NAS: Integration of STEM, Arts and Humanities

Washington, DC – December 2, 2015, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce hosted a one-day workshop on Integrating Education in the Arts and Humanities with Education in Science, Engineering, Technology and Medicine that included multiple members of the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities or A2RU. The workshop brought together members of government including the President of the National Endowment for the Humanities and congressional staff, academics from R1 and other research universities along with faculty, students and deans from a range of institutions.

The workshop was structured as an integrated design exercise with periods of small group discussion separated by lectures and panels.  Other sessions included a creative piece around the life of a young medical student, discussions on how employers see integrated education experiences especially companies like IBM and Oracle looking for “T-shaped professionals” and a structured brainstorming wrap-up. We would have been hosted at the NAS but instead were at the Carnegie Endowment because of an emergency meeting on CRISPR gene-editing technology which Ben Hurlbut of ASU provided an update on.

My role was as student on a panel hosted by Rick Vaz, Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Others on the panel included graduate students, an undergrad in nuclear and mechanical engineering and a recent bio-medical technology student. We discussed the needs and experiences of students already doing the types of transdisciplinary research the workshop is interested in prescribing to universities across the US.

The workshop goal was to further refine what is sometimes called “STEM-to-STEAM” or how to make STEM education more effective and inclusive of the rest of the Academy. When John Maeda coined the term STEAM, he wanted the Arts and Design community to lead the way for the rest of the academy. He probably wanted to prevent what one participant at an A2RU conference in 2014 referred to as “Science with Stickers!” Academy would be a better A in STEAM. This specifically addresses the concerns of anthropologists, writers and library sciences professionals along with the arts by incorporating all aspects of a classical liberal education.

The interest seems to be in what Giard (2009) refers to as “delta knowledge” or Simon (1976) calls the “sciences of the artificial” in the making and embodied knowledge around making that can only be learned by doing. Simon goes on to describe “a science of the artificial will be closely akin to a science of engineering—but very different.” Giard specifically recommends the corporate partnership over the student design competitions or sponsored design projects as a solution for design students to develop this delta knowledge of doing. These are the roots of what is now called design thinking as well.

One specific avenue for integrated education is to have instructors and teaching assistants in crossing fields — a Literature TA can bring up the writing level of an engineering or graphic design class, for instance. Projects like InnovationSpace at ASU that bring together and cross-train students across multiple fields is another way to bring realistic teams together to work on these complex or “wicked  problems” according to Brown et al (2010). Wicked problems are ones that defy disciplinary and national boundaries such as access to clean air and water, protection from pandemics and war, etc. These problems require people trained to think, interact and do in comprehensive teams, not just know and perform a specific task.

A key contrast is that some schools, like Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Lafayette College, have been conducting integrated engineering  education since the 1970s with good results that run counter to the specialization proposed and largely implemented from the 1955 Grinter Report. Grinter was part of the Cold War focus on technicians solving fairly straightforward problems and represented what Miller (2015) refers to as a “sea change”. Compared to contemporary wicked problems, the industrial and military issues of logistics and throw-weight from the Cold War are simple. Some of those wicked problems are related to the shortsightedness of that time, too.  Despite issues around metrics and quantifying more versus less integration in education, there is a demand for it, especially at the high-end. Another sea change seems needed for American education to tackle world problems in the 21st Century.

Schools and programs of special attention from the literature provided for the workshop, primarily Stewart-Gambino (2015),  is ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME), along with Stanford’s CS+X, U Utah’s Entertainment Arts program and California Polytech San Luis Obispo’s Liberal Arts and Engineering program. Daniel (2015) specifically refers to AME as “gaining traction”.  Each of these has in some way reintegrated Arts and Humanities back into some form of STEM education.

Key Takeaways from the December 2 Workshop, adapted from organizer Thomas Rudin’s debriefing, Rudin, T. (personal communication, December 7, 2015)

  • Continue this conversation at all levels.
  • Measure the efficacy of STEM/Humanities/Arts integrated programs and curricula.
  • Develop recommendations for multiple audiences — colleges & universities, K-12 schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, professional education and disciplinary associations, and others.
  • Preliminary educational results like InnovationSpace and top corporate hiring at IBM and Oracle suggest the value of these kind of  integrated education experiences. Systematic metrics need to be created to capture the value of these experiences.
  • There are enough model programs in higher education to suggest that educators believe this more holistic approach works. This means there are plenty of programs to measure and see what works.
  • A committee centered around the NAS is forming to organize recommendations.


