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Catalogue a collection of stories, from Spring 2014


special thanks to: Sarah Pease, Babette Allina, David Targan, Rosanne Somerson, Pradeep Sharma, Ian Gonsher, Chris Bull, Rachel Mollicone, Richard Fishman, Adam Tilove, John Maeda, and many others without whom this project would not be possible

RISD, Brown, and MIT have received sponsorship and funding from: RISD Center for Student Involvement (CSI)*, Brown Creative Arts Council*, Brown Creative Mind Initiative*, Brown Science Center*, CAMIT*, RISD Division of Architecture and Design, The Edna Lawrence Nature Lab, Brown University Computer Science Department Undergraduate Group, Sparkfun Electronics, Human-Machine Technologies Inc., Atrion, Brown School of Engineering, Health Advances, Microsoft, medmate, The Boston Home, RISD Student Alliance, RISD Career Services (*primary sources of funding)

We are RISD, Brown, and MIT STEAM. We strive to integrate the creativity and aesthetics of the arts, the problem solving tools and rigor of the STEM fields, and the critical thinking and ethical considerations of the humanities. We believe that this unification powerfully drives progress toward the future. 3

This is our second Catalogue.

This Catalogue, like the catalogue of a show, is a collection of work. At STEAM, this includes workshops, lectures, discussions, film screenings, and writing we completed during the past winter and spring. STEAM Press, the mechanism through which Catalogue is published, is a part of STEAM that accepts submissions from not only members of our communities, but also from outside contributors, please reach out to us if you would like to add to the next installation of Catalogue.


STEAM in 2014 6 STEAM @ JCDSRI - - - - - - 8 Human + Computer Workshop Series and Show


bioSTEAM - - - - - - - 24 Parallels Between Science and Art


George Hart Workshop & Lecture






Assistive Technology Make-a-thon 36 A Visual Learner in STEM-centered Educational Programs



Plankton Workshop - - - - - - 44 From the Bottom of my Fuel Cell


Avian Architecture & Nest Building Workshop -




The Design of Living Things 54 Margaret Wertheim - - - - - - 56 Firehose Weekend 58 Going Downcity with STEAM - - - - - 60


Busting Brain Myths 42

STEAM in 2014

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather & Victoria Wu


This past year has been an incredible one for STEAM. Two years ago, STEAM existed at only one college and organized an average of three events per year. Now, in 2014, STEAM is located on three college campuses, and in the past year we’ve held over twenty-five events. We have had the privilege of inviting extremely exciting lecturers, ranging from industrial designers to mathematicians, to our campuses and have been lucky to receive funding from a number of eminent professional groups and organizations on our campuses and from the greater community. Major additions to the STEAM ecosystem from the past six months include: the addition of our third studio, MIT STEAM; the beginning of a recurring outreach program with JCDSRI; and the beginning of our publishing arm, STEAM Press. We were also overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of students, professors, and local organizations that we received for our many events throughout the year. The Human + Computer workshop series and show was an influential experience for a small group of students, and the Assistive Technology Makeathon successfully made a STEAM experience accessible to a larger audience of over 50 people. At this point, we could not be more excited for what the future will bring for STEAM. Just two years ago our team was three people large, and now, it has grown to three campuses, and our collective leadership team is fifteen strong. Our ability to hear feedback from the community and our advisers has truly sharpened our focus, and we believe that the next year promises even more fruitful events, collaborations, and other variations we can’t possibly predict. But, we can assure you, they will be great. If anything about our work resonates with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We would love to hear from you.



Lukas WinklerPrins & Jennifer Kwack


Clay-and-toothpick forms created by JCDSRI students during a lesson

One of STEAM’s major goals is educational outreach. We believe the future is integrative and interdisciplinary, which means we need to raise a generation that thinks this way. It was with this mindset that Brown+RISD STEAM entered into our collaboration with the Jewish Community Day School in Providence, Rhode Island (JCDSRI). Lukas WinklerPrins (Brown ‘15) and JCDSRI Head of School Adam Tilove began conversations in January 2014. JCDSRI generously opened their doors to student teachers from Brown and RISD to lead discipline-bending lessons to supplement the K-5th grade educations. JCDSRI is already known as an innovative education initiative: their small class size and dedicated “Design Lab,” lead by Sari Guttin, set the stage for explorative and project-led lessons.

Over the course of the following months, project leaders Lukas WinklerPrins and Jennifer Kwack (RISD MA ‘14) brought together students from Brown and RISD with interest in teaching and deep knowledge in a variety of subjects. In the semester, three lessons were implemented with another in-development: Moon Math, taught by Eital Schattner-Elmaleh (Brown ‘17) and Lukas WinklerPrins. This lesson integrated with the 5th graders’ intensive Moon unit and explained ideas of density and ratio conversions through clay modeling. Optical Illusions, taught by Perry Oasis (Brown ‘15) and Ria Vaidya (Brown ‘16). Through hands-on examples, students were exposed to the physics, psychology, and neuroscience of why our visual sense can be tricked. Living Geometry, taught by Ingrid Lange (RISD ‘16) and Melita Morales (RISD MA ‘14). Over two sessions students were introduced to seeing geometry in the natural and man-made world around them. The projects focused on structure of shapes, solids, and edges.


a JCDSRI student pondering during one of the lessons put on by Brown and RISD STEAM

Students listen intently to Melita Morales (RISD MA’14)

And one additional lesson, Creative Coding (put together by Ryan Brown, Brown ‘15 and Catherine Schmidt, RISD ‘14) is in progress and will be taught in Fall 2014 at JCDSRI. Our curricula were developed with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers Sari Guttin, Melissa Kranowitz, and Jamie Faith Woods, respectively, to best fit in to the schedules and student needs at JCDSRI. The lessons took input from the entire Brown/RISD student team to encourage an array of STEAM-embraced principles: metacognition, building on natural curiosity, documentation, peer learning, storytelling, risk-taking, critique culture, and more. STEAM is thankful to JCDS for the opportunity for us to develop our skills as educators in collaboration and share our passions and pedagogy ideas through teaching.


Human + Computer Workshop Series and Show 1/14

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather

Transhumanism is the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current limitations through the use of science and technology. However, will our accelerating transformation into cyborgs be a form of transcendence or are we building our own prisons of technology? The Human + Computer workshop series combined the design of new body/ machine interfaces with learning relevant technical skills in electronics, digital fabrication, and programming. With a focus on building wearable devices, human augmentation, and alternative, more visceral forms of communication, students from MIT, Brown, and RISD worke in multi-disciplinary groups to conceptualize, prototype, and finally build functioning versions of their ideas. Students read related science fiction short stories and theory readings and were introduced to the fields of critical and speculative design and human computer interaction. The culmination of the course was an exhibition of the student work in Expose, RISD’s student-run gallery. We were fortunate to receive over 90 applications for 12 spots, which allowed us to welcome a group of diverse, passionate, and skilled students. The cadre met over four weekends and then prepared for a final showing of their work. The show was featured by Providence Business News, The Creator’s Project, and Scientific American. This workshop series taught STEAM many lessons not only on transhumanism and body-machine interfaces, but also in the structuring of multidisciplinary teams and workshop design. For example, it was important in designing the workshops that the participants would have an option to select from an array of choices that best met their interests. Since some of the participants were coding wizards, while other were novices, we needed to structure the day so that more experienced coders weren’t twiddling their thumbs while we installed gitHub on everyone’s laptops. It was also important to make sure that the students had an understanding of each others’ backgrounds’ considerations. Consider the following hypothetical conversation between an engineer and a sculptor who are collaborating on an installation: Engineer: I think we need to focus on getting the mechanics to work properly first, otherwise it won’t matter how pretty it is - it won’t do anything.

