by Neil Levine
Historically, scientists and engineers led the technological breakthroughs that drove domestic economic growth. Then, in the late 20th century, we saw new computer and information technologies changing the way we live and work, leading to today’s high-tech economy. These technologies help us solve problems we didn’t know we had through innovation. To maintain our global competitive advantage moving forward, we need science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates … or do we? Well, actually, we need quite a bit more than that if we are truly going to compete on a global scale.
Over the years we have continued to innovate our way through unforeseen opportunities, yet (to quote Steve Jobs) as we move ahead, “technology alone is not enough.” It was Mr. Jobs who said that it is technology—married with liberal arts and married with humanities—that yields us the results that make our heart sing. Jobs was clear that putting the “A” for arts into STEM, resulting in STEAM … was the way forward.
Unfortunately, one of the byproducts of today’s innovation economy is decreased attention spans. We’re all used to receiving information at the speed of light and struggle to stay focused on tasks at hand. Today’s students are incredibly bright and will serve as the engine of our future high-tech economy, but inspiring that generation to pursue high-tech studies can be challenging. Yet it is proven that Mr. Jobs thought process was sound: Students become much more engaged in their STEM-related studies when inspired through the arts.
In fall 2013, a team of Michigan State University researchers released an economic impact report that studied a group of MSU Honors College graduates who majored STEM disciplines. They found of that group, those who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.
According to Edutopia.com, arts integration uses teaching practices that have been shown in brain-based research to improve comprehension and long-term retention. For example, when students create stories, pictures or other nonverbal expressions of the content they are learning—a process researchers call elaboration. They are also helping to better embed the information. Simply stated: Integration of the arts helps students learn and retain technical information.
At Brevard Cultural Alliance, we are working with Central Florida schools to inspire local youth to engage in STEM studies in new and innovative ways by integrating the arts into their traditional STEM-based curriculum. With the severe cuts to liberal arts education in our public school system, this has been a concerted effort on our part to direct state and federal funding specifically toward programs that embed fine artists into classrooms and integrate the arts into graded science and math curriculum in ways that engage students better than ever before. We hope these types of programs will serve as a best practice for other school districts to adopt similar strategies by engaging their local arts organizations in partnerships.
The September 2013 Interbrand Report: “Every so often, a company changes our lives, not just with its products, but with its ethos. This is why, following Coca-Cola’s 13-year run at the top, Best Global Brands has a new No. 1, Apple.” Apple knew the winning combination: technology married with design equals economic impact.
Let’s all take a lead from today’s most innovative company and embrace a shift in the way we approach STEM education.
Editor’s Note: Neil Levine is executive director of the Brevard Cultural Alliance in Viera.