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Tampa Bay Speakers Advocate For STEM, STEAM In Education

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from a blog posting at The Academic Exchange: Reflections on Higher Education.

I was introduced to the STEM vs. STEAM debate through an exciting community forum that takes place in Tampa. May's "Not Your Average Speakers Series'' hosted by 83 Degrees Media, an online magazine that promotes the economic development of the Tampa metro area, included five local panelists involved in education, technology and the arts locally. With an engaged audience of teachers, business people and others passionate about education, the discussion (and debate at times) was a thrilling introduction to the challenge of preparing students for the demands of the workplace today.

STEM stands for "science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.'' If you Google STEM, you will see many groups at the national, state and local level that are dedicated to closing the skills gap in the job market. Over the past decade, STEM jobs have tripled over the number of non-STEM jobs. This movement was established and responded quickly with grants, technical assistance, and lobbying legislation to put an emphasis on transforming traditional education.

The America COMPETES Act recognizes the likelihood of the United States' future inability to compete with foreign countries in STEM. It authorizes funding for NASA, NOAA, National Institute for Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, as well as education grants, fellowships and training. U.S. companies lobby Congress to allow more foreigners with advanced STEM degrees to have permanent resident status. Even departments like Homeland Security hold their own degree programs in STEM that allow people to remain in the country for extended periods because their skills are so in demand.

"Not Your Average Speakers''

One of the panelists, Terry Boehm, president of the Pinellas Education Foundation, is a strong proponent of STEM education and believes that traditional education is failing to engage students, especially boys. Additionally, he recognized that only 50 percent of students graduating from college work in a job in which their degree is relevant. He believes we are missing our mark in how we teach our children and how we prepare them for the workforce.

There is no debate that America is not preparing its students enough for the types of expertise that are required as we move through our technology revolution -- the debate lies in HOW we prepare our students and WHY.

Enter STEAM. STEAM stands for "science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.'' The objective of the movement, championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), is to exemplify how art and design education teaches the "flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem solving needed to solve today's most complex and pressing challenges -- from healthcare to urban revitalization to global warming.'' Transforming research policy to place art and design at the center of STEM, encouraging integration of art and design in K–20 education, and influencing employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation are immediate objectives of the movement. Included by many STEAM groups are philosophy, history, reading, writing and humanities and they can be incorporated with the arts to increase innovation through education.

Turning STEM Into STEAM

Another panelist, Larry Thompson, the president of the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, is a strong proponent of STEAM stating that "in order to reclaim America's creativity differentiator, we must be able to provide businesses with a workforce of imaginative employees who will pave the way to a new future in American business.'' He believes, as do many, that studying arts teaches critical thinking, creativity and a deeper understanding of the unquantifiable, all of which are a necessity in the global marketplace. While most would think that a college of art and design would focus on painting, sculpture and drawing, they would see from the articles in Ringling's most recent magazine that the school is engaged in preparing its students for the  marketplace. "Fuel for Our Economic Future: Art, Design, and Creativity,'' ''Ringling College: Powering the Creative Economy,'' ''Smart Business: Think Like an Artist and Give Them What They Are Missing,'' ''Fostering Creativity and Innovation with Corporate Structures'' are titles of articles written by Ringing faculty and alumni.This is clearly not your traditional arts institution.

Additionally, Wit Ostrenko, the president of the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, emphasizes that creativity is at the heart of the sciences. Walk into the MOSI, and it appears to be like any science center for children; in fact it's the 8th largest in the country. But the most popular part of the whole complex is the "Idea Zone: Dream It, Make It, Do It,'' which will make up half the museum after future expansion. While the lab is based on STEM concepts, Ostrenko stresses that without creativity, there would be no big ideas.

Biggest Surprise

During the conversation between panelists and audience members, we heard a wide variety of views on the issue through personal anecdotes, based on different belief systems. However, what surprised me most was a sentiment shared by the CEO of a website development company as well as Larry Langebrake, director of SRI International's regional marine biology laboratory in St. Petersburg.

The CEO of the website development company said that they usually hire people with education in the arts instead of technology because computer science degree holders don't know how to communicate their ideas or think critically about their work.

Langebrake said that when he is interviewing someone he doesn't even look at their technical experience or education. He focuses on the candidate's ability to communicate their value -- and therefore the potential value they will contribute to his company. Both of these high tech companies rely on people with a foundation in liberal arts education.

Read more of the original blog posting at The Academic Exchange: Reflections on Higher Education.

With A Little Help From Our Friends

The May 16 NYAS event was underwritten by Tucker Hall, a Tampa-based public relations and public affairs firm that provides strategic counsel to senior-level managers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Panelists included Wit Ostrenko of MOSI Tampa, Terry Boehm of the Pinellas  Education Foundation, Larry Langebrake of SRI International, Larry Thompson of Ringling College and Deborah Neff of Tampa Bay WaVE. The moderator for the evening was Ernest Hooper of the Tampa Bay Times.

83 Degrees Media covers growth, investment and social innovation in the Tampa Bay region by featuring stories about Talent, Innovation, Global Diversity and Environment -- a new narrative for a new economy. "Not Your Average Speakers'' features creative, innovative and influential people in and around Tampa Bay who are doing their part to move the region forward.

The next "Not Your Average Speakers'' events are tentatively planned for August-November 2013. Keep reading 83 Degrees Media for stories about the events and how to attend.

Erin Chantry, an urban designer in the Urban Design and Community Planning Service Team with Tindale-Oliver & Associates in Tampa, is also the author of At the Helm of the Public Realm, a blog about urban design, urban planning and the built environment. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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