Why I support STEAM (adding arts to STEM) in education


For the past few years, the hot new buzz acronym in education has been STEM, which stands for the four disciplines science, technology, engineering and math.  Everyone from educators to politicians have been promoting STEM education as a way of pulling our country out of the economic recession and securing our economic future as a nation. Recently, there has been a movement to add arts into the educational mix to create an emphasis on STEAM vs. STEM.


Why I support STEAM (adding arts to STEM) in education

I come from a STEM family. The majority of family members are medical professionals and engineers. So, they had hopes that I would be too. And I don’t fault them for that; they wanted what was best for me and STEM jobs usually mean a good income.


I was taken to every “Women in Science and Math” and “Students in Technology” event that my parents could find. I would go, but I’d proceed to sit there and draw or flip through the program and mentally rate the quality of advertisements in it instead of paying attention.


You see, I like STEM; in fact, at one point I wanted to be a marine biologist. But the reality is, STEM isn’t where my strengths are.  I would do very well in my STEM classes, but I’m a marketer through and through, and no matter how much I was encouraged otherwise, I was still more geared towards the arts.


How adding arts improves the model

The STEAM model with arts included opens new doors for education, employment and innovation, and it recognizes people like me as having gifts that can help this nation move forward. One of the biggest false assumptions is that you cannot make a good income if you are in an arts career. The reality is, there’s value in those who can market and sell products and services and, because of that, my income is similar to many STEM jobs.


The other assumption is that arts don’t integrate with the rest of the occupations as well as the others do. This is also not true. I may not use science or engineering in my role often,   but I absolutely utilize technology and, as I pointed out to a marketing student recently, if you’re planning to work as a marketing director, you had better be very good at math.


Trevi Fountain in Rome Italy
A large portion of Italy’s prosperity (including tourism) can be linked to the inclusion of arts. From Flickr: cfwee

Allowing people to follow their talents

In addition, we should be looking at the natural talents of our people and matching them with careers that will utilize those talents so they can excel to their full potential.


I know of several friends who are in the middle of career transitions because they’ve come to realize that they aren’t happy with their work. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with their chosen career, it’s just not where their natural talents are, so they struggle in it and/or don’t find joy in it.  Imagine, as an example, someone naturally talented at engineering being a painter. I’m not saying this combination couldn’t work, but I am saying that, in most cases, the person geared toward engineering would struggle less, be happier, and be more productive in an engineering job. The opposite is also true for an arts-oriented person.


So, adding arts creates some opportunities for people to utilize their natural talents in a way that can benefit us all. That’s why I support the movement to focus on STEAM.

Put down the camera and enjoy the moment

A male pointing his camera at an object that we can't see
From flickr ginnerobot

Not too long ago, I read an article by Clifford Pugh on Culture Map titled, How Instagram is ruining New York fashion week: Shows are meant to be savored, not shot and it got me thinking. I like fashion, but what intrigued me more was what he had to say about how our incessant need to photograph every little thing and how doing so was robbing us of those moments that we should be enjoying.

This may not be true for everyone, but it is for me: The more photography, videography and visual imagery becomes part of my job, the more obsessed I’ve become with obtaining the “perfect shot.” I will wander around looking for the perfect lighting, the perfect person to represent what I need, etc. and then take hundreds of photos in a single hour. Obviously, if it’s for my work, that’s what I do, but this obsession has crept into my personal life as well.

So, last week, while I was on vacation, I tried to put down the camera. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. And, admittedly, my obsession and her talent led one of my friends to take one of the best portrait shots I’ve seen in a very long time. But, there were a few times during the week that I was able to stop myself, put down the camera, and just soak the image in.

Reading Clifford’s article reminded me that sometimes the true beauty of something cannot be captured in a photograph, it can only be captured in a memory.

Cursive may not be “relevant,” but it’s important

The word cursive being dumped in a trash bin. To the side, there is a brief overview of the history of cursive and the current controversy of teaching it.
Graphic from Flickr: WilliamsProjects

I’m going to step out of my normal posts about marketing and public relations to discuss the news that cursive is no longer part of the new Core Curriculum Standards and, thus is being removed from school curriculum across the country including Hawaii and Illinois.

