Turning STEM Into STEAM

There's a growing national movement to bring the arts back into core learning tracks in junior and high schools. The movement seeks to capitalize on the popularity of STEM programs.

What do you get when you add science, technology, engineering and math? You get an equation that adds up to $3.4 billion in federal funding for STEM initiatives.

But what about when you add STEM and art? That creates STEAM, a new effort to show the value of art and creativity in traditionally scientific fields.

Babette Allina is director of government relations at the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the organizations exploring the STEAM concept.

"We're surprised by how much this has turned into a national movement and it's very much grassroots-based."

STEAM has attention from policy makers, there's already a congressional STEAM caucus with 54 members.

And STEAM is taking off in higher ed. Princeton University has been exploring several projects combining engineering and dance.

Allina says creativity is the common thread in STEAM projects.

"In terms of future workforce, which is really why this is getting traction, that not knowing what the skill set that will be required by the 21st century workforce and not yet defined, that skills that are transferable, like the critical thinking and critical making skills that we teach at RISD are something that's highly desired."

At the University of Houston, doctoral student Jay Young is studying STEAM for a research project.

Young used to teach high school math and noticed how artistic students often lose interest in the subject.

"I think a lot of the way that math and science is taught today, it really loses sight of that. It becomes almost perfunctory that you teach people kind of recipes on how to do science and math. I don't think that's what it should be about. People who have an inclination towards art have this kind of divergent thinking, this problem-solving aspect that could make them good scientists and mathematicians if that's what they want to be."

Young says he hopes his research will show that integrating the arts into STEM increases the quality of graduates in those fields.

Babette Allina says the main idea powering STEAM is that these disciplines are stronger together than apart.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...