From the DirectorIn educational circles, we've been hearing a lot about STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, and Math), and yet I've been thinking there's something missing. I think we need to add an "A" for ART: expand STEM into STEAM.
Put it this way: when was the last time you received a dozen long-stem roses without the flowers? Stems are not enough! And likewise - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are not enough. If STEM is the engine of society by which we satisfy our needs, STEAM is the vitality of culture through which we apprehend our character.
The focus on the benefits of STEM is understandable: in our sluggish economy universities are increasingly obliged to make a case for our value in quantifiable terms. But through this emphasis on STEM, we risk losing sight of the kind of society we want to leave to future generations. Our education systems have a responsibility to create thoughtful citizens as well as a trained work force.
Here's what Clifford V. Smith, the former president of the General Electric Fund, said:
"GE hires a lot of engineers. We want young people who can do more than add up a string of numbers and write a simple sentence. They must communicate ideas, and be sensitive to the world around them. Participation in the arts is one of the best ways to develop these abilities."
Can we quantify the good the arts do? Well, yes. For example, two recent studies showed that cultural participation has quantifiable benefits on overall health, social functioning, vitality and happiness. The recent Picasso exhibit at Seattle Art Museum drew over 400,000 visitors.
But I'd rather move from what is quantifiable to what is important. It is culture that defines us as a people. It is through the arts that we connect with our dreams. It is through the arts that we appreciate other people's differences, other time periods and cultures. Cultivating an appreciation in the arts leads to more flexible approaches in problem solving, a greater willingness to take risks and an increased ability to find personal meaning in the world.
A former WSU student, Sara Janecke, put it so well:
"Art urges people to step away from what they know and explore new concepts."
In times when STEM is highlighted, the arts can to be considered as the icing on the cake. I would suggest instead, ART as the flower on the stem - the completing element in the bouquet of a full life. We invite you to join us in a vibrant future, full STEAM ahead.
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