Yes, as many have pointed out, in some ways cursive is less relevant today and I definitely understand the limitations of our public schools to be able to teach everything that needs to be taught. However, I agree with those pointing out that, if our young can no longer read cursive, they won’t be able to read some of our founding documents, including the original version of the United States Declaration of Independence.

For me, however, it’s more about the art form of cursive. We know teaching arts in schools increases student success and cursive should be included. Cursive is also the standard for signatures. Will the new generation sign documents in manuscript? But, most importantly, one of the things I’ve learned in my career thus far is the power of a handwritten (in cursive) note.  I often encourage students to send handwritten notes and have seen a handwritten note change the tide or solidify a professional relationship. You could write these in print, but I don’t think it would leave as powerful of an impact.

As for me? Call me old-fashioned and unchanging in this instance if you will, but I’ll continue to challenge myself to write proper D’Nealian and cursive.

The arts may have to rethink their ticketing strategy

The Book of Mormon is coming to Houston and I am so excited! I’ve heard rave reviews from my friends about it and I really want to go. Now the fun part…I have to find someone to go with me or go by myself and I have to plan that far ahead (it’s April, the show is in September).

This example highlights two main areas that present challenges to the arts: Singleness and timing.

Normally people buy tickets to shows and performances as couples or in groups. This presents multiple challenges to young professionals:

  • Young professionals are waiting much longer to get married, so there isn’t a spouse who is obliged to go along for sake of the relationship.
  • Young professionals might be dating someone, but, unless it’s a very serious relationship, purchasing tickets 6-9 months out with that person is more than likely a gamble they are not willing to take. What if the relationship doesn’t last? Who gets the tickets?
  • Because of the two bullets above, young professionals usually try to find a friend that will go with them. This can present a unique challenge on its own. First, someone else has to be interested enough to want to go. Second, they have to want to go badly enough to pay whatever the cost is to go. I sent a message to all of my friends to go with me to The Book of Mormon. So far, no yes responses.
  • The final solution is to go alone. I personally don’t mind going alone to things, but some do. And, I’ll admit, usually it’s more fun with someone else.
First woman: Wicked is on its final tour and will be in Houston. Ive wanted to see this forever, and Im thinking this is our chance. It will sell out quick though, so I want to buy tickets on Saturday night 4/6. The cheapest tickets are $67.25 with all fees and taxes, or we can get a little better seats for $88.95. They are in town from July 10th through August 11th. How about Saturday night July 20th? Comment left by another woman: I would go again. July 20th works and Im willing to pay for the better seat.
A Facebook conversation between friends showing a very common strategy that young professionals use in hopes of finding someone else to go with them to a performance or arts event.

Timing can also present a unique challenge:

  • In such an instant-gratification society, purchasing $200 tickets 6-9 months before a performance may prove difficult because patrons don’t see an instant reward. 
  • Young professionals are very mobile. Will they be in that same city in 9 months? Will they get a transfer at work? Will they have a different opportunity in another city? I had a rather unique issue similar to this a little over a year ago when I moved to Houston. Madonna was coming to Houston in October, but I had to purchase the ticket in March. I didn’t know anyone in Houston yet, so I bought a $250 ticket and went by myself in October. By October, of course, I found friends who might have gone, but I didn’t know them back when I had to purchase the ticket.
  • They don’t plan ahead that far. What are they doing 6 months from now on a Saturday night? They have no idea. So they can just block it out, right?  Maybe, but they might also get a better offer. For example, I bought tickets to see The Lion King, but ended up getting an offer from a friend (and an inexpensive $470 flight) to Austria for an extended weekend. I handed my tickets to a friend and set-off for Austria instead.

The solution?

The arts know that young professionals are important to them. Young professionals have discretionary income and are future donors, but it’s a challenge to engage them in a way that works. Some organizations have set-up young professional organizations such as the Houston Symphony’s Young Professionals Backstage that have the potential to remove the “singleness” argument. I applaud these efforts, but the timing issue is still there.

How would you recommend the arts evolve to meet the needs of today’s young professionals?