems to provide excellent training for software engineers. Indeed, prior to computer science and software engineering becoming college majors, corporations sought out music majors to staff their programming laboratories. The executive in charge of developing one of the most important computer operating systems in the world (MVS) was a music major in college.
The discipline of Human Factors / Ergonomics, which is concerned with designing systems to be safe, easy and fun for people to use, includes combining technology, visual appeal and scientific findings about how people process information.
Technical illustration, industrial design and technical writing are important careers which combine arts, technology, and understanding how people think.
Communication and leadership skills which may be learned in language, arts, theater and similar academic disciplines are critical to effective performance in the technology industry.
Medical disciplines such as dentistry and surgery involve art as well as science.
So, regardless of your opinions on the use of acronyms such as STEM, STEAM and STREAM, keep in mind that the arts are critical to our nation’s being a leader in science and technology. Encourage students with artistic abilities to think about how they might apply these skills professionally in technology disciplines. Encourage students with artistic interest and ability who are interested in technology to pursue their artistic interests, too.
by Ronald Shapiro, Ph.D.
I would like to thank Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.