Go Fly a Kite -- STEM, STEAM and Liberal Arts at Sage Hill School

Mr. McNeill weighs in on the hot issue of STEM vs. Liberal Arts, and explains how Sage Hill School is integrating both into the student experience.
A colorful collision of science, technology, engineering, art and math—better known as STEAM—was apparent at last Wednesday’s annual Service Learning Expo. Our community and visitors watched a video of our ninth graders and their third grade partners from local elementary schools launching the kites they designed and built together as part of our service learning program this year. The kites reflected Sage Hill’s broader commitment to the liberal arts as well as science and technology, an educational approach that we believe best prepares our students for future professional and personal success.

This is a hot topic in higher education. With college costs soaring, some believe higher education should focus squarely on skills specifically tied to job preparation. After all, what will you do with a major in anthropology or philosophy? The counterpoint is that successful individuals need to have tools beyond STEM—skills like communication and critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, developed in part through the liberal arts. At Sage Hill, we don’t think it’s an either/or proposition, and here, it begins in high school. We lay the groundwork for educating great scientists and great communicators, great engineers and great innovators. That’s why our kite project quite intentionally incorporated not only on the technological requirements to make a kite fly, but also collaborative and creative components. The sky really was the limit.

I’ve read a lot of articles lately in which top corporate executives praise the skills liberal arts graduates bring to the workplace. A particularly interesting piece in Fast Company magazine said CEOs of technology companies overwhelmingly believe that employees with liberal arts degrees add value to their teams. We will always need a growing cadre of technologically trained individuals, but technology alone won’t guide the future of business. “Innovation in business has always involved insights beyond technology,” Fareed Zakaria wrote in a recent Washington Post column. Those insights might come from that anthropology or philosophy major.

I agree with Zakaria’s statement that “America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.” Yes, we need talented people with technical skills, but we also need people with a wide range of skills that contribute to the overall vision. In order to develop a successful new product, someone needs to understand enough about human nature to know what people will want. Someone needs to be able to communicate what kinds of problems that product will solve. Someone needs to know how it will be financed and what the price point should be. Someone needs to have the skills to market the device. Someone needs to have the technological know-how to make it work.

Most adults today didn’t have the imagination or foresight to see how our lives would unfold. Many of us work in fields unrelated to our college majors and hold jobs for which there was no specific preparation. We should keep this in mind when we ask teenagers what they want to do professionally. The problem with that question isn’t just that many of them are undecided; many of the jobs of the future don’t even yet exist.
Our goal at Sage Hill is not only to prepare our students to succeed in college and careers, but also to prepare them to lead enriching and meaningful lives. We relish the opportunities we’ve been able to offer in our new Lisa Argyros and Family Science Center, but we still cherish the smorgasbord of learning activities going on elsewhere on campus, both in and out of class. At Sage Hill, we believe there is value in learning for learning’s sake. Art history might just enhance a student’s future travel experiences, but it might also spark a career as a museum curator. Psychology might give a student new insight to the people around him, but it might also help him in a future managerial position. Along the same vein, an aspiring engineer might simply enjoy discussing literature in an English class, but as a side benefit she might improve her communication skills. High school and college are opportunities to dabble or delve into all kinds of subjects. Our society as a whole is richer for that breadth of possibilities.
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  • Lisa Briggs
    Great blog post! I just finished reading Zakaria's book "In Defense of a Liberal Education." I highly recommend this book for parents, students and educators alike. His comments on the importance of learning how to write, and therefore think (or vice versa), are impactful. I also liked the idea that what students learn in college should prepare them, not for their first job, but for their 4th or 5th job, and that we shouldn't turn college into a glorified trade school. Thank you for posting on this subject!
    • <strong>Welcome to my blog!</strong> It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School.  I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at <a href="mailto:McNeillG@sagehillschool.org">McNeillG@sagehillschool.org</a>.
      Mr. McNeill's Blog

      Welcome to my blog! It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of the school -- this blog is an opportunity to share my perspective on Sage Hill School. I invite you share your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Feel free to email me at McNeillG@sagehillschool.org.

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