Focus on STEAM, not STEM

Chant it with me! S! T! E! M! What does that spell? STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.

Well, at least it feels as though everyone is cheering for STEM these days, and booing for the liberal arts.

And who can blame them? The one place the United States has not been able to dominate is in education, specifically math and science. In order to maintain our power status, the country must improve in its ability to produce intellectuals on par with those of our competitors.

But are we constantly pushing STEM too often? By pressuring kids into STEM careers are we neglecting those students who would thrive in a liberal arts environment?

Science and Math department head Mr. Piscitelli would argue no. Although he thinks there are winds blowing in our country pushing our sails towards STEM for competitive reasons, the main reason why there is a push for stem is the “swell of the industries in the area and probably the opportunities that they’re seeing.” World renowned programs and institutions like SUNY Polytechnic in Albany and GlobalFoundaries in Malta are only steps away, which, according to Piscitelli, “makes more opportunities available in STEM careers to the graduating classes and that’s why it seems like we are pushing for STEM more these days.”

This isn’t only happening here though. Nationwide, the careers in STEM fields are growing in number while, and Piscitelli points out, other fields like journalism may have more people going into a field with a smaller number of opportunities available. Although there’s a lot of rhetoric out there about STEM recently, he isn’t wrong – there are more opportunities for these fields. New York State even just introduced a large scholarship for those pursuing STEM careers in NYS SUNY schools.

But as high schools students we are presented with a brightly packaged dilemma. Do we follow the trail of opportunity? Or do we construct a path for a career we love? And if those two paths happen to meet, great, but for those of us who would like to pursue a more liberal career path words and phrases like job security, income, and “liberal arts won’t get you a job,” start to poke at us. We’re pressured by our parents, teachers, the media and other sources to go the more secure route: going for the higher paying STEM  job. It’s the battle between of happiness and success (however one defines it.) No one wants to be a failure, but no one wants to be unhappy.

Picking a major, and then a career is the hardest choice we have to make as young adults. And as Alicia Chen, a GHS Senior, points out, it will be difficult sometimes to always do what we love. “Way back when the people who made money off of art were friends with the king, like Mozart and Beethoven. Van Gogh never made any money.” It has always been hard to make a living off of more artsy activities because it’s so hard to place a price on books and paintings.

Science and engineering, on the other hand, are number-based fields. It’s easier to put a price on chemicals or machines. Chen elaborates that “money, and consumerism, are all based on numbers, so if you’re working with numbers that’s more easily translatable to money in the long run.”

But just because it’s harder doesn’t mean we should give up on our dreams. Chen thinks that as long as you’re not trying to “take the easy way out,” by avoiding the “more difficult” science majors then students should follow their hearts. “If you really like English or history, or whatever obscure thing, like philosophy or slavic languages, then you should go for it,” she says.  Nick VonDollen, a Senior at GHS, agrees. In the end, he says, happiness will always beat a fatter paycheck. “A salary is something that we use to live off of, but the things we do in our lives that give them true value are the things that we know we love to do deep down. I wouldn’t bother working a ‘better job’ for a better salary if I were waking up dreading work for the next 65 years.”

Possibly there’s an even simpler solution, a compromise. If one loves both art and science, or one loves art and is concerned about scary things like job security, then why not do both? In fact, a new and improved term has begun to circulate in the education community: STEAM. With the inclusions of the arts in this new term, artistic pursuits and STEM paths are combined. Art Teacher Ms.Best agrees is the best possible solution, because you have to be creative even in a STEM career.  “I don’t think you can have good science or math without creativity,” Best explains. “Art is like science sometimes because you have to experiment and try new things, or else you’re not going to survive, you’re not going to float. Science is like art because you have to be rigid in some ways, but if you’re not creative you’re not going to progress, you’re just going to do the same experiment you’ve always done.”

Mr.Bender, a science teacher, agrees that STEAM is the better way to go. “ I don’t think you can’t do art if you’re doing STEM – you should do art and STEM. Some very creative people who are in engineering need a way to spatially relate what they’re building, and that’s art. That’s good. Music,too, is another language. They’re all good.” He believes the focus on STEM in recent years is because of the need for people in those careers, especially women and minorities, but he doesn’t think we should as he says, “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” as there are good parts to a liberal education. For example, he says, “Reading Cicero tells you the same problems we have today that they had back then.”

If our country wants to become the true leader in education, we need to stop focusing on STEM and focus more on STEAM. We need to stop discounting the liberal arts and start appreciating that there is value in all types of education. In fact, it seems best if we act studiously in both fields if we wish to truly succeed in life. Guidance Counselor Mrs.Sheehan makes the important notice about how often different subject areas can be combined in careers, “There are a lot of ways to combine art, and math and science and tech, which I don’t think a lot of kids know they can combine.”

The bottom line is that our future is in our hands. We need to decide what will make us happy, whether it be STEM, STEAM, or liberal arts, and not what will make us a lot of money, or what society is pressuring us to do. Sheehan puts it best when she says “I think you have to follow what your heart is saying. Do what you’re passionate about.”

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