“One common way that participants were able to see the intersection of their fields was in the crafting of stories.“ Sculptor: But it won’t matter whether or not it works if it’s so ugly no one wants to look at it! There needs to be an emotional connection to the piece through aesthetics if anyone is going to have a meaningful experience with the work. Engineer: Well no one’s going to have a meaningful experience with it if it just sits still and doesn’t do anything either. This kind of conversation could go on forever. If the organizers of collaborative working environments make an effort to communicate to the participants that no one focus is right, but that the work benefits from being seen from different angles, the participants will have more productive experiences.

The workshop has created pathways for students to collaborate. One group of students moved their speculative design project into a commercially viable one, and have been incubating their project in RISD’s student enterprise incubator. The workshop series not only provided a good experience for the participants, but also created a stronger bridge between students at Brown, RISD, and MIT - most notably through the founding of MIT STEAM. The following are a series of images and excerpts from the blog posts about the Human + Computer workshop series and the resulting show.


One common way that participants were able to see the intersection of their fields was in the crafting of stories. An artist or designer has a deep understanding of communicating visual information. The engineer or scientist has a deep understanding of movement and mechanics that can make communication physical. A writer or social scientist has a keen understanding of how to tell a story with words and how to creat a narrative. The most productive critiques of the student work that we had were when the fascilitators focused on the storytelling of the work becuase all of the participants, regardless of their background, were able to connect to it in some way.

“We started the day off by talking about precedent work and the theme of the workshop - transhumanism. For those who aren’t familiar, transhumanism is the belief that humans can use tech to surpass their biological selves physically, emotionally, etc. This is a complex issue for the day we are in as issues of privacy and ethical use of data are brought up. After this discussion, Sophia led an exercise wherein students wrote miniature science fiction stories that talked about transhumanist technologies. Melody Cao (RISD/Brown ‘16) and Kate O’Connor (MIT ‘14) wrote a humorous story about a patient who had just been implanted with a language acquisition implant which, although unpleasantly metallic tasting at first, allowed the wearer to acquire new languages rapidly.

Alice Huang (MIT ‘15) entertains Melody Cao (RISD/Brown ‘16) and Cynthia Liu (RISD ‘15) while meeting the skepticism of James Hobin (MIT ‘16) and Daniel Goodman (MIT ‘15)

A common thread through the other stories was love. One story addressed the issue of how romantic relationships are complicated when one of the people involved is more heavily android than the other. How much would it take to let your significant other read your every thought? or control your body remotely? After this conceptual exercise, we ate lunch and moved on to something more making-intensive. David led us on a journey of how to install and run his new cell phone module that is compatible with Arduino. This unique access to David’s tool will allow students to make communication devices and works of art that can communicate in real time, with real phones. After making a few calls and texts with the cell phone modules, Ryan told the students about the resources available to them, including TA hours throughout the week and their own budgets to purchase materials with. Tiffany walked the students through the project documentation system that they are asked to use that she designed herself called Build In Progress. Next, the students nucleated into groups and swapped phone numbers. Can’t wait to see what they are able to come up with for next week. Make sure to check back next week to see what the participants cook up. “


Evan Brooks (RISD ‘14) and Alexander Czulak (Brown ‘15) discuss their microfiction story

David Mellis talks to Daniel Goodman (MIT ‘15), Cynthia Liu (RISD ‘15) and Alice Huang (MIT ‘15) about their project

“Saturday, the 18th, students from Brown, RISD, and MIT convened at RISD’s Edna Lawrence Nature Lab for the second meeting of Human + Computer | Wintersession and IAP Workshop Series. The day started off with a critique of the work that the participants had prepared in the first week. Participants showed off videos of the proposed interaction, prototypes of the electronic functionality, a fabrication strategy, and a other process work. Cynthia Liu (RISD ‘15), Daniel Goodman (MIT ‘15) and Alice Huang’s (MIT ‘15) group showed off a three axis robotic arm that can move along a cartesian coordinate system that is controlled by sensors in one’s shoe. The team was challenged by the facilitators to focus on the depth of story telling that the piece could invoke by either honing in on a specific scenario, or completely decontextualizing it and allowing the gallery visitor to feel for them self the awkwardness of wearing a new limb, and the eeriness of its absence afterwards. A focus on storytelling was a common thread throughout the feedback that groups got back. Joshua Bohar (RISD ‘15), Abubakar Abid (MIT ‘15) and

James Hobin’s (MIT ‘16) group is developing a system that tracks brainwave activity and communicates that data to the person wearing a cap. The group was inspired by the Matrix-esque vision of the project, and suggested that the group focus on communicating the implications of a hypothetical world in which this technology was commonplace, or go the other direction completely and focus on the haptic communication of sensory data. More information about the projects and their process can be found at the Build in Progress Collection featuring all of the work from Human + Computer. During lunchtime, the group took a walk over to Exposé, RISD’s student run gallery. This is where the show of the same name will be held, featuring work from the workshop series and work from the RISD, Brown, and MIT communities at large. Students measured the lengths of walls and jotted down notes about how they might display their work in the final show. In the afternoon, the facilitators ran through an overview of construction methods and design tools to help the participants identify the best workflow to realize their project.

James Hobin (MIT ‘16), Joshua Bohar (RISD ‘15) and Abubakar Abid (MIT ‘15) discuss presentation of their project at RISD’s student run gallery


After that, everyone walked up to the nature lab to inspect objects from nature and identify qualities of nature lab objects that could lend inspiration to their projects. Alex Czulak (Brown ‘15) discovered that the shape of a shell fit snugly in his ear, where his partner Evan Brooks (RISD ‘13) and him plan to place a device that subtly shares heart rate information socially.”

“This past Saturday, participants in the Human + Computer workshop series reconvened at the MIT Media Lab for its third installment. The morning was filled with an impassioned critique of the students projects. The groups presented impressive progress, and suggested plans for their implementation and presentation for the show that the work will be featured in. Evan Brooks (RISD ‘13) and Alex Czulak (Brown ‘15) showed off a slew of 3D printed prototypes for a wearable device that allows the user to communicate their heart rate to a special someone. The prototype was compelling, but the proposal for how the team might tell the embedded story of the work was equally as thought provoking. How might advertisements for this look in the future? Would the TSA require you to take off your heart rate monitors so as not to interfere with wireless communications - or much worse - distract the pilot?

One of Kate O’Connor (MIT ‘13) and Alex Ju’s (RISD ‘16) beautiful butterfly modules

How the work will be presented in a gallery setting was a commonality that spanned the critique. Alex Ju (RISD ‘16) and Kate O’Connor (MIT ‘13) presented promising progress on a nitinol activated smart-textile composed of laser-cut butterflies, based on an a Japanese Fable. Sophia Brueckner pointed out that this work would benefit from a dramatic video that explained theoretical use cases and the sense of wonder that the piece could ignite.

