Animation by Jessica Herron

Archive of NSF/RISD Bridging STEM to STEAM Workshop

Leonardo DaVinci was famously an engineer, architect, scientist and, of course, a painter. “Why choose just one?” asked Shirley Malcolm of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in addressing participants at a national workshop RISD hosted on January 20 and 21. “Why was this artificial bifurcation made [between art and science] and how can we reconnect it?”
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Bridging STEM to STEAM: Developing New Frameworks for Art-Science-Design Pedagogy looked at ways educators and policymakers can begin to bridge this gap. In particular, the goal of this gathering of minds was to develop strategies to enhance STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] education by integrating art and design – transforming STEM into STEAM and promoting the intellectual and creative potentials in the process.

Graphical Renderings of the STEM to STEAM workshop by Lynn Carruthers (click image to download).

The workshop brought together 60 leaders from the fields of science, creative IT, engineering, art and design, mathematics and education research to strategize about innovative ways to fuse these fields and teach new approaches to creative problem solving. RISD educators and Principal Investigators Christopher Rose and Brian K. Smith devised and organized the workshop, and half a dozen other key RISD educators participated in the series of provocative and inspiring discussions.  Participants visited the RISD Nature Lab and Museum, incorporating various modes of knowledge building encounters and collectively moving through the different kinds of learning spaces available on campus.

“It’s not about adding on arts education,” noted Margaret Honey, president and CEO of the New York Hall of Science, in addressing the group. “It’s about fundamentally changing education to incorporate the experimentation and exploration that is at the heart of effective education.”    

In their presentations and discussions, participants gave examples of successful creative collaborations. For example, Michael Benson, a photographer and illustrator at Kinetikon Pictures talked about his solar system photography and Jonathan Harris, co-creator of We Feel Fine, showed examples of how he uses art and design in the form of information visualization to reveal the secrets and human empathy hidden in datasets. An installation in London by the ‘The Breathing City’ [cross-disciplinary project], sponsored by the Royal Society of Science, showed links between data visualization in complex systems and public engagement with science.

According to Maeda, America’s ongoing focus on STEM education and ever more advanced technology to the exclusion of other subject areas is shortsighted. “Art and design are essential to humanizing technology,” he points out. “You need both in order to create balance and fuel true innovation.”


“What happens if you sell your ignorance?”
– Richard Saul Wurman, TED
“It’s important to embrace our own stupidity — to go backward to go forward in the journey of learning.”
– Richard Saul Wurman, TED
“Students learn best when immersed in complex experiences and actively process what they’ve learned.”
– Liesl Hotaling, Senior Research Engineer, Ecosystems Technology Group, University of South Florida
“Holism is a way of knowing. The world comes to us whole; we explore it from many different perspectives.”
– Marina McDougall, Arts Project Director at the Exploratorium, San Francisco
“Learning needs to be varied and textured to take hold.”
– Marina McDougall, Arts Project Director at the Exploratorium, San Francisco
“Why choose just one? What was this artificial bifurcation [btw art/ science] & how can we reconnect it?”
– Shirley Malcom, Director, Education and Human Resources, American Association for the Advancement of Science
“[STEAM] is a shift in how we think about learning…”
– Margaret Honey, President and CEO, New York Hall of Science
“…deep, powerful, sustained engagement is what the STEAM agenda needs to be about.”
– Idris Mootee, Innovation Playground
“If you’ve never been lost you’ll never end up getting anywhere new.”
– Dan Wieden, Wieden + Kennedy
“Transdisciplinary research usually fails because we don’t use the same language or funding structures.”
– Johannes Goebel, Director, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“One of the most powerful opportunities is to notice what we notice.”
– Brian Smith, RISD Continuing Education


Follow @stemtosteam on Twitter.
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Research Assistants:
Carly Ayres
Jessica Fanning
Jessica Herron
Andreas Nicholas
Sara Raffo
Peter Simon
Arthur Yidi


  1. Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Someone once said to me that they’d rather give their tax money to NASA than to the NEA because it was more useful. I asked him where he’d spent his Saturday night, at the science terminal or the concert hall.

    It’s not just that art and science can improve each other… I want to know who came up with the idea that a world without art would be a good place to live in?? Who forgot that most of our pleasures in life come from art – music, painting, fashion, dance, sculpture, theater…

  2. Posted March 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    A delight to read. There are many efforts underway to “humanize technology,” including behavior economics, behavioral finance and, my favorite, humaneering technology. Humaneering technology, now in private field trials, is a synthesis of human-science knowledge, for use in combination with engineering (i.e., humaneering is technology for human nature, just as engineering is technology for physical nature), initially for enterprise applications in the design and management of people-dependent operations. Curious, see and specifically, or contact me.

    Dr. James Pepitone –
    Research Director – EarlyAccess Field Trials
    Humaneering Institute (Nonprofit)

  3. Posted April 15, 2011 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    As a high school teacher of computer graphics and design who is pursuing an MFA in Design with a thesis subject of K-12 Design education, I am particularly interested to know if any K-12 teachers were in attendance at this conference and if so, what their input was. All that I have read here are comments from professional designers and college faculty, who really have little experience, if any, instructing public school students in the necessities of learning design as part of their broader studies. I would very much like to know what those teachers thought, since this conference should have been about helping them.

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  1. By Thesis on December 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm

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