Why is the "A" in STEAM important?
The "A" in STEAM represents the arts, humanities and social sciences. Artists and designers are driving innovation—and innovation needs the arts to truly flourish. Consider companies like Apple that are successful not just because of science, but because they are at the intersection of design and technology. Recently, California College of the Arts faculty members were the first art institution to be represented at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, demonstrating that artists and designers are key communicators at the crossroads of environmental issues. Even the long running children's television show Sesame Street is jumping into the STEAM movement by integrating the arts into its existing STEM focus with Elmo the Musical. In this production, Elmo uses singing, dancing, imagination and math skills to solve problems. Creativity is often linked to art in research studies and journals. Going beyond the cognitive power of the arts, it is believed that participating in art, music, dance, poetry, etc. may provide more creative outlets for STEM students and serve as a viable recruiting tool for future students into technical fields. Students need both a natural and creative view of the world to compete in the global market of the twenty-first century.
The humanities and social sciences are also crucial for developing innovative new STEM projects. Both of these disciplines add the necessary social context to understand the way that scientific and technological problems are grounded in culturally-specific aspects of human experience, such as class, gender, ethnicity, race, religion and sexuality. The social sciences, for example, offer perspectives that permit us to understand how the practice of science learning differs in various societies, subgroups, even family units. The humanities allow us to gain insight into the experiences and history of a certain culture and community so that we can better shape how an idea is developed to expressly address the needs of that audience. In the STEAM challenge, as we specifically seek to solve problems within our own Detroit community, this knowledge is invaluable. As much as we empower our students to grow their science literacy, it is equally important that we show the humanities and social sciences can play a vital role in driving technological innovations.