“Prat also offered some great input, advising the “third arm” group to consider how their work might offer either a totally serious benefit (amputees) or an incredibly goofy one (scratching one’s back)”

In the afternoon, we broke out into workshops clustered around specific needs of the groups. Sophia Brueckner’s workshop focused on coding in processing, and David Mellis’ was centered around the building of robust electronics pre-empting the abuse that the projects will no-doubt endure during the opening. Tiffany Tseng’s workshop showed participants the basics of using a laser cutter, and Ryan Flomerfelt Mather taught students how to sew and incorporate electronic components into different seam constructions. These workshops put some practical skills in the hands of the participants to help them implement their work in the final week of construction. The day finished off with some quality team time and “desk crits” as the facilitators walked around offering their advice. Ryan helped Alex and Evan trouble shoot a heart-rate sensor, while David advised on some of the communications issues that were going on with the Arduino.“


We were delighted to have some guests visit us during the morning and lend their critical eye. Ian Gonsher, a Professor at Brown University came along with Prat Ganapathy, a designer from IDEO with whom he collaborates. Ian said that he was really impressed with the outcomes of just two weeks of work, and offered some very helpful feedback. Prat also offered some great input, advising the “third arm” group to consider how their work might offer either a totally serious benefit (amputees) or an incredibly goofy one (scratching one’s back). We were also joined by Xiao Xiao, a PhD student at the Media Lab who contributed to the critique.

The group gazes at Celine Chappert (RISD ‘14) and Bevin Kelley’s (Brown ‘14) interactive installation space

“We were all blown away by the final critique of Human + Computer last Saturday which was hosted at RISD E’ship’s space at 204 Westminster st. This was the culmination of three weeks of hard work done by students from MIT, RISD, and Brown. We were fortunate to have Kelly Dobson, Department head of Digital + Media at RISD, Lisa Z. Morgan, author, designer, and founder of Strumpet & Pink, and Kimberly Young, a local dance artist. The first group to present their work showed us a wearable device that can wirelessly transmit one’s heart rate to a special someone from across the world away. Evan Brooks (RISD ‘14) and his partner Alex Czulak (Brown ‘15) showed us a parody TSA video that explained how the devices could be used to identify irregular activity in the security areas, to better find perpetrators. They also screened a facebook-esque advertisement that together with the prototypes immersed us in a world where these devices would be commonplace. The next work, presented by Celine Chappert (RISD ‘14) and Bevin Kelley (Brown ‘14), was an equally immersive installation piece. Chappert remarked that technology interfaces with us visually, but rarely interacts with our bodies. Their piece is a space wherein aural, visual, and tactile senses are all in touch with each other and responsive to technology. Upon entering the enclosure, the viewer enters an “infinity cube” that expands infinitely and reacts to human motion, connecting the body to technology.

“One critic noted how the brain fit perfectly in one’s hands, which made the interaction all the more intimate.”

The following work connected technology to the body in a slightly more literal sense. To start their presentation, Alice Huang (MIT ‘15) strapped on a robotic arm, which can be controlled by one’s feet. The other group members are Daniel Goodman (MIT ‘15) and Cynthia Liu (RISD ‘15) and together they are working on a new version of the housing of the arm that is more united with the aesthetics of the arm itself to hone in on an artistic voice and story.

The next group showed us their work “Dream of Akinosuke”, a jewelry piece based on a Japanese fable of the same name. The group was inspired by the fable’s imaginings of how butterflies could control humans. The piece is strikingly beautiful and subtle in the way it tricks one’s eye to believe the butterflies adorning it are alive. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that the illusion is caused by masterful use of flexinol, a shape memory alloy that shortens when a current passes through it. This produces an effect that blends beauty with the elegantly grotesque. The last group, consisting of Josh Bohar (RISD ‘15), Abubakar Abid (MIT ‘15) and James Hobin (MIT ‘16) also addressed the grotesque. “I’m going to need a volunteer” Bohar said “and if the electrodes feel like they are going to heat up and burn your head, don’t worry, it’s totally normal.” Of course, Bohar was only joking and the setup was completely safe. Once the cap (pictured above) was on and functioning, Abid took out an anatomically correct silicone cast brain. A flick of a switch later and the cast brain was alive blinking LED patterns that matched the activity of whoever wore the cap. “That’s your brain” explained Abid. It was peculiar how much ownership of the remote brain the user felt upon placing on the cap. One critic noted how the brain fit perfectly in one’s hands, which made the interaction all the more intimate. “I really want to see you in a rocking chair stroking the brain during the opening” said Sophia Brueckner, one of the workshop facilitators.“


The work that Melody Cao (RISD/Brown ‘16) and Ben Moreno Ortiz (Brown ‘14) presented was quite provocative in it’s voice. The duo presented a machine, which when squeezed and blown into speaks phonemes. Although some of the critics were offput by the repurposing of a mouth puppet purchased from a flea market, others were enchanted by its personality and boldness.

A RISD student interacts with Ben Moreno Oritiz (Brown ‘14) and Melody Cao’s (RISD/Brown ‘16) speech instrument

A curious RISD Student operates ‘The Third Arm’

When the show opened, over three-hundred people come to see interactive works from the workshop series and from the RISD and Brown communities. The multimedia works were very engaging and sparked discussion by many about transhumanism and inspired students to make awesome things. The next IAP & Wintersession workshop series will build on all of the lessons that we learned the first time through with Human + Computer.


RISD and Brown students stare at a silicon brain model imbedded with LEDs

bioSTEAM 5/14

Michelle Site & Lucia Monge

The overlap of biology and art is a natural one. Biology is a highly visual pursuit, a field that could not exist without visual communication. However, the true overlap of the two lies in their shared mantra of continuous exploration. At its fundamental core, biology is the study of how we can deconstruct objects and build them back up. To understand our visual world, we break it up into smaller and smaller parts— species, skeletons, individuals. To understand our invisible world, we imaginatively construct theories and meaning — systems, cycles, ecologies. Biology asks us to see the world in varying interrelated degrees of complexity. It challenges us to produce and sculpt information so we can create solutions to questions of any scale. To properly convey form and meaning, the arts demand that we learn to simultaneously see particularly and wholly. It requires the same mastery of techniques, inquiry, and methodology to achieve desired solutions. Scientific examination and art practice are two methods of inquiry into the study of living things. Both necessitate constant experimentation and resilience from failure. For a complete understanding of a biological object, one must explore both the reductionist methods of the scientific method and the constructive methods of creative production.

An outgrowth of the popular fall series Making Visual Biology, bioSTEAM is a specialty division of workshops and programs exploring the intersection of biology with design and visual culture. Spring 2014 was the pilot semester of this series, and it will continue into the 2014-2015 academic year. Most STEAM events are planned and facilitated by one of the student leaders in our core team. In effort to closely involve our community, the Spring 2014 run of bioSTEAM offered student members the opportunity to spearhead multiple workshops. By taking ownership individually or in small teams, students learned how to choose a fascinating biological idea, conceive an event plan, and formulate an interesting way to present it to a public audience. This way of hosting events created an intentional community created by students taking ownership of their education and their interests, and provided a platform for us to teach our members collaboration, coordination, and professionalism.

