Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Full STEAM ahead

President Obama’s State of the Union address yielded one sound bite that has been replayed and re-examined a great deal. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said, arguing for a concerted effort to reinvest in the foundations of the American economy.

Some commentators have interpreted that invocation of the 50-year-old Soviet satellite’s launch as a call for renewed investments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To be sure, these are worthy areas on which to focus. However, scientific innovation will require educators and policy makers to think more broadly and boldly.

Over the past six months, I have been reading about a movement among educators and scientists to integrate the arts into STEM education initiatives. (Wheaton Professor of Education Vicki Bartolini is engaged in a planning effort aimed at early childhood classrooms.) The resulting new acronym, STEAM, has provided a rallying point for some academics to assert the value of the arts in education. Personally, I was already convinced. Based on my own experience, I have always believed that there is a relationship between proficiency and natural ability in the arts and a proclivity toward math and science. A number of research studies seem to support this idea, particularly the link between math and music. Nonetheless, this emerging point of view underscores just how prescient the Wheaton faculty were when they developed the “Connections Curriculum” almost 10 years ago.

[Read more...]

Notable lessons

I picked up the cello for the first time when I enrolled in a summer music program to learn to play the instrument. The experience surprisingly changed my life.

Initially, every success at being able to play a piece of music was supremely satisfying. I already appreciated classical music, thanks to my parents, whose passion for it led them to share it with my brothers and me. Being able to play it for myself was a revelation.

I couldn’t put the instrument down. I practiced for hours at a time, teaching myself how to play Bach’s Suite for Cello #1 by studying a film of a Pablo Casals performance, borrowed from the local public library. My mother later told me that she sometimes left the house, simply to get away from the constant sound of false starts, muffed notes and abrupt stops.

That initial drive to master the music brought me to the attention of music professor Elizabeth Potteiger at the nearby Miami University of Ohio. I took lessons from her every Saturday for four years, and I learned a great deal, about playing the cello, injecting artistry into performances, and life’s possibilities. Her life as an academic and a musician served as an early inspiration and model for my own path.

[Read more...]

Going beyond

The most remarkable things happen at Wheaton: students find themselves and their futures.

Robert Manguso, who graduated this spring, stands as a case in point. A resident of Milford, Mass., he began his college career planning to major in business. But he found the subject less than stimulating, the school somewhat disappointing. He transferred to Wheaton, and after taking a class in biology, he decided to major in the field.

As a biology major, Robert ranged well beyond the classroom. He served as a research assistant to Professor of Biology Robert Morris, attended scholarly conferences in New England and California, and worked as a course assistant at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole during the summer.

Today, as a Fulbright Scholar, he is on his way to the University of Copenhagen, where he will explore his dream of working as a researcher in the lab of a renowned scientist whose work is similar to the studies he conducted with Professor Morris.

Robert’s college experience positioned him to take a step that, four years ago, was not on his radar screen. His classmates have embarked on equally inspiring journeys. [Read more...]