How dance can help students in STEM disciplines

October 10, 2017 by Matt Shipman
Credit: Hernán Piñera. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

A proof-of-concept study at North Carolina State University finds participation in dance programs helps students - including those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines - develop skills such as creativity and persistence that benefited them in the classroom and beyond.

"Our core question was what drives students to participate in the arts at an institution where there are no arts majors and there is an emphasis on STEM," says lead author Fay Cobb Payton, a University Faculty Scholar and professor of information systems and technology. "We wanted to know what benefits students get from engaging in the arts when they're majoring in other disciplines.

"We found that study participants feel that they benefit substantially from participating in the arts - in this case, dance - and that, in this context, the arts can be viewed as a structure for fostering inclusion and nurturing persistence, among other things."

Over the course of a year, researchers conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with 25 who had been involved in on-campus dance companies as undergraduates. Fifteen of the participants were STEM majors, majoring in disciplines such as applied mathematics, engineering and chemistry.

Study participants reported that participating in the dance companies gave them a sense of community, a healthy outlet for expressing themselves, and access to a more diverse group of people than they found in their academic disciplines.

"Participants also reported that being involved in dance made them more creative in the way they approached problem-solving in the laboratory or classroom," Payton says. "For example, the dancers said they were accustomed to working as part of a , and felt this helped them incorporate multiple viewpoints when tackling academic challenges."

Study participants also said they found a sense of rigor in the of dance that mirrored the academic rigor they faced as students, but that many of their peers were dismissive of as a serious pursuit.

Anecdotally, the researchers found that there was a lack of awareness among other students about campus activities and opportunities related to the arts.

"This is a small, qualitative study," Payton says. "The next step is to look quantitatively at larger groups and other forms of the arts, such as music, with the goal of developing best practices for incorporating these diverse fields of interest in way that improves outcomes and well-being for undergraduates.

"We'd like to see more institutional support for the idea that STEM and the arts can complement each other. This isn't about training professional dancers, but about training students from a variety of fields in how to be creative, work well in groups and so on. It's good workforce preparation - and it also makes students happy. That's something which is often overlooked, but it's important."

The paper, "STEM Majors, Art Thinkers – Issues of Duality, Rigor and Inclusion," is published in the Journal of STEM Education.

Explore further: Academic culture, institutional factors pushing college women out of STEM majors

More information: STEM Majors, Art Thinkers – Issues of Duality, Rigor and Inclusion, jstem.org/index.php?journal=JS … view&path%5B%5D=2101

Related Stories

Students as teachers effective in STEM subjects

March 17, 2016

In the traditional college learning structure, students enter the classroom and place their focus on the classroom instructor. But researchers in Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) biology department ...

Recommended for you

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...

0 comments

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.