Heather Knight, a roboticist (and phd student, and artist, and film festival entrepreneur…), is featured here, in this week’s Opinion pages of the NYTimes. Heather speaks about the universal appeal of robots, and why it’s a misconception that their image gets a bad rap:
I don’t think STEM has an image problem. Kids, adults and teenagers love technology. For many of us, our children ultimately teach us how to operate our devices at home. Gadgets are on our holiday gift lists. They are social symbols and communications tools. Millennials may not know how to strike up a conversation with another person at a party, but they have hundreds of Facebook friends.
Adding an “A” for arts to turn STEM into STEAM is even better. Mixing “left-brained” subjects with music, visual arts, and theater will equip modern technologists with the creativity we need to be successful. Engineers are no longer cogs in a machine where management defines their objective. We are starting companies, disrupting archetypes, changing society. And that requires reflection, daring and charisma…
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"Adding an “A” for arts to turn STEM into STEAM is even better." Hm. There’s nothing wrong with someone in a technical discipline also studying or being involved in the arts, IF it works for that individual’s career. I would not want to see it made mandatory, or even specifically emphasized, as part of STEM curriculums.
Whenever you try to add broadness around a specific discipline, you end up with "curriculum creep." If it’s valuable for STEM majors to know the arts as well, then why not social studies? Why not economics and business? Why not, well, everything? Any of the "soft" disciplines can add richness and versatility to a technical discipline, but no one can possibly learn them all, and there’s no reason to prioritize the arts over the others. On top of that, I don’t believe that everyone needs to be "well-rounded." I don’t doubt that the world has use for broad generalists, intense specialists, and everyone in between.
Bottom line: let students study what they want. I realize that this article isn’t pushing mandatory art education for STEM majors, but it seems that someone is always thinking "hey we should make the techies study more things that aren’t technical!" and I want to nip that idea in the bud. I myself love art, music, etc. but I did not need college classes to explore those things. My college time would have been better spent entirely devoted to engineering, instead of that music history class I was forced to take.