ELKO – Nevada’s academic and economic success depends on training that includes the arts along with science, technology, engineering and math.
That was the thrust of the inaugural Eastern Nevada Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — STEAM — Summit in Elko this month. The Nevada Museum of Art, Elko County School District and Barrick Gold Corp. partnered to host the event Oct. 16. Summit attendees included teachers, administrators, students, parents, and industry and institutional representatives.
“The Nevada Museum of Art is really dedicated to fostering STEAM education across the state of Nevada,” said Marisa Cooper, the Charles N. Mathewson director of education at the Nevada Museum of Art. “With Barrick’s support, we thought it was important to bring an event to Eastern Nevada.”
Designed to support the growth of kindergarten through 12th-grade STEAM education in Eastern Nevada, the summit highlighted through presentations, a panel and roundtable discussions the benefit of STEAM in Nevada’s schools and explored how interdisciplinary engagement could shape future workforces.
“We want to hear what Eastern Nevada needs to make our students have access to the arts,” Cooper said. “To have the opportunity to listen is refreshing.”
As one of Nevada’s largest employers, Barrick helped coordinate the event in its support of the growth and development of the future workforce and community.
“Barrick is an interested and active stakeholder and we are here to be a part of Nevada’s evolving STEAM journey, together,” explained Rebecca Darling, director of corporate social responsibility for Barrick USA.
The modern STEAM education movement is a response to the educational strategy that began in the United States in the 1990s, focused on STEM education to create a workforce that could compete with China and India. The model became the norm, but modern arts advocates are working to promote the STEAM movement.
“Why is it important to add the A to STEM?” Cooper asked the audience. “If we want our students to be the next generation of innovators, we have to support their ability to think creatively …. That doesn’t come from STEM alone. We need to leverage the arts to create a well-rounded and capable next generation.”
Cooper contrasted the engineering-style decision-making process that has been taught in the popular education system with the artistic design process. The first is linear and results in one right answer, she said. The second is messy and might produce many different answers including an innovative right answer.
“Innovation doesn’t happen because you can always produce the one right answer,” she said. “Innovation happens because you produce 100 wrong answers, 100 terrible ideas, until one of them bubbles up to the surface and is brilliant.”
A change in the educational environment must occur to value the artistic design process once again, Cooper said. The Nevada Department of Education recently adopted an official definition of STEAM education, stemming from a white paper developed by Nevada educators and presented at the first NV STEAM Conference in February.
“Why does STEAM matter in Nevada?” Cooper asked. “I personally believe that there is no state better primed to make this a reality, and no state more hanging our ability to do this well.”
She pointed to Tesla — which operates in Nevada — as an example of a technology company that benefits from employees with artistic abilities.
Chris Reilly, workforce development & education programs lead for Tesla, was in attendance and expressed his support of STEAM education.
“Nevada has the largest pool of graduating high school seniors with 30,000 students graduating yearly,” he said. “That is why we’re investing in initiatives that inspire students to choose a career in STEAM and sustainability and give them a foundation for success. We want this to help foster the next generation of our engineers in Nevada.”
Mining, tourism and gaming, aerospace, design, IT are among the top industries in the state, and all of those Nevada businesses are different today than they were in the past — meaning, they have innovated.
“Really, the question is,” Cooper said, “‘Is there any industry that would not be improved by a more creative and innovative workforce?’”
Changing the model
Instilling creativity and innovation must begin early, however, and arts must remain an integral part of education. During a panel discussion, community stakeholders discussed solutions and shared their views on topics including why arts and science education are segregated.
Johnson said that as an engineer, she hid her artistic side during early internship interviews because she did not want to appear “weak.” She has participated in pageants and enjoys dancing, she said. Now, as the founder of STEMher magazine, she makes an effort to portray the women she profiles for their science abilities and extracurricular interests.
“In secondary education, there’s definitely some walls that need to be broken down in order to integrate these fields,” said Chris McAnany, director of secondary education for the Elko County School District.
The panel also included Janie Kimble, teacher, Carlin High School; Joyce Helens, president, Great Basin College; Brandon Thran, seventh grader, Elko Institute for Academic Achievement; Ruby Johnson, mining engineer, U.S. Forrest Service, and creator of STEMher magazine; Chris Reilly, workforce development and education programs, Tesla; Jan Petersen, K-12 education, Western Folklife Center; Tia Flores, Cultural Alliance of Nevada; and Tony Manfredi, executive director, Nevada Arts Council.
“Any teacher can incorporate the sciences as well as the arts into one lesson,” said Petersen, who also thanked local school district leaders for allowing art classes to be offered in later grades than schools in some other Nevada counties.
Yet the responsibility to integrate the disciplines must reach all the way to leaders all the way up to the state level.
“It can’t just fall on the teachers saying that they want to do this, because as much as we would like to pretend that we’re autonomous in our classrooms, we’re not,” Cooper said.
“What you’re talking about is actually politics,” responded Helens, who said both the arts and the trades are downplayed in the current education system.
Full STEAM ahead
To continue the conversation around STEAM, the Nevada Museum of Art and Desert Research Institute’s Science Alive program are hosting the Nevada STEAM Conference on Feb. 2, 2019, at the museum in Reno. The conference features hands-on workshops and nationally recognized keynote speakers. The event is free for teachers, and travel grants are available.
Cooper said that STEAM advocates are “leveraging the arts to support creativity, innovation and cognitive risk-taking across disciplines.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the 2019 conference date.