Spangler Promotes the Missing “A” in STEM: Artist
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on October 03, 2018 |

At the 2018 USA Science & Engineering Festival, engineering.com’s Dan Hedges spoke with Steve Spangler, a TV host, author and science educator, about the underlying importance of these types of events: growing future scientists and engineers. He applauded the efforts of exhibitors, parents and mentors who bring children to these inspiring events. He also pointed out that the real work happens after the events take place.

When talking about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, the main goal often is to fuel students’ passion for the subject. Spangler suggests that in addition to inspiration, there needs to be a call to action. He believes the real next step is growing the students, which he considers the truly fun part. Parents, teachers and mentors need to water the seeds of inspiration and help support and champion that spark of interest.

For Spangler, the true hidden gem in STEM is the missing “A” that would make the acronym STEAM: artist. Companies want employees who can communicate and collaborate. While some might view these as soft skills, history has shown that there have been many intelligent scientists who couldn’t explain or properly share their ideas or findings. Spangler believes that encouraging the artist in STEM education will give students the skills they need to persuade with passion and work as members of a team.

For people lacking resources, Spangler believes inspiration can be found everywhere for free. For instance, there are many television shows and YouTube videos that can inspire a love of science, especially when parents get involved.

While soft skills might not seem like they are part of STEM, the current business world suggests otherwise. Some of the top tech companies are moving away from cubicles and “traditional” work environments to fuel creativity and teamwork. Spangler believes that schools are starting to realize that future jobs aren’t going to be “just one guy at a desk.” Moving away from aligned desks and adding dry erase boards for group work or other changes in learning environments can help students learn to communicate amazing ideas with passion and enthusiasm.

Hedges ended the interview with a few personal questions: “What are you curious about, and what do you think that is impossible today will be possible tomorrow?”

Spangler, of course, still has a passion for blowing things up and creating a nuclear reactor, but he also wants to know the science behind a student’s “aha” moment—for example, the instant they tell their teacher they had the best day ever. He believes it is about connecting and engaging with children to create experiences. To be able to scientifically pinpoint what’s behind that moment is the real challenge, but having that scientific research would help companies with STEM funds invest it in the best possible way. Currently, more emphasis is placed at the middle and high school levels. Spangler believes that planting the STEM seeds must begin in elementary school.

As for the future, Spangler hopes that tomorrow’s STEM scientists will be able to cure diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, which can greatly diminish a person’s quality of life. As for Spangler himself, he hopes to continue embracing technology and being a part of the process.


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