Back in 2004/5, I was fortunate to volunteer at the local Parks & Rec department to teach after-school art to kids. We had to get a grant for art supplies, which we did, and I had an interesting partner who was vital to the project because she lived in the district in which the rec center was located, but she was a monumental pain the behind to work with. Still, I did my best and the kids had a great time and made great art.
I used the framework of FAME (Fine Arts Mini-Experience) that my daughter’s elementary school was using to teach art in K-5 classrooms as a basis for the lessons. We did exquisite corpse drawings, studied pop artists, looked at how watercolor stained canvas a la Helen Frankenthaler, and made drawings with our non-dominant hands.
Each quarter, I presented a report to the community on the work done by their students and toward the end, it seems that my partner receded to the background, so I was able to experiment with more exciting topics and approaches, instead of teaching art the same old way.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak to mid-year engineering students at the University of California San Diego’s Jacob’s School of Engineering about engineering careers. For that talk, based on my 20+ years’ experience as an engineer and mid-level manager, I used the Situational Leadership model to discuss how to approach their soon-to-be new jobs in engineering, specifically how to manage their bosses. My intention was to build on the important guidance they were getting from UCSD about manners (stay off your phone), prepping, and time management as it related to succeeding in their jobs. These are some of the best and brightest young men and women who will join the work force, but sadly it was hard for me to connect with them.
I’m an accomplished speaker and I had done a lot of prep for the talk – both inquiring with the conference organizers about what would be most relevant, as well as doing some research and using an organized model for the talk. I invited participation, used my sense of humor, and talked to them straight about the experience from my side. But I got low scores on my feedback which was disappointing both because I wanted to reach them to encourage them by sharing the love for my profession, and also because I always want to know I did the very best job I could.
In the meantime, I have continued to teach myself art skills and have been thankful at the end of every long hard day that I had the safe harbor of art to comfort me as I painted, collaged, or simply took observational photographs. Art saves. That is almost cliche at this point, but it is absolutely true.
I’ve also come to appreciate the more subtle aspects of art that my engineering education did not really provide – the importance of keen observation, the excitement of discovery from a “mistake,” and the pride that comes from creating even the smallest and most simple drawing. Imagine how one must feel if that creation is a bridge, or a small part in getting men on the moon, or creating a new application for the phone that helps impaired people communicate more easily?
So that brings me to my niggling feeling. I remember the day as though it was yesterday. I was at an event for Art in Action to present a book I created for the founder, Judy Sleeth, upon their 30th anniversary and for her retirement as the Executive Director. I was proud to have been asked to create the book and tears were shed when she viewed it. One of the speakers at that event was Craig Watson, Executive Director from the California Arts Council. It was from his talk I first heard about putting the “A” in STEM. As an engineer, I was already very familiar with STEM and the importance of a strong science/math/engineering education. As a self-taught engineer, I was becoming more aware of how valuable the art skills and training were.
Which leads me to today: I have this niggling feeling I’m supposed to be helping STEM-bound students learn more about art. You could argue that I’m not the best qualified to be teaching art, or developing art-based curriculum to teach from. I don’t have any background in formal education or a teaching credential. But, I have taught a lot. I’ve taught adults through the UC Santa Cruz Extension in environmental engineering, corporate training for employees in more than 40 subjects for conformance with environmental and health/safety requirements, and development and delivery of training for data management applications to meet regulatory compliance criteria.
I’ve also taught the FAME-like program throughout my childrens’ elementary school years as a docent, and then as an instructor of a like-program for the Hayward Area Parks and Rec District Ashland Community Center. And I’ve taught art classes for people in my community in my own studio and through the Adult Day Care Center.
As I get ready for my vacation that involves some serious time on airplanes, which I find to always be extremely valuable in thinking through whatever my question-de-jour is, I know I will find the right conditions to ponder this important career question:
Am I the one to I develop and deliver programs to K-12 students to facilitate creativity and a wider understanding of scientific principles through art?
Am I bold enough to embark on putting the A in STEAM in my community? I always think big – as in developing programs that go nationwide!
Let’s see how I feel in two weeks about moving Full STE(A)M Ahead.