The Wayne State Humanities Center hosted an interactive lecture by Kenneth Jackson as part of their Brown Bag Colloquium Series about the impact of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields on the education of arts and humanities and the effect STEM has on the future of these departments.
Jackson said he has been considered a professor who teaches “soft skills” and said he wanted to emphasize that humanities departments across the country should not be considered teaching “soft skills.”
“We all know the word STEM and how it has taken recognition in the academic life,” he said. “It is exploding as an idea, academic teaching, a marketing tool, into graduate programs and in the working industry.”
The purpose of his talk was not to criticize the sciences, but criticize how the acronym has become a marketing tool, he said. He discussed why STEM has emerged, why did it happen, and if we should be nervous that it did happen.
He began with talking about how STEM came to be by Judith Ramaley. She was the assistant director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) at the time and is now a distinguished professor of public service at Portland State University.
“One of her first jobs was she walked in, saw the word ‘smet,’ said that is an ugly word let’s change it to STEM,” Jackson said. “It stuck in a big way.”
“Science is a good thing, but at the same time STEM is a marketing tool, it is the acronym itself that needs critiquing,” he said.
Jackson then continued his lecture with a showing of a Verizon commercial in which children are asked what they want to be when they grow up. Their responses include basketball players and models. The commercial then shows popular figures from these industries who say, “We don’t need more us.”
Following the video, attendees gave their opinions.
“Even though it’s important to have real-life skills, I still don’t think we should be telling kids what not to be,” Sharaya Solomon, a public relations graduate student, said. She said she doesn’t believe they teach people in the science or medical field the communication skills needed and a lot of professionals in the field lack empathy.
Shamira Tellis, a student assistant at the Humanities Center and a junior nursing student, said that while an education in humanities is useful, it is important to allow children to discover their own interests.
“I think subjects like English are important because they take you far,” Tellis said. “We shouldn’t be telling kids what to not go into, we should let them find their own way.”
Jackson said politicians see this as a “butter versus guns” issue and it’s not only a right-wing issue.
“This emphasis on STEM currently is a result of social media and polarization caused by social media because people only see what they agree with or want to see on their feed,” said Steven Jones, a WSU student and business owner. “It has been pushed so far we don’t know what is going to happen.”
“When you come to a university, a skill you get out of it is being a people person,” Jones said. “STEM is heavy so you got to love people too and have great communication skills to go places and that is where the arts and creativity comes in.”
“I think encouraging STEM is great, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
The next Brown Bag discussion will be delivered by Steven Winter on Oct. 11 in the FAB from 12:30-1:30 p.m.