Langevin, RISD Lead Effort to Grow Economy through Art and Design Training

Sep 26, 2011 Issues: Economy and Jobs, Education

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) told leaders of Rhode Island’s arts and education communities at a “STEM to STEAM” forum today that our country must integrate art and design into efforts to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and research to reach our full potential for innovation and economic growth. STEM + Art = STEAM.

Langevin, who has partnered with Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) President John Maeda in this effort, highlighted the state’s opportunity to capitalize on its extraordinary resources in these areas to be a national leader in preparing a workforce with the combination of creative and technical skills required to excel in the 21st century economy.

“Art and design are critical components of innovating products that are both effective and appealing to consumers,” said Langevin, who has made workforce development a top priority and co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus. “RISD’s work under President Maeda’s leadership has shown the benefits of this integrated approach. We must bring it to other educational and training programs if we are to succeed in closing the gap between the skills our students are taught and the abilities that employers need.”

As one example of the potential application of art and design education, RISD artists worked with researchers to design toys specifically for disabled children. In addition, the school’s work on “STEM to STEAM” was recently part of an effort that won Rhode Island a $20 million National Science Foundation Research Infrastructure Improvement grant. These funds allow artists and designers to work collaboratively with scientists to advance research on effects of climate change and build institutional, technological and communications infrastructure.

“I believe art and design are poised to change the world now like science and technology did in the last century,” said Maeda. “Art and design humanize those developments, and fuel true innovation, which ultimately leads to both economic recovery and cultural prosperity. Apple's iPod is a perfect example of technology that basically existed for a long time as an MP3 player, but that nobody ever wanted until design made it something desirable and useful in a way that you could integrate it into your lifestyle.”

In his presentation, Maeda explained that the studio method taught at RISD, which emphasizes project-based experiential learning, is a model for teaching the kind of creative problem solving, flexible thinking and risk-taking required to challenge conventional ideas and innovate in today’s fast-changing world. For example, students in the school’s Industrial Design department recently worked with Progressive Insurance in a partnered studio to develop “Snapshot,” a user-friendly gadget that helps monitor driving habits to afford consumers lower rates. Snapshot was recently touted in Progressive’s national ad campaign.

The Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC) has also positioned the state to be a leader in STEAM training by incorporating design into the state's Science and Technology Strategic Plan. Its strategy envisions Rhode Island's excellence in design helping to lead the state in the next wave of "technology-powered growth and job creation."

“Rhode Island has a long legacy in craft and design and a time honored reputation for turning ideas and knowledge into products,” said Christine Smith, Executive Director of the Rhode Island STAC. “Solutions to the many complex problems facing our world will be found at the convergence of multiple disciplines. The creativity and collaboration inherent in art and design is the connective tissue that will join fragmented ideas into an integrated solution.”

Other speakers at today’s event included Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo; Saul Kaplan, Founder and Chief Catalyst at Business Innovation Factory, and member of RI STAC; Andrea Castañeda, Chief of the Department of Accelerating School Performance at the Rhode Island Department of Education; Charlie Cannon, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at RISD; and Stephen Lane, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Ximedica.

The event took place at the Rhode Island Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has prioritized grants to support programs that use art to prepare students with the technical, academic, creative and innovative skills to succeed.

“The Foundation is committed to working with other community leaders to support professional development for educators and improve student achievement. We invest in innovative proposals with these goals in mind, and STEM to STEAM initiatives that add art and design methods to science and math classrooms have shown positive results,” said Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation. “I thank Congressman Langevin, President Maeda, President Carriuolo, and the other supporting organizations for their efforts on behalf of Rhode Island students, who we all agree deserve the best education possible.” 

Langevin is working to make STEAM a national priority, recently introducing a resolution that urges Congress to include art and design in the STEM fields as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition, it calls for the creation of a STEM to STEAM Council, which would bring together artists, designers, education and business leaders, and federal agencies to facilitate a comprehensive approach to incorporate art and design into federal STEM programs.