Students gather around a table for peer-to-peer instruction at The Design of Living Things, the final event of the bioSTEAM series


bioSTEAM seeks to share the elegance, beauty, and possibility of biology. The events inspire students to engage with living systems and organisms in a way that is relevant and relatable. By bringing students to the sharp interface of scientific inquiry and artistic inquiry, we hope to challenge them to dissolve preconceived paradigms of academic subjects and instead reconstruct their own preferred ways for exploring the things they find beautiful and intriguing in our biological world.

Parallels Between Science and Art 4/14

Hanna McPhee

Western culture often centers on dualities: right or wrong, left brained or right brained, good or evil, republican or democrat. Perhaps one of the most important dualities our culture fixates on is science or art. In the past century, influential works like C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” has pointed to this dichotomy in Western thought. The disunion of science and art in the media, the economy, and education, has created a rift in communication and collaboration between these two fields (Snow, 1964). Over the past century, “The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups” – two cultures (Snow, 1964).

Cultural Dichotomy



But is the relationship between these worlds truly the definition of a dichotomy: a division between two things represented as opposing forces? Is this duality only a perception, or indeed real? Indulging in the duality society presents only damages the meaningful relationship between science and art that manifests many new powerful perspectives and ideas. This dichotomy that has created a cultural rift so deep, that over time the two groups have almost ceased to communicate, creating “a gulf of

mutual incomprehension…but most of all lack of understanding” (Snow,1964). Now, instead of producing productive integrations, there is often “confusion and a breakdown of communication with a lack of intelligent practice to carry innovative ideas into objective concrete embodiment” (Buchanan, 2010). In the broadest sense, this thesis explores the idea of the science versus art dichotomy, and questions it. For, Science is a companion of art, not an opponent; “both define and preserve what it means to be human as well as challenge our meaningful existence” (Legaspi). For this reason, I explore the seemingly separated worlds of science and art to demonstrate flaws behind this dualistic view. I use the common threads between the scientific process and design methods to demonstrate just one of the many bridges between science and art. More specifically, I take these two methods to show how science and art can come together for the purpose of solving complex, human centered problems. In particular, this is executed through the lens of science and design. In doing so, I hope to ascertain the common threads between these two fields.


Scientific Process

problem solving

Design Methods

To give a brief overview, the structure of this argument progressed from defining similarities to then addressing accurate disparities. I overviewed complex, human centered problems as well as the base of human cognitive problem solving that unites many problem-solving methods. I next broadly covered science and design’s backgrounds and methods. Finally, I then examined a case study that required an interdisciplinary team and complex solutions. I reviewed my teammates different processes, and pointed to their similarities. I also highlighted the social and cultural challenges our team faced.

To give a brief prĂŠcis of the two sides, I started with Oxford dictionaries definition of science: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentâ€? (Oxford, Science). The scientific process was then explained as a step-by-step method to observe, hypothesize, experiment, and analyze. Scientists who have practiced this process often learn about ideas and methods like objectivity, falsification (trial and error), strong methods, analysis, and scientific creativity. Although these are specific values that scientists adopt, the steps of the scientific process are not exclusive. To observe, hypothesize, experiment, and analyze was reviewed within the context of human problem solving as taking a look at your surroundings, questioning what is in front of you, making conjectures based on those thoughts, creating something to test these conjectures, and then making conclusions. Design was defined succinctly as problem solving through innovation; a meaningful creation, strategic approach, or object constructed by a creator. This creation is manifested with the intention of achieving goals, and meeting set constraints.

The Scientific Process Hypothesize



Building conclusions about hypothesis and phenomenon based off experimental results

Formulation of a theory to explain phenomenon Watching and describing a phenomenon. Questioning this phenomenon


Quantitatively testing hypothesis in relation to the phenomenon

Design methods follow divergence, transformation, and convergence. More specifically, the sub steps are to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Once again, there are habits of thought designers tend to adopt based on this process for solving complex human problems. Some of these ways of working are solution based problem solving, collaboration, divergent thinking, comfort with failure, concrete/abstract fluctuations, and comfort with ambiguity. Again, although these habits of thought might be specific to design, the steps design methods follows are not exclusive to just designers. If we boil

down these steps to their simplest form, design methods attempts to understand situations around us, explain and define observations, generate concepts inspired from these observations, develop artifacts that respond to these ideas and problems, and then test their validity.

Design Methods Divergence









Observe and understand

Building a concrete representation of your stronger ideas

Redefine and focus based on new insights Brainstorming and concept generation of ideas

testing your ideas for feedback and conclusions

For the sake of clear, straightforward communication, these definitions of science and design are abridgments. They are meant to be a prĂŠcis of these fields; as a thorough overview would entail far more time and research. I concluded that side-by-side, the two processes of scientific and design methods in the context of solving complex human problems are analogous. These fields attempt to observe and understand the world around them, make questions and conjectures about these observations, experiment and ideate possible solutions, and then test their ideas for validity. As seen below, we can substitute the terms of scientific design methods with broader verbs and still follow the general strategy of both processes.

A More General Approach to Problem Solving Empathize














To add experiential and observational evidence to this conclusion, a project called Solar Decathlon provided a complex problem in need of an interdisciplinary team. Here, I reviewed the struggles and triumphs of working on a team with engineers, scientists, architects, and designers. The similarities of our different processes were reviewed as a case study on semblances between science and design. This case study also highlighted the hurdles our team faced as two cultures struggling to connect. The “us and them” mentality kept us in silos during our first three months together. Our judgments and lack of communication stemmed from preconceived notions about the “other side”. Assuming what our scientists, engineers, designers and architects were and were not capable of, we worked at a painfully slow pace. We assumed based on cultural knowledge alone. However, after gaining familiarity with our peers, our communication improved. After familiarizing ourselves with one another’s processes and skills, our team proved capable of executing tasks outside our designated fields. Once we set aside judgments, our processes organically melded. After pushing past the stereotypes and assumptions, our work interwove into a practical interdisciplinary process of observing, ideating and experimenting together. Concurrently, we arrived at similar problem spaces, and worked through parallel incubation periods. Our congruency during the final phases of designing upheld the hypothesis of scientific and design methods following analogous steps in solving for complex problems.


Attempting to observe and understand the world around us


Asking questions and making conjectures about these observations




Testing ideas for validity

In summary, this thesis questions the validity of the science/art dichotomy by uncovering commonalities between the scientific process and design methods. I do so in hopes these discoveries may enable innovative, collaborative problem solving between the two paradigms. For, “a familiar eastern axiom speaks of the parts of a whole as being crucial aspects to a complete unity. It is prefaced by the prudent warning that no part is greater than their sum. If the arts and sciences analogously are the parts to a complete scope of humanity, segmenting and elevating one over the other will fragment out perspective and render humanity’s heirs unfortunately incomplete� (Legaspi).


