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STEAM Hits Capitol Hill

02/18/2013

President Maeda addresses a full house at a February 14 briefing hosted by the new bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus.

RISD brought its uplifting STEAM message to Washington, DC on February 14, when President John Maeda and other representatives from campus co-hosted a Capitol Hill briefing to launch the new Congressional STEAM Caucus (view a video of the proceedings here). Co-chaired by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), the bipartisan caucus is dedicated to furthering the incorporation of art and design into STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

The new Congressional Caucus includes Rhode Island Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Jim Langevin (D-RI), along with elected officials from 10 other states: Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). At the start of this year’s Congressional session, Langevin reintroduced House Resolution 51, which posits that “adding art and design” to STEM fields “encourages innovation and economic growth in the US.”

It’s that eye toward innovation that has DC talking. “There were digital music devices before the iPod, but it took creative design and interface development from Apple to transform the way the world listens to music,” Congresswoman Bonamici said in a press release announcing the formation of the new caucus. “We frequently discuss the importance of STEM education, but we can’t ignore the importance of engaging and educating both halves of the brain.”

“When we talk about training the next generation of workers – creative minds and creative thinking are some of the most important qualities that employers look for when making hiring decisions,” Congressman Schock adds. “Studies have shown that arts education increases test scores and lowers dropout rates. [It] helps to close the achievement gap, improves academic skills essential for reading and language development, and advances students’ motivation to learn.”

The Congressional briefing included testimonials from four experts from various backgrounds. Trevor Bailey, director of Adobe Education Worldwide, noted that despite America’s reputation for creativity, most workers in this country spend less than 25% of their time at work being creative. NEA Senior Advisor for Program Innovation Bill O’Brien spoke about the healing power of art and its ability to profoundly enrich communities. Eric Siegel, director of the New York Hall of Science, spoke about how difficult it is to be truly creative and how hard artists work at it, and also noted the recent upsurge in the national Maker movement in the US as a sign of the enormous creative energy evident coast to coast. Joyce Ward, education coordinator at the US Patent and Trademark Office, noted that the intersection of art and science naturally yields valuable intellectual property and reminded the audience that creativity is fundamental to progress in almost every field imaginable.

A standing room-only crowd listened intently as each of these experts emphasized the many ways in which art and design contribute to innovation. In fact, based on enthusiastic response to the briefing invitation, organizers moved the meeting to a larger space in the US Capitol Visitors Center, but the room was still packed. 

“This Congressional briefing renewed my belief that art and science, when combined, produce the best of what technology can offer and what humanity can enjoy as a greater richness in life,” President Maeda said after witnessing such positive responses on Capitol Hill. “It showed that art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century, just like science and technology did in the last century.”

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tags: governmental, innovation, interdisciplinary, public engagement, STEAM

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A figure modeling class from 1916.