Ivan Natividad

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July 31, 2014
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Picking up STEAM: Sierra College collaborative says art should be added to STEM programs

The Sierra College Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, also known as STEM, aims to incorporate arts into its program in order to equip students with ways of thinking outside of the box.

“In addition to developing STEM skills, students must know how they can be applied in innovative ways to improve products, solve problems and meet changing customer demand,” Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies Carol Pepper-Kittredge said.

“To fill the skills gap identified by businesses, the Sierra STEM Collaborative became interested in art as a vehicle to inspire design thinking and create a pipeline of students prepared for work in technical fields, especially advanced manufacturing.”

The Sierra STEM Collaborative partners with local schools and businesses to promote STEM integrated curriculum to prepare students for college and in-demand technical careers.

Funded by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, the collaborative wanted to gain insight on how educators can better prepare students for advanced manufacturing and STEM careers, and asked Dr. Elizabeth Dayton, a Nevada Union High School graduate, to conduct a literature review on the value of adding the arts to STEM, making it STEAM.

After researching the topic, Dayton wrote an online academic piece called, “Exploring STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics,” which explores the evidence in support of adding arts and innovation to the national effort to encourage STEM education and careers.

“There is striking evidence of the demand for more creativity and innovation in the American economy,” Dayton states. “Both in looking backward to STEM successes in recent history, and in looking forward to what educators and employers see ahead, a convincing case can be made for the value of arts and innovation alongside strong STEM education.”

Dayton’s review considers a wide range of research on the impact art can have on students, and how it can be incorporated into the other subjects in the STEM program.

Sierra College Mechatronics Department Lab Technician Alysia Lopez was a graduate of Sierra College, and says adding art curriculum to STEM would give students a creative edge.

“For things to actually be made it takes creativity as well as skills and know-how,” Lopez said. “The people that have some artistic ability tend to do better work and succeed because they’re able to imagine things and create things, and they just have that imaginative thing about them to come up with brilliant ideas. We do a lot of fabric work in mechatronics, and part of making fabric nice is adding in some of those artistic touches.”

Since 2008, Sierra College has supported projects that prepare students for advanced manufacturing careers, reaching out to eight schools in Placer and Nevada County, including Nevada Union, to participate in the Sierra STEM Collaborative. Those schools, Pepper-Kittredge says have had success in integrating art curriculum into courses like math and welding.

“Seeking solutions and different choices and answers, that maybe were not as obvious, empowers students to have those critical thinking skills that they need, not only at the job sites, but as they move on in their lives,” Pepper-Kittredge said.

Giving students a background in arts, Pepper-Kittredge says, will help them to be successful in specific careers such as engineering, welding and fabrication.

“We’ve also seen through our partnership with Sacramento Hacker Lab that collaboration among artists, designers, manufacturers and engineers results in innovation and entrepreneurship,” Pepper-Kittredge said. “This report has reinforced our interest in encouraging the integration of art with STEM. Adding an art strand will enhance students’ knowledge and better prepare them for highly paid technical careers with manufacturers and technology companies.”

For information, go to www.sierraschoolworks.com or contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge at 916-660-7801.

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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The Union Updated Jul 31, 2014 01:01AM Published Jul 31, 2014 01:01AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.