Art could help create a better 'STEM' student

December 3, 2013, University of Houston

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have become part of educational vernacular, as colleges, universities and other institutions strive to raise the profile of the areas of study and the number of graduates in each field.

Now a project from the University of Houston College of Education Urban Talent Research Institute encourages the incorporation of creative endeavors to attract more and better STEM students.

"There is not a unanimous consensus on what STEM is and there is little research on what it means to support STEM," said Jay Young, a University of Houston College of Education Ph.D. student specializing in and individual differences. Young, whose own academic studies were in physics and who taught high school math, does not doubt the need to encourage more STEM students. He does, however, doubt the methods for getting there.

"The federal government considers STEM natural sciences, while the National Science Foundation includes social sciences," he said. "Supporting STEM should also mean increasing the quality of the graduate. That is where STEAM comes in."

STEAM takes STEM efforts and incorporates art (the "A" in STEAM is for "Art"). Young's research focuses on how to incorporate creativity into STEM education with the implication that doing so will increase the quality of STEM graduates. He says STEM studies are about problem solving, and creative endeavors are exercises in problem solving.

"When an artist is painting, he is trying to solve a problem—how to express what is being felt. He experiments with colors, technique and images the same way a scientist or engineer experiments with energy and signals," he said. "There is more than one way information can be taught just like there is more than one way problems can be solved."

Young is a recipient of a Fellowship in Education Evaluation, Assessment and Research (FEEAR) sponsored by UH and U.S. Department of Education. Through an internship at the Children's Museum of Houston, Young is evaluating an afterschool program at the museum which integrates art and STEM.

"Creative thinking and problem solving are essential in the practice of math and science," he said. "Incorporating art into math and science will not only help students become more creative and better problem solvers, it will help them understand math and science better."

Young's research is guided by faculty adviser and Interim Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Faculty Affairs Rick Olenchak,. He directs the UH Urban Talent Research Institute and studies issues surrounding talent development and giftedness, as well as mentoring and creativity.

Recently, Young and eight others associated with the Urban Talent Research Institute presented research findings to the National Association of Gifted Children conference in Indianapolis.

Explore further: Researchers release first case studies to analyze inclusive STEM-focused US high schools

Related Stories

Gender gap in STEM majors linked to high school job plans

May 10, 2013

( —The fact that women are much less likely than men to choose science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors in college can be traced to gender differences in occupational plans in high school, reports ...

Recommended for you

University choice and achievement partly down to DNA

October 18, 2018

Research from King's College London has shown for the first time that genetics plays a significant role in whether young adults choose to go to university, which university they choose to attend and how well they do.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 04, 2013
"Creative thinking and problem solving are essential in the practice of math and science" Much more so that in the arts--that is because creativity most solve problems about actual things. What succeeds in the Arts is what gets "sold" as "creative"--a very different skill.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.