By: Allyson D. Yarbrough, PhD
Engineer, STEAM Education Evangelist and Empowerment Advocate
Today’s global career environment is exciting, competitive, and full of surprises. To succeed
requires strong skills, the ability to adapt quickly, and seizing control of your destiny.
Furthermore, as a recent Editorial in this journal explained in “Why Is Education So Important
Today Than Ever Before?”, education is the foundation of success.
Building on that truth and taking it a step further, integrated STEM and STEAM education, in
particular, is a powerful tool for controlling your future. “STEAM” stands for science,
technology, engineering, art, math. “Integrated” refers to teaching these subjects holistically,
with an emphasis on their deep connections, and embedding real-world applications into the
learning. In this definition, we recognize that some education may be formal, informal, or
through the school of hard knocks. We also honor that those doing the learning may range
from K-12 to adults re-tooling their skills to improve their earning power and make a better life
for their families. We focus on STEM and especially STEAM here because graduates and
workers in these fields enjoy more and better job opportunities and typically earn bigger
salaries, according to studies by the government and industry groups.
Traditionally, we have expected equality in public education, meaning that we treat everyone
the same, with the goal of ensuring fairness. This seems as it should be…until now, when we
realize that today’s complicated world of unexpected challenges, shifting dynamics and diverse
needs requires even more. Education equality assumes that everyone starts from the same
place and needs the same support. We now recognize that this is not the case.
Instead, we need education equity, which focuses on freely and fairly giving every learner what
they need as individuals in order to achieve their goals. This will vary from learner to learner,
depending on their abilities, interests, and physical, intellectual, language, or emotional needs.
Simply put, equality is about giving everyone shoes. Equity is about giving everyone shoes that
The key is recognizing that learners acquire knowledge and skills in different ways, need
different help, and be motivated by different goals. This is critical to understand because
education equity and the success it generates relates directly to the future ability to control
one’s destiny. By this we mean being competitive in getting better paying and higher skilled
jobs with benefits, feeling self-empowered, achieving financial stability, experiencing greater
personal satisfaction, and building strong communities. In other words, the results of
education equity feed destiny equity. And holistic STEM and STEAM education infused with
real-world applications can activate both education equity and destiny equity.
But what is integrated STEM and STEAM education and what does it look like? To answer these
questions we must first recognize that, traditionally, K-12 science and math have largely been
taught as isolated subjects, where their relationship is generally not emphasized. And
technology and engineering have only recently been introduced into the K-12 environment,
leading to the concept of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
STEAM goes even further and embraces the power of the arts as another way to make
academic learning come alive. Incorporating art can be a compelling way to attract and
empower students who otherwise may not engage. Art complements the STEM subjects,
reinforces creativity and critical thinking, and helps students and teachers exercise their diverse
learning styles and preferences.
It is essential that these subjects be taught in a way that demonstrates the connections
between them. These areas of study influence one another, and in fact, depend on one
another, though we may not recognize it at first. For example, just think about how the “T” and
“M” in STEAM have transformed the art of film-making through CGI (computer generated
imagery). Math is the language of science and engineering. And the impact of art, science and
engineering design on our user-friendly and powerful SmartPhones is undeniable. Just as
importantly, interconnecting the STEM subjects in lessons realistically represents the
interdisciplinary nature of problem-solving in college, in the workplace and as a productive
In action, STEM and STEAM put the learning in terms that the learners can relate to,
incorporates their interests and ties to educational standards. When learners acquire
knowledge and skills in a way that maximizes their strengths, fills gaps in their abilities, and
shows where they can use the knowledge in real life, they have started on the path toward
controlling their destinies.
And let us not forget that it is the educators in the classroom that are at the center of what
STEM and STEAM look like, supported by administrators, and in collaboration with families,
business and the community. They are dedicated professionals with their own career
aspirations, unique talents, ingenuity and needs. We entrust them with our greatest resource:
our children and the life-long learners striving for financial empowerment and personal
themselves and their communities. They deserve professional supports to help them use
STEAM as a lever that elevates student achievement and enriches their job satisfaction.
The knowledge and skills of STEAM professionals are what design and build the things that we
rely on in our everyday lives and make society work. Studying and entering a STEAM field is a
definite advantage in the job market and for entrepreneurial ventures because the demand for
such skills continues to accelerate, and leads to higher earning power than many other careers.
With a STEAM education, there’s no limit to how far you can go on your path to success…thanks
to those shoes that fit.