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STEAMy Discussion

STEAMy Discussion

When technology and science merge with art and design, wonderful things happen.

When technology and science merge with art and design, wonderful things happen. One of those things is innovation, RISD President John Maeda told a packed auditorium during RISD by Design weekend. As the keynote event at alumni and parents’ weekend, the discussion last Saturday morning focused on RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative.

STEAM is a movement to add “Art” to the national education agenda, which calls for greater emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Working with RISD, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) is currently sponsoring a bill to add art and design to that agenda – as a means of fostering true innovation. “There’s energy out there that we’re trying to tap and collect,” Maeda said, noting over 900 petition signatures in support of the bill have been collected.

To galvanize public support for STEAM, the president presented  several students, alumni and professors who are melding left and right brain approaches – and coming up with exciting results.

“Artists are fearless,” Maeda told the crowd. “They’re doing things to change the world.”

Consider Samantha Dempsey13 IL, one of the presenters. Over the summer, she interned as a Maharam STEAM Fellow at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation in Rochester, MN. In that capacity, she developed visual systems to break down communication barriers between medical professionals and patients. In addition to creating cartoons that depict new methods of medical practice, she created anatomical illustrations for instructional videos to explain surgical processes to patients. The videos are a part of a larger experiment to reduce medical costs and improve patient satisfaction.

The senior in Illustration also developed an information graphics system to document the interactions between patient and caregiver. Using rudimentary tools such as markers and paper, she was able to visually express the symptoms described and the resulting recommendations. This approach leads to a more cohesive exchange of information, Dempsey says, and ultimately, a more holistic diagnosis for the patient.

The Mayo Clinic was “happy to have an illustrator [as part of the team],” she said, noting that her images also enable caregivers to think less clinically. “We made art that affected and improved health care.”

Ayodhya Ouditt 13 ID, another Maharam STEAM Fellow, made waves in the media sector while working on the science desk at National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, DC. Not only did he interview “13-year-old geniuses” who research cancer genes, he became fascinated by gender bias in the medical industry. This inspired him to report on the high rate of females who drop out of science-related education programs.

Mary Murphy MAE 86, vice president of design at the New York-based textiles company Maharam, also participated in the panel discussion. Her boss, Michael Maharam, funded the new Maharam STEAM Fellows, making it possible for RISD students to pursue internships in applied art and design over the summer. On Saturday Murphy spoke about a line of mosquito-resistant sleeping nets Maharam has developed to prevent the spread of malaria.

“Mary is one of our top designers,” Maeda noted. “She’s making some of the most exotic fabrics in the world. But they're not just pretty – they’re profoundly beautiful and meaningful.”

Other speakers included John Dunnigan MFA 80 ID, professor and head of Furniture Design; Mary Anne Friel, assistant professor of Textiles; and Cas Holman, assistant professor of Industrial Design. —Abigail Crocker