Improving college curriculum through STEM, humanities integration


 

Albert Einstein said, “all religions, arts and sciences are branches from the same tree.” Yet specialization has been the hallmark of higher education for decades.

Most students, even those who have not yet entered college, know that after taking a few “general education” or “core classes,” you focus the rest of your academic career within a specific area of interest. As a result of this specialization, employers have raised concerns that college graduates are not developing the breadth of knowledge or the ability to integrate ideas from varied disciplines that would better prepare students for work, life and citizenship, as well as the jobs of the future.

In response to this workforce issue, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) issued in 2018 a report, Branches from the Same Tree. Suzanna Rose, founding associate provost of the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity, was a member of the committee that produced the report, which suggests that the integration of arts and humanities with science, engineering, math and medicine can improve educational and career outcomes for undergraduate and graduate students.

“Since its publication, the report has been downloaded more than 8,000 times in 125 countries, and received mention in various news outlets and on social media platforms,” Rose says. “The integration of humanities and the sciences is an important concept, and people want to know more about it.”

Reflecting the importance of this topic, NASEM is hosting a national convening on Friday, April 12, in Washington, D.C. The conference is open to the public and will feature speakers and exhibits about integrative pedagogy.

The concern for more integrative learning experiences can be seen as a reflection of changes in the workforce. The average American worker now changes careers seven times over the course of their employment history, so it is increasingly necessary to train students to be flexible and adaptable.

At FIU, former provost Douglas Wartzok oversaw the addition of scientific illustration courses to Art + Art History and scientific writing to English, where, “Students can develop more than one skill set, which is vital given the changing economic systems.”

Other such programs at FIU include the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts’ (CARTA) Innovation LAB and Miami Beach Urban Studios, which offers the opportunity of unique collaborations between arts and science through the use of their 3D printing technologies.

More broadly, Wartzok believes artistic and humanistic perspectives are just as important for students to possess as scientific ones. “For everyone to be successful in their careers, they need to examine the full breadth of human experience in their education. For example, the architect Frank Gehry doesn’t receive commissions because he designs functional office buildings, but because his designs are artistic and impactful.”

Physics professor Pete Markowitz also agrees with the report’s findings. “Specialization leads to very narrow training for jobs, instead of a broader education.” Markowitz believes broader viewpoints provide different perspectives by which to understand science. In his Modern Physics class, he and his students recently discussed Stephen Hawking and how science intermingles with culture.

Markowitz is a professor in the Honors College, which specifically highlights collaborative teaching and intersectionality in its courses. The “science guy” in a group of instructors that also includes a theater professor, a political science professor and a practicing attorney, he appreciates the breadth of experience the team brings to addressing big questions.

Markowitz has been a proponent of integrating the humanities with the sciences for years. In 2013, when the Higgs boson was discovered at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Markowitz worked with FIU artist Xavier Cortada on an art exhibit that included interactive performances and five huge banners that are now on permanent display at the institute.

“The science discovered at CERN makes you wonder, which is something all students from all disciplines experience,” says Markowitz. “Artists, English majors, business students — everyone wants to have their horizons expanded.”