NSF funds RISD workshop on science

Contributing Writer
Thursday, January 27, 2011

In its latest effort to integrate the sciences and the arts, the Rhode Island School of Design hosted a collaborative workshop Jan. 20 and 21. A “groundbreaking” achievement for an art school, the workshop was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, said Christopher Rose, a visiting professor at RISD and co-principal investigator for the NSF project.

Its 60 participants discussed the concept of connecting STEM — which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine — to the arts, creating the acronym STEAM, an idea that has been gaining popularity both on RISD’s campus and in many other institutions in recent years, Rose said. It is one of a series of initiatives underway at RISD to promote this movement.

“This workshop was about sharing working models of collaboration,” Rose said. “It will inform education at different age levels.” He also stressed the importance of “trying to combine different kinds of intelligences to take the research process forward and engage with the public more actively by working together.” Rose added that attempts to implement “collaborative ways for working” — which he said students on campuses increasingly expect — is far “easier to talk about than actually do properly.”

The workshop’s 60 participants roamed the campus and examined different kinds of learning spaces. They attended short presentations in addition to 20-minute “mini-keynote” sessions. Speakers included Richard Wurman, the creator of TED Talks, Einstein Fellow Fred Belmont and representatives from museums and scientific societies, according to Rose.

“There were a lot of people there who were passionate,” said workshop participant Joy Ko, professor of architecture at RISD and a former assistant professor of mathematics at Brown. She added that many of the workshop participants “have had to carve out their own paths” in order to embrace both STEM and the arts. Ko said she was trained as a mathematician but later “found inspiration in the mathematical applications of architecture” and decided to blend the two interests.

Ko said she felt the conference was a success because it resulted in a “very good dialogue,” but she added that “no one would say this is the end of the conversation.”

The conference “fit within RISD’s broader ambition to put on other events and classes in this area,” Rose said. Other initiatives at RISD include an organization started by freshman Harrison Telyan called RISD STEAM, which shares the workshop’s goals to revolutionize education. The Brown-RISD dual degree program also exemplifies the kinds of connections between different kinds of intelligence and knowledge that the workshop focused on, Rose said.

“This workshop allowed us to have conversations about what the commonalities are between our fields,” Ko said.

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