Experimenting and ideating around possible solutions

Making conclusions to inform next steps

STEAM @ MIT: Beginnings 5/14

Grace Li

I am sitting at a booth in the MIT Media Lab with Sophia Brueckner. A Media Lab graduate student and a Brown University and RISD alumna, Sophia essentially embodies the STEAM initiative to integrate the arts with engineering and technology. We are brainstorming ideas for a wearable device that augments introspection and interconnectedness, encouraging more people to take time to reflect on a daily basis and develop greater empathy towards others. Not only does this product have to be functional, it has to be visually engaging and beautiful. We both have our sketchbooks out. Our pencils leave traces of our imagination behind on the pages. During one meeting around the end of January, I mentioned STEAM to Sophia and how I really liked the interdisciplinary nature of many of the projects at the MIT Media Lab. I had stumbled across the concept of STEAM from an online news article earlier that month. Sophia’s smile widened as she told me that not only had she heard of STEAM, she was a strong proponent of the STEAM initiative. During Independent Activities Period in January, Sophia taught a class with Ryan Flomerfelt Mather, RISD STEAM’s VP of programming, called HUMAN+COMPUTER, an interdisciplinary workshop with students from RISD, Brown, and MIT working together to conceptualize, prototype and build new body/machine interfaces. Sophia told me that if I was interested in getting more involved with STEAM, she could introduce me to Ryan. I readily agreed. Ryan and I first chatted through email, eventually meeting in person at the Media Lab. Through Ryan, I was introduced to Alice Huang, a Mechanical Engineering junior who was also interested in starting a STEAM Chapter at

“a place where people could learn new skills, collaborate with people they would not have otherwise, and take some time for personal projects” MIT. Alice had participated in the HUMAN+COMPUTER workshop and saw firsthand the innovative potential of interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration. Soon, Alice’s friend, Hannarae Nam, also a passionate supporter of STEAM, joined and we had a team to begin spreading STEAM on MIT’s campus.


Alice, Hannarae, and I had our first STEAM meeting in the beginning of February. We all had a lot of ideas in mind, and we were all excited to get started. We shared ideas for design workshops and addressed the necessity of obtaining grants and MIT club recognition as soon as possible. We discussed potential liaisons with local museums and brainstormed what we wanted MIT STEAM to be like- a place where people could learn new skills, collaborate with people they would not have otherwise, and take some time for personal projects. In March, we applied to be officially recognized as a club on MIT campus. While we had some initial issues distinguishing ourselves from the other art and design clubs on campus, we were ultimately granted recognition as an official club. MIT STEAM is still a work in progress that Alice, Hannarae, and I are dedicated to complete. We will be kicking off events on a larger scale next year, and we’re very excited to be a part of the growing STEAM initiative.

George Hart Workshop & Lecture

Lukas WinklerPrins


Brown students work together on one of Hart’s custom mathematical sculptures using laser-cut plywood and zip ties

In March, STEAM invited George Hart, a polymath from Stony Brook University, to Brown University for a lecture, workshop, and sculpture installation. Hart, a research professor in computer science, is also a mathematician and sculptor, with the former informing the latter; his work spins dizzying geometries, based on novel multi-dimensional topologies and symmetries, into intricate sculptural pieces on a variety of scales. He is a pioneer in using 3D printing technology for visualizing to understand mathematics. Hart gave a lecture-style introduction to his work and life, attended by Brown and RISD students alongside faculty and members of the Providence-based Mathematical Association of America.

The following day, registrants collected in the Brown Design Workshop for a hands-on sculpture workshop led by Hart. Eighteen participants worked together to assemble an orb-like hanging sculpture for installation in Brown’s engineering and physics building. The workshop was high-energy and fun, the group alternating between laughing at George’s wisecracks and articulate insights into the mathematics around us. Roughly a month later, the piece was hung in the tall-ceilinged entrance to the Barus-Holley building. We would like to thank the Division of Applied Mathematics for sponsoring George’s visit, in addition to the School of Engineering and the Department of Physics for their space and assistance in the sculpture installation.


Brown students eagerly sculpt alongside the guidance of the polymath himself, George Hart

Assistive Technology Make-a-thon

Hanna McPhee & Mark St. Louis


Founder of SpeakYourMind Foundation discussing the Makeathon projects with special guest and speaker Congressman Langevin

Brown University STEAM and SpeakYourMind Foundation partnered to bring together creative, interdisciplinary teams of students and professionals to collaboratively develop human-centered assistive products. This partnership culminated with a weekend long hardware/software make-a-thon focused on creating innovative, novel assistive technologies for individuals with communications disabilities. This event also served as the opening event for the Brown Design Workshop, a collaborative and creative environment for project-based learning within Brown Engineering. The SpeakYourMind Foundation, based in Providence, RI, is a nonprofit organization spun out of the BrainGate lab at Brown University and Massachusetts General Hospital. They focus on creating, distributing, and supporting assistive communication technologies for individuals who are unable to effectively communicate due to neurological injury and disease. Together, SpeakYourMind and STEAM were excited to provide a weekend-long event dedicated to creating incredible assistive products.


Students dilligently hack away in the Brown Design Workshop

We were incredibly impressed by the ingenuity and passion of all our makers and astounded by what they were able to produce in such a short event. In particular, we wanted to highlight the winners in each category, as decided by our panel of expert judges: Design Winner: Aaron Zhang, for Reach, a low-cost, intuitively-controlled robotic hand Hardware Winners: Owen Duke (a high school student!) and Valay Shah , for FaceDuino, a combination face-tracking and muscle-signal interface. Software Winners: Margaret Mathieu, Katie Hsia, and Kassie Wang, for TypeSimple, an easy, attractive, and quick radial keyboard.

A Visual Learner in STEMcentered Educational Programs 4/14

Jennifer Kwack

My interest in arts integration in K-12 education can be explained by the fact that I was always bad at math. During secondary schooling, my success was measured only by my low test scores. American K-12 education is often scorebased and STEM-centered (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) because STEM subjects have been presented by the U.S. government as a key tool for education innovation. The government believes that an increase in the number of students pursuing STEM-related subjects in college will lead to an increase in STEM careers within the workforce. This is intended to reinvigorate and lead the U.S economy into a period of economic growth. One of the fundamental characteristics of STEM subjects is their utilitarian usage, but the teaching of these subjects, I believe, is often limited to providing students with exact answers provided through algorithms or substantiating scientific theories that have already been established. Moreover, the assessment methods for these subjects is completely score-based. As a result we have reached a point where the performance of both the students and their teachers is being evaluated through the use of test scores. Therefore, many classes consist of practice tests that prioritize the student’s ability to perform on these tests. Martha Bridge Denckla, M.D. of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Hopkins School of Medicine, explains how current educational practices are inconsistent with students’ cognitive development. Curricula’s high emphasis on reading and arithmetic skills pressures students to acquire higher order thinking processes at an early stage of development. These curricular demands often result in young children reading and  attempting algebraic equations before they are ready for conceptual thinking. Her argument suggests that educational guidelines should synchronize lessons with students’ development, rather than the opinions of policy makers. Although there is a high demand for creative thinkers and problem solvers as modern industry leaders, the methods  American curricula uses to assess students’ and schools’ achievement in quantitative and literacy ability are “far too narrow.”

Instead of educators deciding how to define students’ success, politicians and policy advocates replaced the educator’s role with score-based  assessments. Limiting assessments to solely test results does not challenge or engage the many skills teachers possess. These ranking systems and assessment competitions also force students to equate their achievement in school with test scores, which leaves students dependent on a system that holds no societal merit outside the classroom.

