Gathering STEAM in Rhode Island
On September 26, artists, designers, scientists, educators, business leaders and policymakers came together to celebrate Rhode Island’sleadership rolein advocating forthe role of art and design in fostering innovation. The RISD-ledSTEM to STEAM initiative proposes putting art and design at the center of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and research to spur economic progress and breakthrough innovation (STEM + Art = STEAM).
“We’ve talked about STEAM before on this same spot, and meant something different,” quippedNeil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, who hosted the event and panel discussion on the former site of Providence’s rail station. Like the sweeping changes in the 19th century, RISD’s STEAM initiative also aims to spur an innovation revolution, create jobs, and help Rhode Island and the nation maintain a leading edge in the global marketplace.“This opportunity puts the arts together with education and STEM to promote a better workforce, improve economic development and create a better Rhode Island,” he said.
Congressman Jim Langevin (RI-D) kicked things off at the event by speaking about his work in Washington, DC to educate colleagues about STEAM, and to introduce a House resolution that encourages collaboration among Federal agencies that oversee STEM education.
If heard, the resolution (H.RES. 319) would propose the creation of a STEM to STEAM council to develop a comprehensive approach to these programs. “America has real potential to gain from this discussion. It could be transformative for Rhode Island and the country,” he noted.
RISD President John Maeda spoke about the enduring power of art, and its ability to transform individuals as well as societies. “At RISD we believe that creativity is a right,” he said. “The studio practice model creates innovators – people who can see differently and solve problems differently.” It is these qualities of art and design, he noted, that will help science “go off-road” and find new kinds of solutions to “hairy, audacious problems.”
Through tools such as data visualization and modeling, artists and designers are already working to make science understandable and real, and helping people to understand complex issues. By injecting art into the innovation dialogue STEAM will help the country stay competitive in the 21st century, he said.
The dialogue continued with a panel discussion among local leaders in education and innovation, who echoed their support for RISD’s STEAM initiative and supported it with examples from their own organizations.
Nancy Carriuolo, president of Rhode Island College, cited a collaboration between the college’s STEM education center and its theater department to stage a play based on the life of computer science pioneer Alan Turing. “We all make choices based on art and design everyday,” she noted. “We all look at the world through the prism of the arts. Our challenge is to bring that awareness to the general public.”
Saul Kaplan, founder and chief catalyst at Business Innovation Factory and a member of Rhode Island’s Science and Technology Advisory Council, spoke about the need for major transformation to solve big social challenges such as education and health care. He urged collaboration as a way to realize the opportunities between disciplines and turn the state’s small size into an advantage.“We need to get new ideas off the whiteboard and onto the ground, and art and design is a key enabler to making that happen,” he said.
Andrea Castañeda, chief of the Department of Accelerating School Performance at the Rhode Island Department of Education, spoke about art as a trifecta of qualities (innovation + creativity + art and design) that can infuse curricula in biology, mathematics and more to help students come up with novel and creative solutions to challenging problems.
Associate Professor of Industrial DesignCharlie Cannon presented some of the STEAM research already taking place at RISD and its importance for producing new forms of knowledge. For example, through anEPSCoR grant from the National Science Foundation, RISD is working with Brown, the University of Rhode Island and nine other schools throughout the state to look at marine impacts of climate change and develop visual techniques and communication strategies for scientists to share their findings with a broader audience.
Stephen Lane 85 ID, CEO ofXimedica, spoke about his medical device company’s grounding in fine art and design, and noted that although STEM technologies enable their work, design is the driver. “Those who are using technology, science and math for creative ends are the people who are changing the dynamic,” he said.
As he brought the event to a conclusion, Maeda noted the similarities between studio-based education and project-based learning, along with the contributions of art and design to every field – from stem cell research and health care to entrepreneurship and education.
“Rhode Island is a leader in this area of integrating art and design into its economy,” Maeda noted. “It’s time for this message to be heard both locally and nationally.”
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