By: Alexandra Swanson
October 3rd, 2022
This article is part of our Summer 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
STEM majors. Most know this acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, a quartet of academic disciplines that is the backbone of countless jobs in the workforce today. Computer programmers, medical doctors, pharmacists and mechanical engineers are among the most known and currently in-demand jobs for those in STEM fields, and in today’s increasingly technological world, they are essential.
Meanwhile, there are other college majors like those who study the arts, who are passionate about their classes about English, graphic design, the humanities and more. These majors seem like opposites at a glance, but the arts have far more importance and connection to STEM than it may seem.
Non-STEM majors have been overlooked or dismissed for years, with people saying they are useless or a wasted degree.
“When I tell people I am an arts major, one of two things happens; they either wish they could have a fun, exciting major like me and reminisce about how they like art but that’s not what they are doing with their lives, or they give me some type of judgemental look or comment, such as ‘Good luck finding a job,’” says Maegen Jankowski, a Michigan State senior double-majoring in anthropology and arts and humanities. After all, many choose majors and fields that statistically make more money, so they opt for STEM instead of the arts.
While passion fuels students in both groups, there is a need for both these categories, even if many dismiss the arts and humanities as less important. The world needs social workers, authors, educators and designers. The arts also serve another important purpose, one that ironically involves the STEM majors often deemed superior. By bringing the arts into STEM, it becomes STEAM.
The arts and STEM seem to be opposites because of the material they teach, but the arts foster a sense of creativity often unpresent in standard STEM studies. Working with equations, programs and anatomy requires regime and careful processes creativity could slow down and even disrupt. However, students can feel stifled.
“There is not much room to express creativity in the sciences. Most assigned work tends to be very calculated and concise,” says Alec Fowler, an MSU sophomore double-majoring in plant biology and genomics.
Only using analytical skills can grow tiring, and all work with no creative outlet can cause stress. The arts can provide a reprieve and inspire creative thinking to support innovations in STEM fields. Thinking outside the box is often praised in life, which comes from creative thinking.
“As a result of adding in the arts, students can become more well-rounded. They can be not just an analytical person or a creative person. They can be both analytical and creative thinkers,” said Sydnee Yates in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’s article “STEM into STEAM: Why the arts are crucial.” The arts can also capture and keep the interest of students that might otherwise be bored by STEM. By incorporating the arts into math and science lessons, students can be more engaged by the subject matter.
Not only can the inclusion of arts bolster creativity in otherwise regimented majors, but it can also accomplish something just as important as medical or technological advancements: communication between those in STEM fields and those who are not—the general public. There is an informational gap between those in STEM and those not in STEM. However, communication that informs the public of things such as new discoveries or issues in the scientific world is essential, needing to be more than a simple statement in the news.
Communication is important in any field of work, whether it’s between co-workers, management or clients. Properly informing the general public of new ideas or advancements is another facet of communication. When the arts are implemented, communication can be accomplished through more than art exhibits and statues created to allude to greater scientific concepts.
“Creating art that helps describe STEM through beautiful pieces and works might encourage people to learn more about the topic. Or by using fun artistic ways of demonstrating complex STEM concepts might make it seem less daunting and more accessible,” said Jankowski.
Fowler mentioned a method through which media outlets simplify complex STEM concepts. “I think most would call it Pop Science,” he says, which is short for Popular Science. Pop Science is an interpretation of science intended for the general public accomplished by writing out complex topics in a simplified manner, a task that may fall on someone in the arts to accomplish. Thoroughly explaining the sciences in a way anyone can understand inspires interest in STEM and communication, bringing more people into both fields.
Alec and Maegan had more to say about introducing the arts into STEM. Meagan said, “I think the arts being brought into STEM is an amazing idea.” Because she is both an arts major and a STEM major, both make her approach topics differently and give her an edge and perspective that the other major doesn’t provide. She went on: “I think combining the two can really allow people to use so many different parts of their brain and different talents they have in order to better understand topics as a whole. With my STEM major, my arts background gives me more creative thinking that helps me think outside the box … With my arts major and having a STEM background, I can tactically tackle an arts project through a more structured lens than I might have anticipated, which helps me think of all the practical ways to better my art … such as writing for an example.”
Alec added that creativity is hard to define in many STEM fields: “In the context of education, [creativity] could come in the form of projects used to express a concept or set of concepts, or in designing our own experiments in or outside of labs, though the academic merit of these is hard to measure. But designing artistic or creative projects could help scientists make the concepts they are trying to convey more easily accessible to others outside of their field.”
Both Maegan and Alec believe that the arts should be integrated with STEM fields. Maegan said that she sees “so many brilliant minds burnt out so often from the grueling grind of being a STEM major and the intensive workload that comes with that. I think adding the arts might give the individual an outlet for that frustration and might make even busy work easier to learn and more motivating for the student if they were to learn STEM in a more artistic environment.”
Alec added to that by making clear connections between how STEM and the arts can be mutually illuminating because “applying STEM concepts to an artistic medium requires a great deal of thought and care to express, and as a result could assist both the artist and those viewing the art to better understand the concept being conveyed.” He went on to talk about the importance of having artistic freedoms in STEM fields, saying that doing so “could also result in more inspiring feats of science and engineering.”
The arts have the potential to help the general public understand the more complicated concepts of STEM fields too. Maegan said that “so many people don’t even wanna touch STEM or scientific ideas and topics just because they truly believe it is so much above them that they could never understand it. Art is a creative form of learning, which if STEM is disguised though it, it might allow more to learn, make STEM seem more accessible, and overall make STEM less scary and easier to learn for the general public.”
Alec: I think that presenting this information in a way that is creative and engaging could help the public understand complicated concepts, yes. More and more people are becoming interested and informed about the sciences through platforms such as social media with the help of artists and content creators.
As the world continues to advance in both science and technology, it will become increasingly difficult for those outside of those fields to keep up with advancements and discoveries, let alone understand them well, and more people will be needed and encouraged to partake in STEM to carry out those advancements. These tasks can be accomplished more effectively by bringing the arts into STEM and by creating more opportunities to express STEM, both in and out of the fields. The arts have more value than what they have been made out to be, and they are as important to study as STEM majors to further an advancing, more informed world.
Alexandra Swanson is a fourth-year undergraduate student double-majoring in arts and humanities and professional and public writing. She currently works at The Cube, hoping to be a successful writer or copyeditor in the future. In her spare time, she draws, plays video games and works on honing her writing skills through self-produced novels.