“If arts were integrated with math through visual presentations, more students who are visual learners would be able to understand concepts with ease”

Eventually, this will also help students derive meaning from their learning. In this sense, “STEAM” education can be a solution to the challenges in K-12 education. STEAM is the addition of “Art + Design” to STEM. By integrating Art + Design with STEM subjects, STEAM education allows for more project-based learning, which can be beneficial for students who may struggle to understand the other subjects. Art and Design can be used as a tool to help students relate to other subjects. However, this new terminology can mislead some schools, primarily because the more technical design thought process has replaced the holistic nature of the arts. Since design offers mainly utilitarian skill sets, just as STEM subjects do, the affective qualities that could be achieved through practicing arts have not, I argue, been harnessed by many institutions. Just like America considered innovation as a key to ensure a prosperous future in 2007 with the America COMPETES Act, which emphasized the importance of STEM subjects within America’s education system, STEM to STEAM has the potential to be the innovation of the 21st century that helps to stabilize the US economy. By using Maeda’s philosophy in contexts of innovation, I wanted to contribute to the future of America and provide a better quality of


I am a visual learner, who understands ideas better when they are represented through images and tangible objects. My goal in future and current projects is to promote activity and hands-on based projects in math class through arts integration. Students would then be able to understand math concepts by playing with objects or drawing problems, without the fear of giving right or wrong answers. In such scenarios, I argue that understanding could replace memorization. If arts were integrated with math through visual presentations, more students who are visual learners would be able to understand concepts with ease. In addition, by changing the approach towards math education by emphasizing an activity-based learning process, students would be more engaged in the classroom and more motivated to take a personal interest in the problems presented to them.

education through advocating the holistic approach of visual art education because practicing design thinking process is not enough. I would also like to advocate the implementation of interdisciplinary learning by arts integration in K-12 education. As an artist and a designer myself, and currently a masters candidate in arts - art and design education from Teaching and Learning in Art +Design, I feel that it is my responsibility to share what I have learned from RISD and put these lessons to good use within society. In order to do this, I decided to become heavily involved in RISD STEAM, which is a student-run organization. By organizing workshops, lectures, and discussions, the club aims to educate students about the rising inclination to incorporate arts and design thinking into STEM education. The best part of this student driven club is that it provides peer to peer lessons that break the hierarchy and the boundary among the students from different disciplines through sharing different skills sets that they’ve learned. The instructors who are students themselves teach the skills by practicing their own works of art. The project based learning facilitates the participating students to find the balance between the process and the product. The emphasis on iterations and documentations of the projects values each student’s ideas and opinions, helps them make meanings through connecting their personal expressions with the real-world problems, and helps to find the better solutions from multiple perspectives.

“The core purpose of education should be to empower young people to become successful as a whole individual.” Furthermore, critique culture helps students to develop deep empathy skills; to share their own personal ideas with the others, to understand and respect the others, eventually building the rapport through suggestive conversations, and most importantly, to reach the self-actualization through self-evaluating and reflecting on their whole process of learning and practicing the projects in the end. Through these qualities and methods to approach in STEAM programs, students at RISD and Brown University have been introduced to new kinds of learning that promote creative thinking through an interdisciplinary process. The core purpose of education should be to empower young people to become successful as a whole individual. It should serve to ameliorate and broaden the learner’s experience. If schools concentrate solely on STEM education, students will learn facts and an advanced knowledge of these subjects, but if schools endorse a more diverse curriculum, students will learn to cipher meaning from the skill sets they acquire. When art and design

coexists with STEM subjects in schools, education can embrace aesthetic sensibility and affective qualities as well as problem solving skills and critical thought as elements that are essential  to a student’s learning process and the complexity of real-life experience.

“By changing the focus from STEM to STEAM, education can take the first step towards better integrating arts education into the schools, and making curriculum more collaborative and interdisciplinary.”

STEAM is one of the ways education can advocate creativity in the application of knowledge and learned skills. In the approach to adopt STEAM, there needs to be a careful analysis of the value of teaching STEAM disciplines collaboratively, how this approach will work in schools, and how it is different from teaching subjects separately. Final decisions about this approach should be student-centered and endeavor to better the current education model. By changing the focus from STEM to STEAM, education can take the first step towards better integrating arts education into the schools, and making curriculum more collaborative and interdisciplinary.


The challenge in bringing arts education to STEM lies in its delivery methods and practice. If art is taught only in a way to train students to understand design elements, such as color wheels, perspective drawings, photo-copied representations, and if arts class concentrates only on the exploration and manipulation of the materials without raising how the creation of art can link ideas to new contexts, art education will never effect students in a holistic way. The role of the arts in schools lies in helping students learn to communicate their own voice through the inter-connection and exploration of concepts and techniques. The arts empower individuals through its affective qualities, its promotion of visual problem-solving and the illustration of information, as well as through its ability to connect its students to the environment and to others.

Busting Brain Myths

Michelle Site & Jonelle Ahiligwo & Ria Vaidya & Lucia Monge


What does it mean to be “left brained” or “right brained”? Is it true that we only use 10% of our brain? How did gender brain myths arise in popular culture? Do these ideas have any real science behind them? Busting Brain Myths, part of the bioSTEAM series, debunked myths about neuroscience in popular culture with a fascinating panel featuring faculty experts working across a diversity of neuroscience research specializations.


Dr. Monica Linden, a Brown University neuroscience professor who specializes in memory and learning teaches students

Plankton Workshop

Michelle Site & Lucia Monge


Lucia and Michelle facilitated a plankton workshop on Saturday evening with Raina and Meg (RISD Sculpture, MFA ‘16) and Jamie (Brown Public Humanities, MA ‘14), and Jamie’s friend John. This event was part of the bioSTEAM series. We experimented with different materials and designs (e.g. electrical tape works in water), then walked to India Point Park. We found krill, copepods, and some beautiful transparent phytoplankton.

45 Students use nets to capture plankton in order to inspect them later under microscopes in the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab

Students peer at specimens with microscopes at RISD’s own Edna Lawrence Nature Lab

From the Bottom of my Fuel Cell

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather & Victoria Wu & Leah Bryson


Brown and RISD students prototype away in the Brown Design Workshop with the mentorship of designers from IDEO

On March 19th, 2014 20 RISD and Brown students convened in the Brown Design Workshop at Brown University for a day of rapid prototyping and making. The group was lucky to be joined by two visiting designers from IDEO for the daylong workshop, Prat Ganapathy and Bill Stewart. The event, titled ‘from the bottom of my fuel cell’, centered around developing ideas for wearable devices.

Athyuttam Reddy (Brown ‘17) and Mark St. Louis (Brown ‘15) converse about their wearable warning system

After that, the participants were challenged to take 15 minutes to make a prototype that addressed a specific question related to one of four “briefs”, which are fictional people that the participants were given descriptions of to design for. For example, one group chose to prototype a better way for a homeless teen in San Francisco to access information about shelters and her appointments. After these super-rapid prototypes, the group got together to share their progress, as a way to practice speaking about the work and to see where each others’ work was going. One group showed off a very rough prototype of a baby that could be monitored remotely by it’s mother. Their very early prototype allowed them to get a sense of the human factors they would have to design around for the rest of the day. Subsequent rounds of prototyping (there were two) lasted about an hour each and allowed participants to flesh out concepts in more depth, or in some cases completely change their direction. One group for example started out developing a communal space for the elderly and younger people, but ended up pitching an interface that would teach older people how to dance while simultaneously guiding them through the city.


