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STEM + the Arts = STEAM

By John B. Wood •  May 7, 2012

I am a firm believer that there is an intrinsic link between the arts and the math and science disciplines.  While many people recognize both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo for their remarkable contributions to the art world, their contributions to math, science and engineering are often overlooked. How can great artists also be great scientists? Because those disciplines are intrinsically linked.

Leonardo_da_Vincit_8_midRather than STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), I am a huge proponent of STEAM education—which is simply STEM + the arts. Not only does the incorporation of art into a good science and math curriculum help build the foundation for creative innovation down the road, but arts can also make the “boring” disciplines more fun. Making science and math fun is extremely important, because there is a precipitous decline in the interest of both math and science by the time children reach the sixth grade.  If we make these disciplines fun early on, kids will stay hooked through middle school, high school and their secondary education.

Last week I had the opportunity to watch as a room of preschoolers learned about engineering through the arts. The guest teacher was an artist by trade, and did a wonderful job of walking the preschool aged children through a six step engineering process through song, dance and theater. In discussions with the artist after the exercise, she said that a few children have been seen applying the six step process to issues they encounter on the playground. Even though engineering falls outside of the preschool standards in Loudoun County, the lessons taught by the artist have resulted in practical application.

As the CEO of an IT security company, I recognize the benefits of a strong STEAM curriculum both locally and nationally.  Yes, improving the quality of STEAM education improves the quality of my future employee pool—but the importance of STEAM education runs much deeper than finding talented software engineers for our company. In case you missed it, cyber is the newest of the five warfighting domains.  Cyberwarriors are in high demand in our country, and without highly skilled software engineers and security professionals, our national security is at risk. And the cyber domain is only becoming more complex by the day.

We need to engage our young minds early in their schooling, and teach them that science and math can be both fun and cool—and what better way, than through the arts.

John B. Wood

John B. Wood

John B. Wood is the chairman and CEO of Telos Corporation. Follow him on Twitter: @john_b_wood See full bio...

Telos CEO John Wood blogs about business, education, and the values that guide us.


  • Avatar Caillet says:

    Interesting John, glad you believe wholeheartedly in STEM and the connection to the arts. My company, iSTARTUP, incorporated as a nonprofit, is leading the way in assisting people of all ages to first find their passions before they think about areas of education which might interest them, let me explain.

    We work with teens and seniors and everyone in-between. We work with the homeless and executives and everyone in-between. We assist people in finding their passions in the form of a Passion Statement composed of three specific areas: 1) what we love doing, 2) for whom, 3) for what benefit or value. Then we assist them in identifying the resources they need to create the greatest impact based on their Passion Statement: more education, experience, skills, etc.

    The story of a young singer in Boston may explain it all: A 14 year old girl came to a TeenLife Volunteering event in which my company had a table. She was part of a group of singers who were happily providing some of the entertainment for the event as well as being a participant. After one of her performances she meandered over to the iSTARTUP table. She was intrigued by the words such as Passion and Purpose we had at our booth. I asked her “What are your passions”. Before I could almost even finish my question, she proudly proclaimed that singing was her passion.

    Then I asked her, what part of singing does she like the best as some people like writing lyrics, some teaching others how to sing… she loves performing. I had a large flip chart as part of our booth and I started filling in the blanks of her Passion Statement. The next part was ‘for whom or what’ does she love singing and performing. It took her a couple moments but she said — everyone. She wants to perform for everyone. Ok, only one last part to go.

    “What is the value you wish to bring to your audience,” I asked. She was clearly intrigued by the question as it was clear she was never asked this before nor had she ever contemplated it before. With a ton of certainty she said “to being them emotional understanding”. What an amazing girl. I hi-fived her for such an insightful answer. I filled in the rest of her Purpose Statement. She was obviously very proud.

    Curiously, I asked her, what classes could she be taking in high school to gain a better understanding of how to do that and have the greatest impact on others. Quickly she thought of psychology and then biology. She was now excited to go back to her school to ask them if she could be signed up for something in those realms in September and how she could find books and podcasts about how emotion occurs in the body before September.

    The coaching/conversation I had with this wonderful girl is similar to hundreds I have had over the years. There are very very few people who have a passion that would not benefit from STEM — however the majority of people do not make the connections. We have found that it is very important for the motivation for taking such a course to come from them, from their heart.

    As a nonprofit, we would love the support, especially from a leader in the industry in assisting more teens and young adults by getting into STEM though their innate passion for the arts. A good portion of young adults have a passion towards art, music, theater, etc. and every time there is a link to STEM. And, they are then SELF-MOTIVATED to take these classes as they see it as assisting them in something they really love.

    Feel free to contact me through our website: istartup.cc

  • Avatar Ashfaq Ishaq says:

    Thank you Mr. Wood for your support of the arts as CEO of an IT company. The International Child Art Foundation has served as the leading art and creativity organization for American children and their international counterparts since 1997. Your advocacy of the arts is of critical importance to ICAF and the teachers and children we work with.

    Over the years we have learned the importance of sport and play as well, especially given the obesity crisis. ICAF introduces children to the Artist-Athlete℠ ideal of the creative mind and healthy body. ICAF is a pioneer in STEAMS℠ education, which integrates Arts and Sport with STEM disciplines for children’s holistic development. We encourage your involvement.

  • Avatar Jennifer Buekli says:

    Janice!! Passion & Purpose, two words that should be inseparable!! I’ve often been in conversations with people who don’t know what to do with their lives. And I would ask them what was the one thing you could do as a child for hours and hours? And I am always amazed at how their faces would like up and they would speak passionately about their childhood activities. It is so true that we all have an innate passion for something, a life’s purpose. What you are doing is awesome and soooo incredibly necessary at this time as so many people are really losing touch with life’s infinite possibilities and the belief that we all bring something of value to this world. i will check out your website and I will pass it on! Thank you!! Jennifer

  • Avatar Jennifer Buerkli says:

    Art is wonderful, amazing and awesome but as time has gone on we’ve created so many rules, regulations and opinions around Art that we have been completely missing the point. Art is product. Creation is the process and it is within the creative process that we connect to our creative source and from there we have the potential to think feel do or create something that has never existed before. Society can no longer thrive and growth on regurgitated, recycled, reclaimed thought. The next generations need to be on the leading edge of creative and inspired thought and it’s how we teach our children that will make the shift. Not necessarily what we teach.

  • Avatar john says:

    ashfaq, thank you for your comments. i see we are now following each other on twitter– i look forward to continuing the conversation about STEAM education. -jbw

  • Avatar john says:

    jennifer, thank you for sharing your comments. i couldn’t agree more. having the ability to think outside the box is an essential employee attribute, not only in the tech security industry, but in all industries. -jbw

  • Avatar john says:

    thank you for your comments janice. what an amazing young lady you met at the TeenLife volunteering event! getting kids excited about STEAM education is hugely important– we need to help them find their own ‘passion statement.’ -jbw

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