Tag Archives: Engineering

STEAM: Adding Arts to STEM Education

I have written in the past about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for young people. I am a big advocate of STEM learning and participate in events when possible. I think it is important for everyone to be grounded in the sciences and math to be able to work in our increasingly complex world. It is nice to know how to use an app or a particular software but it is even better to know how it works, especially when it mysteriously fails and you need to try to fix it.

Lately, I have been seeing the term STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. In other words, arts inserted into STEM. To be honest, I was skeptical when I first started seeing this term because it felt like the arts were jumping on a bandwagon they were not supposed to be part of. In this post I will explore the origins of STEM and how we got from STEM to STEAM and the value of adding arts education.

Origins of STEM

The Russian satellite Sputnik launch in 1957 started a rivalry with America for technical superiority on earth and in space. America thought that it should be first in terms of smart scientists and mathematicians. The U.S. developed plans to place a man on the moon and in July, 1969, realized that vision and regained superiority in the space race. Growing up in the 1960s, we all wanted to be astronauts and we studied the necessary disciplines to get us into space. Science and math were fundamental. Computer development in the ‘80s and ‘90s kept technical subjects in the forefront. Programming, math, and electronics were important and exciting.

The National Science Foundation coined the term STEM in 2001 to refer to a renewed emphasis in teaching technical disciplines. Surveys showed that American education was slipping compared to other countries and we were losing that superiority we fought so hard to gain in the 1960s. STEM renewed the emphasis on science education in order to stay on top.


The Rhode Island School of Design championed the term STEAM in an attempt to include art and design with the traditional STEM subjects. They are working to promote this transition with educational institutions around the country. A recent article in the Tech Edvocate did a good job of advocating for this move. Traditional STEM subjects are analytical or left-brained by nature whereas art and design and creativity and spatial awareness all come from the right hemisphere of the brain. In order to create a holistic or whole brained approach to teaching STEM subjects, we need to call on our powers of analysis and visualization. This makes sense to me. A recent conversation with school-age youth brought up the same points. Instead of arts trying to tag along with STEM, this is a way to actively incorporate other methods of learning into technical subjects.


If we are deliberate and thoughtful about adding art, design, and visualization exercises into traditional STEM curriculum, then I think it can be a plus for the student. It will help them navigate both hemispheres of the brain in order to turn out a more creative product. What are your thoughts? Is STEAM a good idea or will it detract from the STEM emphasis.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Too Many Coders?

Child using a computer with binary code on the screenI have been reading a number of articles lately lamenting the fact that we do not have enough programmers or coders in America and not enough students are entering and graduating from computer science programs. The Kentucky Senate last week passed a bill that would allow for programming classes to count as foreign language credits in public schools. The bill still needs to pass the Kentucky House to become law. There is also the oft-quoted number from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) that only 2.4 percent of current bachelor’s degrees are awarded to computer science majors.

The Argument

I think that the argument is overly simplistic and ignores cycles, needs, and capacity. In terms of cycles, there is a reason for fewer computer science majors today. If you look at the historical trends in computer science degrees displayed in this interactive chart, you will see that computer education peaked at 4 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 1985 and again in 2004. I believe that the introduction and popularity of personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s led to the first peak. It takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, so the cycles are offset. Similarly, I believe that the second peak was because of the dot com boom of the late 1990s and very early 2000s. In both cases, it was very cool to be in computers and desirable to pursue computer education. Conversely, the troughs occurred in 1995 and 2009. By 1990, computers had become commonplace but we had not yet entered the Internet boom. In 2004–2006, sizable tech companies and Internet companies such as HP, IBM, EDS, and Cisco were laying off large numbers of employees. My belief is that during the layoffs, an education and career in tech did not look very enticing. Computer science degrees have come out of the trough since 2009 and are on the rise again; that may be in part attributed to the boom in mobile computing. Computing is cool again.

Broad-based STEM Education

That being said, I am a huge advocate of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and I think all students should be solidly grounded in those disciplines. They can take that education and those skills into a number of vocations and professions. I don’t believe, however, that everyone needs to become a programmer or be proficient in programming, despite the proclamations of Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama on Code.org. I laud their efforts to at least introduce coding to all students but it is just one small part of a larger education in technology and science.

There are other emerging fields that are outside the boundaries of traditional computer science. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, but students should also consider a career in bioinformatics, which is a combination of statistics, computer science, and biology. This is a chance to apply computing and data analysis skills to the task of gene sequencing and other biological research. There are other emerging fields as well, such as robotics and materials science. Work in all of these specialties is going to take a solid background in math, science, technology, and even some programming. They are all exciting areas waiting for those willing to tackle the rigorous work necessary to make a break through discovery.

My Thoughts

These are exciting times to be involved in computing and analytics and there are diversified disciplines looking for those skills. I think the key to the future is a solid applied STEM education that will prepare students for the challenges ahead. The opportunities are broad and other possibilities should not be ignored by focusing only on programming skills or computer science degrees. What do you think? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.