It is important to include the arts in STEM for several reasons, but I believe the most important reason is that art is what makes us well-rounded individuals. Regardless of the form of art we engage in – be it visual arts, performing, writing, music, or one of a many other forms of artistic expression – we can be creative in any part of our lives and it makes our world a better place.
I am an art lover, art collector, and arts advocate. I come from a family of artists and educators. It was an easy choice to incorporate the arts into my love for technology. Art is a key part of our daily lives. Everything we use was once someone’s conceptual art at some point. My husband and partner, Daniel Flores, is a professional artist and we founded Buttercup STEAM Camp, where we teach girls to build robots and code. We fuse technology and creative arts projects to spark their imaginations.
I recently read, “you cannot have smarts without the arts,” and I believe this is true: creativity is what sparks innovation. We use creativity in STEAM to help children open their minds to the endless possibilities of utilising technology in new ways. How will they use a new coding skill? What else can they create after learning how to build a robot? Can they use it to help others, or create something that we haven’t seen before?
STEAM for under-represented children
According to the latest STEM Index from the US News and World Report, incorporating the arts into STEM subjects is a proven method for onboarding and recruiting under-represented groups, particularly girls and children of colour, into STEM. The hands-on aspects of STEM have been a great way to engage students in what would normally be considered mundane concepts. STEM subjects have been typically the hardest to engage students in long-term. Allowing children to creatively approach these subjects, with the addition of hands-on projects, allows us to engage children in a way that is memorable and enduring. This gives us an opportunity to lead them to paths that were not previously explored.
STEAM + cosplay
One of the ways we incorporate arts into STEM is through cosplay and steampunk. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs, inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery. Taking inspiration from a retro-futuristic mash-up between a Victorian aesthetic and cyberpunk, steampunk encompasses a sense of longing not for the actual past, but for a futuristic past that never was. The DIY and repurposing aspects keep steampunk a flexible form of expression with a spirit of adventure, which we apply in our summer camp projects.
I have been a guest panellist at conferences such as Momocon and Dragoncon, where I have taught workshops on ‘How to Light-Up Your Cosplay’ with one of my good friends, Tanya Woods of ThrillBuilds. We teach people budget-friendly ways to add electronics and lights to costumes. Tanya visits Buttercup STEAM Camp to shows our girls how she uses her creativity for passion projects and also how she uses technology in her costumes. Another cosplayer, Darin Hicks, has also visited our camp and discussed how he incorporated speakers and lights into his robotic costume inspired by the Overwatch character Lucio.
Why Buttercup STEAM?
Buttercup STEAM’s mission is to reduce the gender and racial gap in technology professions by inspiring girls, and girls of colour, with an adventurous and memorable introduction to coding and robotics. Our goal is to help students see how they can create, make, and explore while solving problems with critical thinking and analytical skills.
The Teapot Racer is a transformed RC (remote control) truck used in a Teapot race at Dragoncon 2018 in Atlanta, GA. Materials: NeoPixel LED ring, steampunk goggles, programmable microcontroller switch, power bank, ultrasonic humidifier (Baymax) for steam, RC truck powertrain, and gear embellishments. This is also a demo take-apart project on how to creatively repurpose electronics.