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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

STEAM caucus wants to put the arts in STEM

The sun was setting on the horizon of the Caribbean. Sailboats were anchored next to the seashore, turning in after a long day. And a camera shutter snapped at orange-frosted clouds in the distance.

Ben Dunn, a UF College of Medicine professor, sees that image every time he turns on his desktop computer in his office at UF Health Shands Hospital. That photo is one of many he took while on vacation in the Virgin Islands.

Dunn is among a number of scientists who have an artistic interest away from the lab.

As educators in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are teaching the next generation of innovators for jobs of the future, a caucus in Congress says one field is being overlooked: the arts.

This caucus aims to change the acronym from STEM to STEAM. It believes the arts are essential to innovation and should be included in the curriculum.

As of Wednesday, the caucus had 54 members. People across the country are on board, including UF faculty.

Looking at people who have been awarded Nobel Prizes, Dunn said, many of them have had either an arts endeavor or training in a musical instrument.

“Training in the arts helps your mind be more creative,” he said. “It possibly creates additional linkages in your brain.”

Dunn said one of his colleagues, Christian Anfinsen, who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, played in a string quartet “just for fun and with other scientists.”

College of Fine Arts Dean Lucinda Lavelli said creativity is essential. Seeing things in new ways is “something that arts brings to the table that you don’t get from other training.”

The arts inspires creativity, creativity inspires innovation and innovation is needed for STEM, said Elif Akcali, an industrial and systems engineering associate professor.

But mixing arts with STEM is not new for UF. Every year the Howard Hughes Medical Institute sponsors the Creativity in Arts and Science Event.

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Dunn and Lavelli are trying to encourage students to become more well-rounded. The whole premise behind STEAM is to expand a student’s potential for success, Lavielli said.

“With everybody I hang out with, it’s STEAM already,” she said.

A version of this story ran on page 1 on 10/25/2013 under the headline "Caucus wants arts in STEM education"

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