A group of Adelphi science educators launched the STEAM Consortium, an effort to promote the infusion of STEAM into course content across the Adelphi curriculum.
For as long as Lisa Pastore ’16 can remember, she has loved both science and the arts. “In high school I focused on both,” she said. “When I arrived at Adelphi, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my education, but I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I decided to major in arts education and minor in chemistry.
“At first, I played with the idea of arts conservation,” she said. “But by the time I was a sophomore, I began to really miss the prospect of teaching.”
Pastore was also increasingly aware of how her right brain (divergent thinking) and left brain (convergent thinking) problem-solving skills informed each other and made her more intellectually efficient. “My art background was useful when I took organic chemistry, a very challenging course,” she recalled. “I was able to visualize molecular movement, two- and three-dimensional space and the organization of molecules.
“Similarly, when I’m doing technical drawing, I work in a pointillist style with fine detail and shading. My scientific mind is very effective at ‘seeing’ the close details and symmetry required for that sort of work.”
What Pastore didn’t realize was that there was a name for the crossroads where those seemingly disparate disciplines intersect. When she learned about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in her sophomore year, it was like a door opening.
A High Value on Innovation
Professor Cindy Maguire, Ph.D. introduced Pastore to STEAM, the notion of an increasingly useful interplay between the STEM disciplines and the arts. Dr. Maguire, an associate professor of arts and design education, acting associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the undergraduate art and design education program at Adelphi, also co-directs ArtsAction Group, an international community-based collective committed to facilitating arts initiatives for young people in conflict-affected environments.
STEAM caught Dr. Maguire’s interest about five years ago. “In a rapidly changing world, it is important that we educate well-rounded global citizens who have the imagination and skills to conquer new challenges,” she said.
While the STEM acronym has been in use for several decades, STEAM is a relatively new way of formalizing the integration of arts and design with STEM to spark a productive exchange. Advocates contend that it is a construct that directly addresses that goal, encouraging student inquiry, critical thinking and dialogue. Students immersed in STEAM learn to collaborate across disciplines and are better prepared to succeed in the workplace of the future, where a premium is placed on innovative thinking.
“STEAM places a high value on creativity and innovation,” said Dr. Maguire. “There are kids in elementary school today who will have jobs that haven’t even been imagined yet. STEAM helps to prepare them for those jobs.”
The STEAM Consortium
Dr. Maguire was introduced to STEAM through her work with her husband, Rob McCallum, an art educator at the Allen Stevenson School. Both found that STEAM presented opportunities to provide the students with creative experiences and helped them develop thinking and problem-solving skills. “Emphasis is placed on the creative process involved in tinkering and experimenting with ideas,” she said. “We invent to learn rather than learn to invent.”
The concepts used in STEAM are directly applicable to life outside the classroom. “It’s often about addressing real-world problems, such as energy, climate change and poverty, as well as the ability to envision and imagine different realities in service of humankind and the planet,” Dr. Maguire noted. “It’s also about the role of aesthetics and how artists and designers incorporate technology, engineering and science into their process and art making.”
In 2014 Dr. Maguire began to collaborate with three Adelphi science educators: Associate Professor Emily Kang, Ph.D.; Associate Professor Tracy Hogan, Ph.D.; and Clinical Associate Professor Mary Jean McCarthy, Ed.M. The four of them designed a STEAM workshop for an after-school provider in the city, aimed at fostering “citizen science,” using the STEAM paradigm as a way to—as Dr. Kang put it—“get real science in schools.”
Two years ago, the four professors launched the STEAM Consortium, an effort to promote the infusion of STEAM into course content across the Adelphi curriculum. The first prominent consequence of the consortium is the University’s STEAMLab, a community “makerspace” where the entire Adelphi community can gather to explore, tinker, create and invent using a variety of tools and materials. Interdisciplinary by design, engagement in the space aims to support existing and emerging research and creative endeavors of students, faculty, administration and staff.
With support from Adelphi’s Office of Information Technology, the professors equipped the room with a range of materials including everything from 3-D printers, laptop computers, microprocessors and sensors to sewing machines, scissors, paint and cardboard.
“The STEAM Consortium has many goals,” said McCarthy. “We aim to break down traditional academic ‘silos’ and engender a broader spirit of creativity. When students are engaged in meaningful work that is authentically integrated, the energy is very positive and it is extremely exciting.
“Another goal is to help students prepare for future employment,” she added, referencing a U.S. Department of Commerce analysis of STEM careers, published in 2011, which projected 17 percent growth in STEM occupations over the decade from 2008 to 2018. Incorporating the arts into the STEM mix aims to build on the success of the STEM movement.
Last fall, the four professors reached out to their colleagues across a wide range of disciplines and convened a meeting to promote STEAM at Adelphi. Already professors in many different areas, on both sides of the STEAM equation, are incorporating STEAM into their classrooms. More meetings are anticipated this year as STEAM continues to take root.
In the meantime, students like Lisa Pastore, whose undergraduate education was heavily shaped by the concept, have already graduated and become advocates for STEAM. She recently completed a master’s degree in Education at Harvard, where she was co-vice chair of Harvard STEAM, a student-led initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). “STEAM gave me the jumpstart I needed as an undergraduate,” Pastore said. “It really helped me focus my career goals.” Pastore is now teaching in the Harrison, NY school district.
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