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STEM to STEAM: Finding a Seat at the ‘Cool Kids’ Table

Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

STEM is like the most popular kid in school these days. Everyone wants to sit at the same lunch table and share Doritos.

Fortunately for the arts community, we have a powerful resource as the national conversation transforms from STEM to STEAM: Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced the formation of a Congressional STEAM Caucus last month.

The group had a successful kick-off on February 14. Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda, an advisor to the Caucus, regularly speaks about the inextricable connection between art and science and Bonamici echoed the sentiment at Oregon’s 2012 Arts Summit.

While our representatives in Washington, DC, are hard at work advising on federal policy, our state is also taking steps to assure we’ve got “STEAM heat” (thank you, Bob Fosse!).

In Governor John Kitzhaber’s proposed 2013–2015 budget, which is now being considered by the legislature, there is a proposal for an initiative called “Connecting to the World of Work.”

Included in that proposal is funding to support partnerships between schools, arts organizations and businesses to increase opportunities for students in grades 6–12 to connect with creative industries. There is conversation about including internships, mentorship programs, industry residencies in schools, and student residencies at industry firms. 

“Connecting to the World of Work” is part of a larger plan, announced by Gov. Kitzhaber when he took office called the “40-40-20 Goal.” By 2025, the goal is that 40% of Oregonians will have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 40% will have an Associate’s degree and the remaining, and 20% will have completed high school (or a GED equivalent).

40-40-20 goal

This goal addresses the drop-out rate, which is currently 3.4% state-wide, although many districts struggle with rates much higher than that, and our state’s goal of fostering a competitive workforce. Those of us in arts education understand that the arts help keep kids in school and that creativity is a skill increasingly valued by employers. Transforming STEM to STEAM is a natural step for us.

However, since the proposed state budget doesn’t include resources to fund longitudinal data collection (and the two year biennium doesn’t allow for that kind of timeline anyway), the questions I put to you are:

How can I help potential recipients of this funding demonstrate success on student outcomes related to STEAM, career/college-readiness and/or 21st century skills?

Knowing that interactions with students will take place over a discrete two year period and we won’t be able to track students after that time, how can we illustrate that this discrete investment had an impact on the state’s larger 40-40-20 goal?

What can we reasonably expect to measure?

As the federal STEAM Caucus moves forward with their work, I look forward to deeper conversations about how those of us in the field can demonstrate that we’ve helped guarantee our graduates are the most popular employees in the lunch room, not because of the Doritos they brought to eat, but because they know how to think creatively, work cooperatively, and innovate on the cutting edge.

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