Liberal Arts in a STEM world

In recent years there has been changes happening within the education system. With pressure from the technological boom and the current job market, upcoming college students are being pressured into, at a bare minimum, to take a look at the STEM field and see what is has to offer. Students who do choose to go into the STEM field will have to go through a very rigorous and challenging college experience, I would know as I am right in the midst of things. At the school I attend an engineering degree is pushing 100 credits. To keep up with the times students need to learn more than ever and something needs to budge. A plausible recommendation would be to remove the liberal arts portion that has been included in a college education for decades. However, liberal arts may be more important now than it ever was for a STEM major. For many reasons liberal arts should be included within STEM programs.

One of the reasons that a liberal arts education should be required to get a STEM degree is that liberal arts gives students the opportunity to experience a diverse community. Many students, including myself, did not attend high-schools with much diversity. A problem that arises with that is a lack of knowledge of how to communicate with people from other cultures. As a future engineer this is something that I will most likely encounter as many companies are worldwide companies or have relations with companies around the globe. Liberal Arts courses give students the opportunity, like myself, to explore other cultures and how to communicate with the people from them. Students are also given the option to learn about a specific culture in detail as there are many courses within liberal arts that are more focused on cultures that are commonly dealt with in the STEM world. It prepares you for situations that can be encountered in the future that will not be learned from the STEM classes.

Liberal arts education also teaches a person how to tackle a task or go about solving a problem. One of the main concepts that is taught within a liberal arts education is how to be a good critical thinker. In “Myth: A liberal arts education is becoming irrelevant”, Carol Christ explains why liberal arts can be of importance to a STEM major. She says, “A liberal arts education presents students with contradictory opinions from different viewpoints, forcing an in-depth examination and critical distillation of data; I can think of no skill more important for scientists and engineers.” I am experiencing this right now in my personal education. The further I explore the liberal arts classes, I find it helpful to use the concepts that they teach me and use them in my engineering classes. Learning to be a good critical thinker is a skill that is very hard to grasp without some sort of guidance. With problem solving being the number one reason that STEM exists, it would contradict the statement that liberal arts education is not needed for a STEM major when one of its greatest assets is one of the most important skills needed to be a good problem solver.

Beyond STEM

On another note, it is hard to argue that a liberal arts education is not important when it is one of the things that an employer look for when hiring. In addition to what was sated earlier, “employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hire,” as stated by Mark Mcnutt who wrote an article on employers saying that there is a value to a liberal arts education. Again all traits that professionals within the STEM field hold as that is what the jobs are all about, to solve problems with new and creative ideas. Employers look to people who have had a liberal arts education because they know that they can look at problems in all directions, giving them options on how to solve them. Innovation is what sets companies apart. To be innovative, a person must be able to think outside of the box. A liberal arts education gives the tools needed to do just that.

Now one could argue that a liberal arts education is not needed for a STEM major. A liberal arts background will not change if a STEM major will get a job or not. Or that liberal arts will not teach a person to be innovative in designing a car or a cell phone or discovering the next biggest thing or the newest theory. If a person is interested in these types of things, they are going to have new ideas and excel whether they have a liberal arts education or not. I have had ideas about how I think I can make a product better before I had taken any liberal arts classes in college. So why should a liberal arts degree be need for a STEM major when they already have an overly packed schedule of classes?

Technology and Liberal Arts

To answer that, I do believe that a person could excel in a STEM environment without a liberal arts education. However, a liberal arts education will make the process of designing a new product or explaining your theory or discovery to the world easier. A liberal arts education teaches more than just how to be a critical thinker. It teaches other skills that could be useful to STEM majors. “All successful careers require critical thinking, teamwork, sensitivity to cultural, demographic, economic and societal differences and political perspectives. A liberal arts education provides this grounding,” as stated by Edward Ray in his article about the value of a liberal arts education in today’s market place. With the addition of these skills that a liberal arts education provides, the process of designing a product or working with colleagues on a new discovery will go smoother and quicker. Being able to communicate with those around is a skill that STEM majors often lack and is just another reason to add to the list of why a liberal arts education should be included.

Concluding, a STEM major can be successful in their field without a liberal arts education. However, the addition of a liberal arts education can have many advantages. With industry becoming more global and less country based it is important that STEM majors can communicate. Along with that is the ability to work with colleagues. If you can’t work with your co-workers, how can you expect to get anything done or even get hired? A Liberal arts education provides you the building blocks to make all of these possible or at the minimum easier than if you had never had it at all.