New Trend: Schools Build Programs for the Intersection of Liberal Arts and STEM

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm
New Trend: Schools Build Programs for the Intersection of Liberal Arts and STEM

Stanford University has a new program to combine computer science with any one of fourteen humanities subjects. CS+X is what they’re calling it, allowing the benefits of a double major without quite so many credits. In a world where STEM is the wave of the future, studying art history or music often gets the shaft.  Stanford and other schools are bridging the divide by finding ways to bring disparate subjects together in ways that make sense for the twenty-first century.

Explaining CS+X, the Stanford website states, “Intersecting opposites create altered perspectives, fresh intellectual possibilities and new strengths.” These ‘joint majors’ as they are called will “give Stanford students the chance to become a new type of engineer and a new type of humanist.”

Course Report, a resource for those looking to choose a coding boot camp, notes that people from all backgrounds can get specialized computer science training. “The skills learned in Liberal Arts (critical thinking, creative problem solving, etc.) can often make for a stronger, more well-rounded developer.” Many students add-on to their arts degree with boot camp or a microcredential to become more employable.

Stanford’s approach is more systematic than just requiring humanities majors to take a computer class. Baylor University held a STEM & The Humanities Symposium in 2015, with another planned for this year. The school is beginning an initiative on the two fields as part of their strategic plan with a goal to “highlight the value of study in the Humanities as well as current research and teaching activities at Baylor that cross Humanities and STEM.”

Even the National Endowment for the Humanities is providing resources to find ways to connect STEM and humanities. Google+ Hangouts with experts are available to “illustrate how the sciences, arts, and humanities together respond to challenges and spur innovation.” Lesson plans for K-12 teachers, research endeavors, and more allow interested parties to envision ways of incorporating the humanities in science or technology projects.

Critical thinking and an ability to use knowledge are two of the core skills today’s college students must learn. The problems that need to be solved in the global community will require people who can combine engineering and math with an understanding of culture. Instead of considering STEM and humanities as diametrically opposed fields, universities that find ways to bring them together will lead the way. Stanford’s CS+X program is an exciting attempt to formalize such a relationship.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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