STEM vs STEAM: Do we still need the Arts? SPOILER: Yes we do!

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We hear a lot about STEM these days. In case you’ve missed it, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and is encouraged as a way to teach critical thinking skills and instill a passion for innovation. There are also a lot of good paying jobs in STEM. So why would we bother with the arts?

A recent Financial Post article talked about the importance of STEAM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in the workplace. It brings balance. Someone coming from a more art-focused perspective is going to see things from a different perspective than their more scientifically minded colleagues. Each brings their own value to a project, with those with an education in the arts or humanities often bringing a more emotional or sensory perspective. With the world increasingly exploring artificial intelligence (AI), the attributes those in the arts and humanities bring to the table are more important than ever. We want our AI development to include the moral perspective of philosophy majors, to consider blind spots identified by psychology or sociology graduates, and the nuanced skill of writers to bring a more natural feel to bots. In short, we need the lessons from the liberal arts and humanities to help develop artificial intelligence that leads to better outcomes for humans.

An integrated STEAM education encourages students to think more broadly about real-world issues. It helps students to ask questions, make connections, problem solve, think creatively, and to be innovative.

The Financial Post article quotes Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan as saying, “Studying the humanities as an undergraduate opens the world to you. It doesn’t close it off…It is a kind of springboard for all kinds of other activities.”

Cole also encourages students to embrace variety; try some science, try some arts, try some humanities, and some math. See what you enjoy and what you don’t as you are developing an understanding of what you want to do as a career.  What problems do you want to solve in the world and how can you develop the skills you’d need to succeed?

So, do we still need the Arts? If we want to live in a world where different perspectives come together to drive innovation and propel us forward, and if we want our AI to include some humanity – then you bet we do!