Over the last few decades, the technology explosion has prompted a shift in United States schools to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and with significant results:
- In 1960, 1.1 million Americans worked in science and engineering fields. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), that number now approaches 6 million.
- In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the number of people employed in careers related to STEM was expected to increase to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022.
- In 2005, the NSF reported that 30.9 percent of college freshman intended to major in science or engineering, but today that number has increased to up to 47 percent for males. Women earned 50.3 percent of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2013 according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.
But the 21st century economy demands much more. Design thinking and creativity are essential ingredients for any kind of innovation, and now, education is widening its STEM focus to include the arts.
At Archbishop McNicholas High School, a team of educators representing a cross section of STEAM subjects—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—has been collaborating and designing ways to use these subjects as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The goal is to help students take risks, engage in experiential learning, embrace collaboration, persist in problem-solving, and work through the creative process.
“STEAM reflects the skills needed for the 21st century,” McNicholas Principal Dave Mueller said. “Communication, collaboration, culture, and creativity are the foundations of STEAM that will help students develop empathy, learn how to define problems and brainstorm solutions, and synthesize, implement, and evaluate those solutions.”
To illustrate a result of the faculty collaboration, McNicholas recently hosted Curie Me Away. Sponsored by the McNicholas science and theatre departments, Curie Me Away is a musical based on the science, life, and legacy of Madame Marie Curie, a pioneer in the field of physical chemistry and two-time Nobel Prize winner. The show’s creator and star, Sadie Bowman, travels the country with the show and her Matheatre program. Bowman said the work of science and art use the same methods.
“In science and the arts, you are constantly throwing out an idea or hypothesis and testing it,” she said. “You need a creative imagination and good critical thinking to test all the ideas and see what works and what doesn’t to move forward in both science and art.”
According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, students who study the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievements. The McNicholas Science Department inducted its 15th class of Science National Honor Society (SNHS) students on Weds, Sept. 19, and most of the fourteen seniors inducted have studied or been involved with some form of the arts while at McNicholas.
McNicholas alumnus Craig White ’94, spoke to the SNHS inductees and their parents. White is a physical therapist for older adults and has been an organist with Immaculate Heart of Mary church for 24 years. As a McNicholas student, White played for Masses and in theatre productions. “I am not a person who enjoys the spotlight,” White said. “but studying music helped my science career and gave me an outlet and release as well.”
During this year’s Open House on Sunday, Oct. 21, the STEAM collaborative will highlight several examples of integrated approaches and intentional connections. “The projects being developed by our faculty will illustrate the importance of this process-based, collaborative learning,” Mueller said. “It is exciting to see such a fluid, dynamic, and relevant learning environment coming alive at McNicholas.”
The science and theatre departments co-sponsored the musical "Curie Me Away" in September. The McNicholas Science Department was recently selected as one of the 2017-18 Governor's Thomas Edison Award for Excellence in STEM Education and Student Research for the 29th consecutive year. McNicholas is the only Catholic high school in the Archdiocese to win the award this year.