S.T.E.A.M. In Cambridge

Mark Jaquith's picture

Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Mathematics

On Monday May fourth, the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts and Celebration Committee (Mazen, Chair) and the Economic Development and University Relations Committees (Benzan and Simmons, Co-Chairs) of the City Council held a joint hearing to discuss the progerss of the initiative begun by them last year to develop a comprehensive approach to promoting and coordinating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Mathematics) education opportunities both in and out of our Public Schools.

City Manager Rich Rossi said that the city will contribute $150,000.00 and the School Department another $50,000.00 to establish the position of a STEAM education coordinator who will work with both entities to promote and implement the program. Most of the discussion had to do with high school aged kids, but Councillor McGovern and others pointed out that learning is a life long process and that it begins at the preschool level. If implemented well and early this is seen as another tool to attack the achievement gap between ethnic and socioeconomic populations in Cambridge.

One problem has been that while there are scads of programs available, there is no central source of information to go to for what may be available for you or yours. One part of this push is to develop a web portal where one can search out what is useful to you.

Another big theme of the discussion was economic development and employment training, and bringing our universities and technology sectors to the table. Troughout, the hearing I kept listening for mention of the A in STEAM. The arts, of course is what humanizes us, allows for creativity, fosters innovation, and makes ue whole. I've heard over and over that the big drivers of our innovation economy seek out people with the kind of creative minds that arts deucation develops. However it wasn't until the second to last public comment by education activist Emily Dexter, that it was mentioned other as part of the acronym. 

It was mentioned several times that the Foundry at 101 Rogers Street might be used to house some of the programs and activities hat will fall under this heading. The Foundry, a former boiler plant was donated to the City of Cambridge by Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. as part of the mitigation package for their upzoning of eleven acres in East Cambridge for tech development a few years back. I for one would welcome that.

With all the necessary talk about the STEM parts, jobs, and the economy, what really excites me about are the possibilities that more amazing art will materialize to feed our soles. I'm pretty sure that the tech sector is fully capable of taking care of itself. The Arts, on the other hand don't encessarily generate profits, and are much more fragile as a part of society and thus need constand nurturing. The rewards, I hope, are obvious. 

On the same day as this hearing was held, I read (and watched the video included) an article in the Boston Globe about a public art installation that embodies what I think STEAM can do for all of us. Design, creativity, materials science, structural and mechanical engineering, and construction management all went into this piece which will hang over a portion of the Rose Kennedy Greenway between Oliver and Pearl Streets until October 2015. The thirty second video below was taken from under the sculpture where I stopped to eat lunch. I hope you will go see it and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Your author lives on Hurley Street in East Cambridge and is President of the East Cambridge Planning Team