The session started off with introductions and an inspiring talk from the visiting designers about their design process. Prat and Bill discussed how the design process isn’t very prescriptive, but something that often circles back on itself and repeats. They gave a number of examples of the multitude of different ways one can prototype, whether it be interactions, interfaces, or products.

Groups continued prototyping until about 3:00 p.m. when everyone gathered for a final “critique”. Groups presented really interesting ideas from a shoe for building confidence to a device that would create physical artifacts from digital communication. Prat remarked that all of these ideas could turn into something really valid if the participants started putting their ideas in front of users and took them further. The two visiting designers noted that they were really impressed with what everyone came up with in such a short period of time.

Prat helps Alex Stuart (D+M ‘15) ‘prototype’ an interaction

Brown and RISD STEAM leaders introduce Bill and Prat for their talk

49 Later on that day, Bill and Prat, joined by a guest of theirs who happened to be local, talked about two of their projects in the Metcalf Auditorium in the Chace Center at RISD. This talk, which was open to everyone from Brown and RISD, covered two of IDEO’s classically user-centered projects. This allowed students to gain perspective on how IDEO incorporates the end user into their design process (from the very beginning) and a number of other insights into how they work. RISD + Brown STEAM are very thankful to have partnered with Prat and Bill on this fun project and are looking forward to the next bigger and better version of this in the future.

Borris Bally Studio Visit 2/14

Eleven of us packed into two cars and visited the studio of metal smith and businessman Boris Bally. Boris’ studio practice inspirationally intersects the arts, design, and business. Boris is known for his signature upcycled street sign furniture, but his body of work spans an incredibly diverse range.

Michelle Site

Boris gave us a high-energy presentation on his career experiences, studio philosophy, and how he arrived at his current aesthetic. Starting with fine metal work made during his apprenticeship years in Switzerland, Boris brought out

Brown and RISD students captivated by jewelery-making technique studies in Bally’s studio

Bally’s studio is covered in signs and ephemera that he will repurpose for his sculptures in the future

More signs from in Bally’s studio


examples of works created throughout his career and explained how each piece was created. Boris also showed us anatomical jewelry he created for his spouse during her medical training, and shared insights on how he balances studio work with family life.

Avian Architecture & Nest Building Workshop

Michelle Site & Anthony Peer & Lucia Monge


The Nest Building Workshop taught attendees about the amazing variety of nest construction and sought to bring insight into the complexity of nest building. This event was part of the bioSTEAM series. After learning some design principles of nest construction, attendees made their own nests. Using hand-collected plant matter, everyone mounted branches on top of birch wood planks and tried their hand at nest building! People drew inspiration from nests made by hummingbirds, blue jays, bower birds, and more.

A student’s desk midway through his nest building


Process bird nests strewn about the desks in the Edna Lawrecne Nature Lab

The Design of Living Things

Michelle Site


students gather around Ben Snell (Brown ‘17) for a demo on rendering for Industrial Design

What are the core design principles of evolutionary biology that we can glean from biological history? How do we create and considerately design for the medical world? How can we apply the results of continuous scientific research to medical device designs? Can we deconstruct and analyze biological beings as designed objects? The Design of Living Things introduced and engaged attendees in the multiple interpretations of biological design - organismal anatomic design, colonial organismal design, healthcare and medical device design, and biomimetic robotic design. After lunch, workshops on scientific illustration and rendering for industrial design were held. Run entirely by Brown undergraduate students, the Design of Living Things embodied true STEAM spirit. The organismal anatomic design workshop was taught by Hannah O’Neill and Nic Baird, both seniors at Brown University. They used specimens from the RISD Nature Lab and the Brown University BioMed Center for object-based learning. By using skulls and skeletons, Nic and Hannah taught everyone how to “read bones” and figure out how an animal moved (whether it swam, walked, or flew), and what it ate.

The colonial organismal design workshop was taught by Po Bhattacharya, a senior at Brown who studies siphonophores in Dr. Casey Dunn’s marine invertebrates lab. Po discussed functional specialization as a form of colonial organismal design. He also introduced the importance of storytelling in science communication, and shared his work on CreatureCast, a series of animated videos that tell stories about zoology. Michelle Site taught the medical device design workshop, giving an overview of the medical product industry, the material science basics of biomaterials in medical devices, and the importance of user centered design philosophy when designing for specific populations. A seasoned and talented artist, Brown sophomore Elissa Johnson taught the scientific illustration workshop using skulls from the Nature Lab. Using the same tools and techniques as design professionals, Ben Snell, a freshman at Brown led students through the technical drawing cycle with objects of their choosing.


a student uses their arms to articulate an observation about bones

Margaret Wertheim 4/14

Science Writer, Margaret Wertheim was in residence at Brown as part of TAPS’ “Performance as Research: a semester exploring intersecting artistic, scientific, and humanistic discovery in the academy.” Her work focuses on engaging the public about scientific and environmental issues by putting people and communities at the core.

Lucia Monge

As part of her residence, RISD + Brown STEAM organized a dynamic lunch with participants from the departments of: Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Biotechnology, Teaching and Learning in Art, Neuroscience, Digital Media, Sculpture, Graphic Design, Environmental Studies, the New Scientist Program and Brown-Trinity MFA program. The lunch was designed to allow people to quickly meet each other using a speed-dating format. In five minutes people exchanged a challenge they were currently facing in their own practice and provided a possible solution for each other. The bell ran, the configuration rotated. Five minutes may not be much time, but it was just enough to start a conversation and get this interdisciplinary exchange moving (literally). Afterwards everyone self-assembled into small groups to propose collaborative projects focused on heightening public awareness for some social, environmental, or educational issue. One and a half hour may not be much time, but it was just enough to exemplify how fruitful collaboration can be and how far ideas can travel when we allow them to move in more than one direction. Proof of this was the variety of resulting proposals: Necklaces with mice eyes that give insight into neuroscientific research, interactive installations where love and cells build the common petri dish where we all stand, serious fans that respond to the audience and create the environmental stimulus for a performance, large scale projections of time lapse microscopic views of cell regeneration that illustrate the value of communal endeavors. The Creative Arts Council granted the projects seed funding and Erik Ehn shared inspiring thoughts that will help further develop the proposals during the upcoming fall semester. Stay tuned for some magnified cellular performances…


Firehose Weekend

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather


STEAM happily co-hosted our friends from Firehose Weekend with Student Alliance to come teach 25 RISD and Brown students how to do back-end and front-end web development! It’s called a “firehose weekend” because the pace is similar to drinking out of the firehose of a fire truck. Everyone learned the basics of HTML, CSS, Ruby on Rails, and some fundamental web development logic (what is a controller?). We hope to see them again soon!


A RISD student tries his best to keep up with the rapid pace of the Ruby on Rails course.

