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.

Conclusion:

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.

References:

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:   http://www.olin.edu/sites/default/files/rebalancing_engineering_education_may_15.pdf

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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