A Sputnik Moment for Education: The Role of CTE and Arts in STEM Innovation


Hailed as this generation’s “Sputnik moment,” science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is slotted to receive $3.4 billion in President Obama’s 2012 budget request. The President’s “Winning the Future” strategy includes $13 billion in overall investment to stimulate innovation. The many voices calling for more rigorous STEM education in the United States range from the National Academies of Science to the board rooms of industry, the halls of Congress, and the nation’s military leadership.

Fueled by the accelerating rate of science- and technology-based innovations, and unsatisfactory U.S. benchmarks on international university (percent of STEM graduates) and K-12 education (math and science scores) performance, STEM is the investment President Obama is asking for among other funding trade-offs.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), states that primary and secondary (K-12) STEM education include mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, environmental science, and geology. PCAST avers that STEM education will help produce the capable and flexible workforce needed to compete in a global marketplace; however, its narrow classical education definition misses the mark in terms of how STEM fuels innovation.

In the United States, science- and technology-based innovations have contributed an overwhelming proportion of economic growth to our national economy and in per capita income since the beginning of the 20th century. The STEM workforce transcends the mere 5% of jobs usually categorized as “STEM” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, arts and “middle-skill” jobs are not typically counted as part of the STEM workforce but require knowledge and understanding of science, technology, engineering and math in their practice:

(1) Of the two million U.S. arts jobs requiring significant technology proficiency: 10% are architects; 11% are fine artists, art directors and animators; 7% are producers and directors; and 7% are photographers. The products of these disciplines represent 6.4% of the U.S. economy and over $126 billion annually in revenue from foreign trade. Read more at Arts in the Workforce.

(2) The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates that approximately seven million “middle-skill” job openings will be filled by workers with an associate’s degree or occupational certificate between now and 2018. Students who obtain an engineering certificate from a technical or community college earn an average income of $46,596.00 and those who hold a certificate in a health related field earn a median salary of $46,000.00. Read more at Pathways to Prosperity.

STEM, therefore, deserves special status in terms of how we define related workforce and educational practice—and thus concomitant funding. Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” If we are to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” as President Obama has proclaimed, we must ask: What is missing in the innovation agenda?

The answer is the arts.

The separation between the arts and science, technology, engineering and mathematics is artificial and relatively new in terms of human history. All of the disciplines of science, engineering and mathematics are born of Mother Art. And, she has somehow lost touch with her children.

A grassroots movement has emerged, connecting STEM and the Arts with acronyms such as TEAMS and STEAM. In South Korea, the Ministry of Education recently announced that its innovation agenda will be buttressed by investments in STEAM—STEM and the ARTS—not just STEM. In the U.S., the National Science Teachers Association and the Arts Education partnership both have STEM and arts integration on their professional development agendas. Career and Technical Education (CTE) initiatives in Ohio, Texas, Florida, Maryland, and California are pursuing similar STEAM initiatives to deliver students to higher education and workers to industries ranging from the defense department to Disney.

When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding for the war effort, he asked: “Then what are we fighting for?” Similarly, as we begin this journey of making sacrifices and investing in education and research we should ask: What is the role of the arts in innovation? What is the role of the arts in wealth creation? What is the role of the arts in creating jobs? What is the role of the arts in national security? What is the role of the arts in defining who we are as Americans? And, what is the role of the arts in STEM initiatives?

Michael Lesiecki from MATEC Networks in Arizona explains, “Our industry partners are seeking a more entrepreneurial type of knowledge worker… one who understands the creative and innovation processes. I think this is why we need to integrate STEM and the arts.” Community College and high school CTE programs should target STEM initiatives including grants to build STEM consortia and networks, teacher recruiting and professional development, CTE-STEM-ARTS integration and online learning. A special emphasis should be placed on the intersection of network and information technology (NIT) with the arts, cyber security, games and simulations, health, energy, transportation, environmental science, physical science and health science.

Model TEAMS initiatives include Valencia Community College arts and entertainment program, Indian River State College, Clark Magnet High School, Orlando Tech gaming, and Ohio’s TEAMS model. A key differentiator for CTE will be to emphasize a systems perspective including movement through the process of concept, design, implementation and operations (CDIO) in relevant technical and engineering programs.

CTE programs should work to organize knowledge into a system-of-systems similar to Marcopa Community College’s eSyst—an emerging model of systems technicians displacing antiquated electronics programs. Learn more at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology CDIO program, the Society for Design and Process Science, and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

Middle- to high- skill workforce education initiatives should be emphasized in CTE, including a greater focus on adopting practices, professional development and curricula from the NSF Advanced Technology Education programs. Learn more about these high rigor CTE-STEM programs at the upcoming Hi-TEC conference, NSF ATE program grant site or at ATE Centers online.


Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker and strategist focusing on innovation and transformation. Since 2003, Jim has authored several emerging technology forecasts and briefs in addition to consulting on international technology innovation strategies in Portugal and the U.S. In October of 2011, Jim will deliver the keynote speech for the National Career Pathway Network conference in Orlando, Florida. Jim’s mentor and collaborator is Dr. (Col.) Francis X. “Duke” Kane who was recognized in March of 2010 as a catalyst of the global positioning system (GPS) among other achievements. Jim and Duke are the co-founders of spaceTEAMS in San Antonio, Texas, targeting the first person to walk on Mars to be from San Antonio.

  • Harry Keller


    You’ve heard that “East is East and West is West.” Well, arts are arts and science is science.

    No one should short-change the arts. Yet, no one should confuse arts and science.

    Actually, we are confusing science, mathematics, and engineering by creating the acronym STEM. Adding another letter doesn’t help, it confuses even more.

    I won’t go into the details here; I’ve already done that on my blog.

    Science requires a particular mental orientation. The arts are separate but not opposed to science. Our students must learn both. Just don’t confuse science with arts, engineering, technology, or mathematics. Science is about exploring the real world, asking questions that are answerable by exploration, and finding out by discovery. We absolutely must have these skills just as we must have artistic skills. However, they’re not the same.

    The attempts to piggy-back arts on the back of science is just wrong. The arts can stand by themselves and for themselves. Most scientists appreciated the arts. Einstein played the violin. Don’t dilute arts in this fashion. Don’t misrepresent science even more by first messing up science by making into STEM and then even more by making it TEAMS.

    • Ed Erickson

      You might want to look at the Creative Process and compare it to the Scientific Process. You tell me the difference.

      • Jim

        Yes sir! It’s all the same thing! We are the technology–art and craft and design!

  • Jim Brazell



    I found this last night.

    Perhaps you may consider visiting with your friends at the Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre (GSRT) to get additional perspective on STEM and ARTS integration. GSRT is hosting the The Art of Science Learning: Shaping the 21st-Century Workforce conference. The Art of Science Learning explores ways in which the arts can help improve how people of all ages learn the sciences. Hands-on, imaginative approaches to science education, using many of the methods used in the creative arts, have been shown to attract and retain young people in the fields of Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (sometimes known as the STEM disciplines).

    The Conferences will showcase interdisciplinary methods and techniques used by educators and artists, share the results of current research into the impact of arts-based approaches to science education, and explore the connection between the arts and American economic competitiveness.

    On the Web: http://www.artofsciencelearning.org/

    Please consider this perspective from the arts world. What GSRT believes:

    We believe in the energy generated when you cross boundaries, bridge gaps, and break through barriers.

    We believe that innovation comes from a practiced habit of identifying and overturning assumptions, and then following each new path to its logical conclusion.

    We believe that most problems, if not all, are open to solution if you come up with the right idea and execute it well.

    We believe that ideas are easy if you get out of their way, and that everybody enjoys coming up with new ideas, if you show them how and say it’s okay.

    We believe that education and ideation should go hand in hand, and that education without ideation is a formula for stagnation.

    We think art and science are two complementary forms of creativity, and that scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technologists of all kinds are great partners for artists in helping to solve the problems of the world.

  • Jim Brazell


    1 Example of the case for STEM and Arts from an industry perspective – Livingstone-Hope Skills Review recommends major changes to UK video games and visual effects education

    The Livingstone-Hope Skills Review released today, and backed by NESTA and Skillset has claimed that the UK games business has the potential to generate £1 billion more sales by 2014, but that for this to happen, major changes need to be made to the current educational system.

    The report looked at both the video games and visual effects industries, and their relation to STEM education in schools; identifying the fact that “there are severe misalignments between the education system and what the UK video games and visual effects industries need”. In carrying out the survey, the authors surveyed a huge number of parents, young people and teachers to gauge their views on the skills and subjects required to work in these two industries, principally, “a lack of understanding of the importance of maths, physics and art” was identified among them.

    In-depth interviews were also undertaken with over half of the UK’s video games and visual effects industries employers, and many of them revealed “a real dissatisfaction with the talent pool available in the UK”, meaning they are often forced to recruit from overseas instead.

    More worryingly, although the report specifically focussed on two industries: video games and visual effects, the findings showed that the deficiencies of the educational system uncovered through this investigation could actually have much wider ramifications upon the UK’s entire “high-tech creative and digital industries more generally”.

    The report made 20 recommendations across the talent pipeline, ranging across 1) Schools, 2) Universities, Colleges and Vocational education, and 3) Training and continuous professional development. A few of these recommendations included:

    A claim that “computer science should be on the national curriculum alongside maths and physics”
    “A GCSE in computer science should be introduced in all schools and recognised, alongside art, within the new English Baccalaureate”
    A need for more specialist teachers, more effective use of video games and visual effects in STEM lessons, exposure to industry role models and the development of a national schools competition.
    The report concludes by saying that: “Unless we act quickly, we are in danger of losing out in globally competitive markets that are only set to grow quickly in the years ahead”.

    The full report Next Gen – Transforming the UK into the world’s leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries can be downloaded from this page.

    UK report – http://www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/res/documents/page/NextGen.pdf

    US report I wrote –

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