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    The Power of Pairing STEM and Liberal Arts

    Posted by Larry Griffin

    Students pursuing STEM would do well to take some classes in the arts and humanities areas, as well. Making one’s fields of study well rounded can only add to skill sets and viability in a number of careers. If you’re looking to go into STEM, just know that taking classes in the humanities can enhance your potential after your schooling is finished.


    Diversity Can Help You in Many Careers

    “The benefit of majoring in a STEM field, while also taking courses in the humanities, social sciences and arts, is that students can go on to almost any job that other students studying purely in STEM can, but they will have the added benefit of having societal context for their work.

    Liberal Arts/STEM grads could be engineers, mathematicians, technical writers, teachers or intellectual-property lawyers,” said Thyra L. Briggs, vice president for admission and financial aid with Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, California). “There are really no limits.”

    Working as a technical writer involves a heady knowledge of the minutiae of computer and tech workings, but your writing skills can be further honed by taking more humanities-focused classes that narrow in on writing essays and reading more diverse subjects. Also, you could become a science or math teacher, in which case, a strong sense of speaking and writing skills would help you explain the concepts to your students.

    Thinking of studying to become a doctor or a physician? Taking a class in sociology or philosophy could add a new level of empathy for patients. Many become doctors to help people, and the humanities can only add to that. “Some health-science students at my institution take classes in sociology, communication and philosophy to better understand what patients might be experiencing and how to work with them,” said David Kinner, dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at Western Carolina University.

    Working as a science and technology journalist offers a melding of both fields for those looking for ways to diversify their studying. The STEM classes give you the know-how to handle difficult, expert-focused subjects in the STEM fields, and journalism classes can help you learn how to write objectively, interview and handle sources and adhere to the practices to treat a story fairly. Both together can make sure you have the right capacity to handle the complex topics of STEM in writing form.

    Wanting to go into graphic design? Taking traditional art classes is a good idea. They can give you an understanding of the fundamentals of art and design that have been known for generations. Students can get more of a sense of where things go for the most eye-pleasing designs. Knowing about color and arrangements can give you the sense of how to put together something that looks good.


    Ethics Concerns

    As technology is constantly evolving, so are the issues that could arise from its innovations. Taking liberal arts courses can have you reading, writing and analyzing ethics questions that could arm you with the knowledge to navigate those issues. Popular artificial-intelligence technology has recently caused controversy and concerns with plagiarism, as companies have mined existing works for training computers. Social media has long faced troubles with privacy, coming under fire for data-collection practices and the ease with which people can now be found.

    “One area that comes to mind is the range of ethical concerns that come from the development of AI and the use of social media. We need creators who understand and think ethically and critically about those concerns. We also need people who can understand people’s needs and uses that knowledge and empathy to design technology,” Kinner said. Classes in creative disciplines can give you an understanding of the concerns of others, and how to balance the rampant technological and scientific advancements of the modern day with what’s actually best for people. Knowing about both can give you a well-rounded perspective. Studying both can help you help others


    Needing Communication Skills during COVID

    One thing Briggs said was learned during the COVID-19 pandemic was “how important it is that we are able to communicate science to the public.” During the initial confusion of the pandemic, scientists had to explain how the virus was spread, as well as why things like masking and social distancing were important. The sciences are full of complexities and strange nuances that people may not always understand, and learning to read a variety of texts and honing the ways you speak to others can give you the skills you need to make the information palatable for those who aren’t so well-versed in the sciences.

    By understanding culture and the history of art, you can be able to reference things, connect various themes between elements of what you’re doing and create things that resonate with people, in a variety of jobs and disciplines. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and studying culture can only broaden the mind and make your work sharper. The deeper your understanding of art, the more enriched and enlivened your mind can be for any kind of work. 


    How You Can Bring it All Together 

    STEM degrees can be rigid — many degrees have intensive course requirements, so students might not have the time to take humanities or arts courses. According to Kinner, there could be some ways around that. “If they are interested in taking both types of courses, they could look for interdisciplinary programs that include both liberal arts and STEM coursework, or work with their college adviser to develop a plan that includes both and meets their needs,” he said.

    Ultimately, studying both STEM and liberal arts is only sensible in the modern day. “The rapid pace of change in the world demands that students are agile and adaptable, can work with others with different perspectives, are creative problems solvers and can see connections across disciplines,” Briggs said. “This can’t happen if students haven’t studied broadly.”

    Some employer surveys conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities have emphasized this, according to Kinner. “The surveys indicate that a broad education is critical for all jobs, as they help students develop a range of skills,” he said. One such survey cited on StudyUSA.com found that 81% of employers were looking for more emphasis on critical thinking, and 89% said they’d like to see more on written and oral communications.

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    Larry Griffin