The Gustavian Weekly

Is “STEAM” based learning good for Gustavus?

By Oakley Clark - Opinion Columnist | May 4, 2018 | Opinion

Nobel is currently surrounded by fences covered in construction area warning signs as it undergoes renovation.

Nobel is currently surrounded by fences covered in construction area warning signs as it undergoes renovation.

While many of us—namely, juniors and seniors—will never see the completed Nobel Hall and Theater expansion, we already are seeing the destruction the big yellow crane in leaving in its wake. 

Where, exactly, do the liberal arts fall within the much touted “STEAM” education framework?

The Nobel expansion is much needed—the place is currently like walking around in an asylum. 

It’s dry, emotionless, industrial, and I can’t help but feel that the power could blink on and off at any moment. 

Still, whether a liberal arts college like Gustavus needs a science building that’s double in size remains a valid question—especially at a time of mediocre enrollment numbers.

Gustavus is not a research institution, never will be, and will not ever be able to compete with well-established research institutions. 

The commitment to the liberal arts seems even more lacking when, for example, modern languages are taking a hit. 

Gustavus’ Chinese offerings are set for the chopping block. Mandarin is an ever-growing and important language in the globalized world, so it’s ironic that the college, which stresses that it prepares students for the modern world, is cutting the program. 

Getting rid of Chinese was apparently a way to save costs—even though only one professor was employed under the program. 

Furthermore, many question the commitment to the modern languages more generally—some imagining even less options in 10-15 years. 

Meanwhile, a some $50 million expansion to Nobel continues underway. 

While the Nobel project looks to the future, the cutting of programs disregards the future. 

Students come to liberal arts colleges in search for choice to fulfill academic curiosity. 

If the College chops programs simply because of financial restraint, the College’s future is already at risk. 

What other departments/classes will be cut when financials are tight?

How are those cuts decided upon? 

Clearly, whoever’s idea it was to cut Chinese was short-sighted, and I could easily see that logic carrying over to cutting important departments like Classics, Art History, Philosophy, and Religion. 

That’s because these departments don’t necessarily mold students into the cookie-cutter shape required by corporations in the economy. 

The sudden focus on the so-called “STEAM” framework takes attention off of the liberal arts. 

Since when is a science, technology, engineering, and math emphasis align with the liberal arts? 

Sure, science and math are included in the liberal arts, but STEM was originally formulated to pump out workers ready for the economy. 

The liberal arts has been about producing curious human beings who are ready for action in their communities and civic life—quite the opposite of simply creating workers for the economy. 

Also, adding “art” to STEM doesn’t magically make it more liberal artsy. 

One also has to wonder about the sudden focus on the arts—specifically theatre and dance. 

Gustavus isn’t particularly known as an art school—just as it isn’t particularly known as a science school. 

Indeed, where does “technology” and “engineering” even appear at Gustavus? 

Sure, Computer Science and Physics may have some overlap, but those departments are not even located in Nobel. 

Perhaps the sheer size of the new Nobel will include space for new departments in those areas, but, again, Gustavus is not a research institution. 

While I admire any attempt to expand the scope of the education offered at Gustavus, any such attempt cannot and should not compromise Gustavus’ liberal arts history and courses that fall in line with that history. 

A new neuroscience department should not come to our campus when the humanities risk being cut—even if donors paid for it. 

A new Nobel building shouldn’t be built under the same conditions. 

Gustavus stands out because of its commitment to the liberal art, and its ability to avoid fad trends in education. 

And let it be known, a so-called “STEAM” framework is just that: a fad. 

No matter how large of a crane they plop in the middle of our campus, in vogue educational trends will never be able to equate the time-tested history surrounding the liberal arts and humanities. 

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