Students talk amongst themselves after uploading their first web app to heroku

Going Downcity with STEAM 2/14

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather

President Obama and the White House approved an investment of 3.1 billion dollars in STEM education last April to better prepare students for success. Meanwhile, the First Lady Michelle Obama who chairs the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities noted that “The arts and humanities define who we are as a people.” Is it merely coincidence that this power couple advocates for both STEM and arts education simultaneously, or is there a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” character to integrating the A for “arts” into STEM? STEAM, an acronym that cleverly combines these fields, has been gathering a lot of attention nationally. The cleverness of the STEAM acronym is its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. It’s hyper-accessible naming lends individuals a false sense of immediate understanding of the subject. It leads them to believe that there is a singular meaning behind the cause, when in reality, its meaning is as complex as it is clever. In an attempt to unpack some of the implications of STEAM and what it stands for, I went to interview Adrienne Gagnon, Founder and Executive Director of Downcity Design, and recent winner of the Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship. In her work, Gagnon provides rich arts learning opportunities for k-12 students in Providence in the form of design-build projects that benefit the community, such as a chicken coop for a farmer or a skateboard rack for a school. I wanted to find out what it was about STEAM that’s really valuable. Is there something specific to this magic recipe of subjects, or is it simply one more pathway for students to get engaged in school? RFM: “Why is art and design important for youth to learn right now?” AG: “I would like to make the case that art and design teach all kinds of skills and habits of mind that are really vital to life in the twenty-first century. So I think that having any kind of studio practice definitely teaches kids a lot about persistence, creating some sort of plan, realizing it, and overcoming obstacles, because I think that we as designers know that our product will never match our vision. So that process of figuring out whether or not to stay stay close to our vision, and kind of push forward and achieve it while also taking advantage of all the small failures that we’re going to encounter, that’s something we talk a lot about actually - the importance of failure, how you can fail forward, use failure to create something more exciting than what you started out with.

I also think that art and design can teach skills such as communication. A lot of design is about communicating - visually as well as verbally, figuring out how to synthesize your ideas and present them in a way that is convincing and will get other people invested and engaged in them. “Also collaboration, I think especially in the design fields it’s never solo, it’s all about being part of a team, and that’s such a valuable skill. Then I’d say also, developing empathy, you know, if you’re going to be a global citizen you need to understand that there are different ways of doing things that are all valid. There is something about working as an artist that positions you to see things from multiple perspectives, and that develops a certain amount of compassion and empathy.“

I noticed that a lot of what Gagnon said resonated strongly with points that the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) outline in Reinvesting in Arts Education, Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools, a document published in 2011 that studies the current state of arts education in the U.S. and makes recommendations for how it could be improved. Two of the key aspects of arts education that they highlight are “student achievement” which refers to the students ability to push through obstacles in the learning process and “social competencies” which refer to social skills that are critical to learning such as communication and collaboration. This sounds great, but the same thing could be said about any after school program, of course doing something that a student is interested in will make them more motivated to perform well. What is it about STEAM that is so special that it’s causing a national stir? I pried a little deeper. RFM: “What is it about STEAM projects that generates so much more ownership than others?” AG: “I think any time that students are pursuing something that they care about, they are a lot more invested in it and I think the learning experience


“...that’s something we talk a lot about actually - the importance of failure, how you can fail forward, use failure to create something more exciting than what you started out with. “

goes a lot deeper because of that. I think that STEAM based projects tend to give that to students, because they are making choices, that are personal, and come from their own creativity.“ Similarly, I noticed some striking resemblances between Gagnon’s work and the “motivation and engagement” learning outcome that the PCAH identifies in Reinvesting in the Arts, which embodies the confidence students gain and their ability to take more ownership in arts and design because they are actually making something. However, one more learning outcome from the PCAH reading remained unmentioned. “Creative habits of mind” describes the arts ability to teach multiple skill sets and increasingly multidisciplinary work that is collaborative in nature. This resonates with the definition of innovation outlined in Rise Above the Gathering Storm, a White House document published in 2007 that identifies that although science and technology are alive and well in the U.S., the economy would benefit from innovation being a focus of government investment. They describe innovation as increasingly multidisciplinary, collaborative, creative, and global. It can’t be a mere coincidence that this definition of innovation in a scientific context nearly identically matches PCAH’s description of arts learning outcomes. Hoping to uncover more about this uncanny similarity, I prompted Gagnon on the paradox I see in arts education as it relates to innovation.

“I sometimes hear school administrators make the argument that STEAM moving forward may be the only way that arts find a place in their school, and that does worry me.”

RFM: “Sometimes the argument made against STEAM is that the arts are valuable without relating them to innovation or STEM fields. There’s this kind of duality between arts for the sake of arts and arts to be applied to innovation for a better economy. Are they always mutually exclusive? How do you navigate that kind of duality?” AG: “I spent a lot of time thinking about that, actually. Because I sometimes hear school administrators make the argument that STEAM moving forward

may be the only way that arts find a place in their school, and that does worry me. I do see a lot of value in the arts for their own sake for the reasons that we talked about just a moment ago. I think they cultivate all kinds of important personality traits in addition to the ones that I listed. That kind of personal growth and self expression and confidence, that I think making things can lead to is really valuable in and of itself. “I do see the value the value of art and design as an economic driver, and I do see art and design together with emerging technologies a lot of exciting things can happen. I hope that both are possible and that one doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the other, but I do feel a little bit of worry about that as well. Especially given the pressures to conform to a certain academic standard, show growth for [STEM] in particular, schools will phase out arts practice, and if they bring arts practice into the curriculum at all it might be in service other academic subjects.“

Reaching into the community is nothing exclusive to STEAM, but projects like Gagnon’s do build capacities to solve the big problems Americans are currently facing, like those outlined in Rising Above the Gathering Storm. We can’t guarantee that these problems will still be relevant in future, but they certainly can serve as a wonderful example for others on how learning can simultaneously engage with a community in a meaningful way, and grow minds that will be equipped to solve the problems they will face when they graduate from school.


There is something special about arts education, and there is something very special about STEM education as well. Combining them into STEAM allows for the two to occur concurrently and amplify each other. Based off of my conversation with Gagnon, I can’t say that injecting STEAM into curricula is the best solution to as multifaceted a problem as the education system is, but it is one pathway that can help get students become more involved in school. Much of the reason that students get so excited about projects with Downcity Design is that it makes school “feel more real world.” Gagnon adds “They’re not just doing this for themselves. They’re actually creating something that’s going to be used and have a pretty substantial impact, and I think that that helps them feel more important.”


Brown STEAM is:

Catherine Leigh Schmidt

Hanna McPhee

President Graphic design, programming for web, typography, language

Ryan Flomerfelt Mather

Vice-President Industrial design, speculative design, furniture design, language

Eliot Bassett-Cann

Vice-President Architecture, urban planning,

Co-President Biologically inspired design, analytical/creative, scientific process, design theory

Michelle Site

Co-President and Founder Biological systems, science learning, biotechnology, medical design

Victoria Wu

emerging technology

Vice-President Industrial design, materials

Lucia Monge

science, engineering

Vice-President Sculpture, nature, social innovation

Jennifer Kwack

Vice-President Illustration, k-12 education, arts integration

Xin Liu

Vice-President Digital Media, critical design, engineering

MIT STEAM is: Grace Li

Founder, Co-President Mechanical engineering, visual arts, computer science

Dont be a stranger!

Alice Huang

Vice President Engineering, design, psychology

Hannarae Annie Nam

Vice-President Mechanical engineering, physics, 3D art

65 This book was designed by Ryan Flomerfelt Mather in the Spring of 2014. He thought it would be a good idea to use Avenir Next, by Akira Kobayashi, for the body text, and Simplon BP Mono, a favorite of STEAM’s, by Emmanuel Rey, for everything else.

STEAM Catalogue Two  

A description of all of the activity of RISD STEAM in the Spring of 2014.

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