STEAM vs. STEM: remember the arts

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On Monday, Nov. 7, 2016, President Troy Hammond emailed all NCC students his “President’s Campus Update.” The email highlighted some of the “exciting changes around campus.” North Central, like many other private nonprofit institutions, has begun to expand in size and change in thinking.

While North Central remains ranked as one of the best liberal arts institutions, there’s a concern for just that: the liberal arts. As many of us know, there exists a great push for the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in education. We need men, women, people of color, in STEM…heck, we even need your dog in STEM.

Some of you might understand what this all entails, but others may not know why it is so critical to understand the push for this in public, private, and higher education. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, there came an emphasis to prepare students to be college and career ready in the sciences.

The United States educational system is no longer number one on the list of having the best researchers, top rate facilities, etc. We’re being outperformed by other nations. This left no other option than to push our students to pursue careers in STEM-related fields. North Central College just so happened to be a private nonprofit institution that decided to plunge into promoting this all: cue plans for the new science center.

These promotions included the Brilliant Future campaign, which entailed that nice gala a little over a year ago, postcards mailed home asking for donations, and fundraising by numerous individuals on campus such as Rick Spencer, Adrian Aldrich and President Hammond.

There’s a population at North Central that is thrilled about the new science facility, and not going to lie, I’m glad we’re updating our campus. Kroehler was in desperate need of updated labs, equipment, and classroom space. So for the last year and a half, we’ve gone head first into planning, promoting, fundraising and building the science center. But wait, North Central is known across the state — heck the country, for its liberal arts graduates.

So what are we going to do for the brilliant future of our liberal arts students?

If we return to President Hammond’s email, there’s little to no mention of the liberal arts. This raised alarm bells for me because there are so many other areas on campus that need our attention outside of the science center. President Hammond made note of our music and theater majors. Our students in the performing arts are phenomenal actors/actresses, singers, and instrumentalists. They deserve to have enough space to perform, practice and learn the content of their fields. Having Pfeiffer and Wentz as anchor spaces for these majors gives them an opportunity to grow as professionals, but what about our other liberal arts majors? English? History/social sciences? Sociology/anthropology? Religious sStudies? Art? Interactive Media Studies? Poli-Sci? Education? What are we going to do for them?

While we are a smaller institution, the numbers in those departments are not as large as a major like biology, chemistry, mathematics or psychology. There have been terms where upper-level seminar courses in the English Department have had to be canceled because we simply do not have the students to enroll in the course.

If North Central College is going to continue to have a brilliant future, what are we going to do ensure that the liberal arts are meeting the same standards and having the same growth that STEM fields are?

On campus, we’re going to be opening the Science Center, as well as renovating Goldspohn Hall and Kroehler Science Center for updates. Pfeiffer Hall and Seybert Hall are the only mentions of renovations for the liberal arts. That leaves Larrance Academic Center (LAC) and Oesterle Library out of the equation.

LAC holds the college’s office of Academic Support and the Writing Center. Students who have utilized those services know that it’s cramped in there. Heininger Auditorium is home to theater classes, NCC Swing Dance Society, and various meetings. The lobby holds couches and tables where students eat lunch and study. LAC sometimes is the place to be on campus.

Often times during weeks 9-10, students are camped out with laptops waiting in the lobby of LAC to get into the Writing Center because there’s little space to work with all the students who need help and there’s not enough money to employ enough tutors to work with the 4-6 students that sometimes come in per hour during the final weeks of the term. LAC is also in desperate need of renovation. In Fall 2014, the bathrooms in LAC flooded, causing damage to the carpeting in the lobby and Writing Center. Those facilities were not cleaned and no new carpeting found its way into the building.

Oesterle Library is also due for renovations. The chairs and couches in there are years old and in need of replacement. Our collection of theory and research books in the fields of education, English, history, political science and psychology need to be expanded.

The Tyson Center in the basement of the library is the Education Department’s resources for their teacher candidates, and the resources there are wonderful, but not every teacher candidate is able to find what they may need for a class or their classroom there.

The library is a hub for students to study and work together. The update to the ’97 Lab was a huge deal for students and continuing that momentum into the rest of the library can ensure that ALL students across campus can have brilliant futures.

Another great addition to our library would be post-graduate access to our campus research databases and I-Share collection. Numerous other institutions allow their graduates access to their databases and campus emails. The fact is that not all of us are going on to post-graduate studies when we leave North Central, and a lot of us would like to still feel a part of our Cardinal community through academic research.

The question remains as to what President Hammond and those on the Board of Trustees plan to do to help those in the liberal arts, and to update campus to accommodate their academic needs. If we’re all going to have a brilliant future, shouldn’t we all be on the same playing field?

We are truly Central to North Central’s community, and this campus is our home for four years. We’d like it to continue to be home for when we return to visit or maybe even send our own children here many years in the future, but we can’t feel second rate in our field of study.

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