The workshop was a wonderful experience. It was great to see A2RU’s efforts fit with the National Academies’ needs around higher education and workforce development. The key take-away of the workshop pointed to a growing recognition of the need for students and future workers to have deep and broad skills that help them cross boundaries and stay flexible while solving 21st Century problems.


Daniel, Alice, 2015, “Full STEAM ahead”, Prism, March-April 2015

Giard, J. (2005). Design FAQs. Arizona: Dorset Group.

Harris, J, Brown, Valerie A, Russell, J. (2010). Tackling Wicked Problems. Routledge.

Miller, R. (2015) Why the Hard Science of Engineering is No Longer Enough to Meet the 21st Century Challenges. Retrieved from:

Simon, H. A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Stewart-Gambino, H. and Rossmann, J. “Often Asserted, Rarely Measured: The Value of Integrating Humanities, STEM, and Arts in Undergraduate Learning.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2015.


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Space Horizons 2016 – International City on the Moon

Above, RISD pedal-powered moon rover featuring 13 second deployment time and hand-made tweels.

Space Horizons 2016International City on the Moon was held February 19-21 at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This year’s topic on building an international base on the Moon was approached as an iterative design workshop involving for separate but related tracks: Business & Technology, Politics, Science and Infrastructure.

Space Horizons is an annual conference founded by Professors Rick Fleeter and Ken Ramsley that focuses on near-term but still generative subjects around space with a special focus on relevant topics to students. Past years included Desktop Delta-V which focused on lab-safe propulsion for CubeSats, ChipSat focused on circuit board spacecraft and other topics.

In the past it has been a 1 1/2 day conference, this year was a three day workshop run by a student committee and hosting about 80 students and space professionals. It featured the usual faculty from Brown such as Jim Head, Rick Fleet and Alden Richards, a recorded video welcome from the Director General of the European Space Agency, and mentors including Jim Muncy, Olga Bannova, Phil Metzger, Brent Sherwood of JPL, German theologist Michael Waltemathe and others who generously donated their time and talent.

Unlike prior years when I have been the only designer involved, this year Professor Michael Lye along with industrial & graphic design students from RISD attended. The designers were critical in creating the dialogic system that enabled rapid iteration across a wide range of subjects that all need to be synthesized for this kind of space project or the workshop itself to happen. The design-thinking techniques employed are based around IDEO practices and include How Might We, the 7 rules of brainstorming, affinity diagramming and others. Two ASU students, myself and Chad Stewart (Aero, ’16) were in attendance.

The workshop was structured around having multiple small teams inside each track performing separate ideation and fact-finding while periodically rotating around the room to critique and confer. Teams fluctuated on Saturday as participants somewhat self-selected. Friday afternoon the professional mentors set the stage with a series of talks, Saturday was the main workshop and on

Sunday the ~20 teams presented along with more lectures including Dr. Bannova talking about old Soviet moon plans. Brent Sherwood presented on why Solar Power Satellites are key to further space development by providing Earth with unlimited green energy and energy for space manufacturing and propulsion.  Dr. Phil Metzger discussed how to build a self-replicating industrial infrastructure in space that scales like Moore’s Law of computer processing power.

Some of the themes that came up in student and mentor presentations included managing the dust, providing base power systems, recycling of technological and organic nutrients,  building domes and other large structures using local materials and techniques such as 3D printing using D.Shape or spinning up a dome using SuperAdobe construction.

Specific teams had some interesting results from the research. One Business & Technology team produced a Net Present Value (NPV) rating of an arbitrary-sized Moon base (not full city) of around US $65 Billion. This number can be used as a valuation of potential future value to draw loans and fund aspects of the project. Infrastructure Team 5, consisting of three industrial designers including myself and a medical doctor, produced a planning timeline that tried to bridge the gap in defining the user case between the period when there are 4 government astronauts temporarily on the lunar surface to grow to a community of 16, 32 and 108 permanent residents from different supporting entitites. Our tool tracked base preparation, power systems and mental & physical health evolution as the Moon Village grows from what we called “camping” into “the Shires”.

Space Horizons is an annual event, the topic for next year will be announced soon.

Infrastructure Team 5 presenting results on our Moon Village planning timeline. Sunday, February 21, 2016. Photograph by Dr. Phil Metzger.
Infrastructure Team 5 presenting results on a Moon Village planning timeline. Sunday, February 21, 2016. Photograph by Dr. Phil Metzger.

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