STEM evolving into STEAM to support the arts

Story by Bailey BohannanStaff writer

The strong support for STEM is evolving into a strong support for STEAM, where “A” is for arts.

STEM is the common acronym used for science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, but those disciplines are now including arts to transform the acronym to STEAM.

“Embracing the arts as the country privileges the STEM disciplines would show creative students who love music, art, theater and dance some possible career options that combine the arts with science,” Staci Stone, interim dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, wrote in an email.

One of STEAM’s biggest supporters is the Rhode Island School of Design. RISD began supporting this transition from STEM to STEAM in 2010. Since then, a campaign launched through the STEM to STEAM website where advocates can voice their support for the new acronym.

Other acronyms have been considered including STEM+H where “H” stands for health and STEMM where the extra “M” stands for medicine or music and STREAM where the “R” and the “A” are added to represent reading and arts.

However, STEAM pulled ahead as it was nationally recognized in December 2015 when President Barack Obama included supporting the arts to better enhance STEM into the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” –  an updated version of the “No Child Left Behind Act.”

The addition of arts into STEM will not change the support of the STEM disciplines; instead, the arts will be supported to enhance the other STEAM disciplines.

“The arts educate and train parts of the brain that may not be best served by STEM,” said Zbynek Smetana, chairman of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. “Essentially, I am not trying to take things away; I am trying to enhance the next thing.”

Smetana said STEM gained support in the past because of the job opportunities today; however, the anticipated future job opportunities do not exist yet. Smetana said he believes the arts could play an important role in preparing for the unknown.

Elaina Barnett, senior from Shelbyville, Kentucky, and studio art major, said majoring in the arts has enhanced her education, not only in an artistic way, but in critical thinking and creativity.

“Art is really essential just like any of the creative pursuits, it teaches you creative problem solving,” Barnett said. “It makes you think about the whole and not just yourself.”

Steve Cobb, dean of the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology said adding the arts to the STEM disciplines emphasizes the arts; additionally, he supports all other academic backgrounds, including the arts, to better enhance the STEM fields.

“I think everything can enhance the STEM disciplines, I am a proponent of broad general education,” Cobb said.

Both Cobb and Smetana said adding the arts to STEM is a smart move to make economically. Art provides a more creative background to all students and better prepares students to think critically.

“Doing things exactly the same way like we always did in science, doing the same experiment a thousand times over will not produce different results,” Smetana said. “We will not cure cancer without thinking about different ways on how to think about it.”

“This is about being economically competitive,” he said.