My Journey from STEM to STEAM: Why The Arts are Even More Relevant in a Technology-Driven Economy

by Nicole Hodsdon

My Journey from STEM to STEAM: Why The Arts are Even More Relevant in a Technology-Driven Economy

If you’ve read past articles in this blog, you’ll know that I sometimes reveal hints of a past life in engineering.  It’s true - I spent almost 10 years studying and practicing mechanical engineering.  Today, I like to think of myself as a reformed engineer - one who has gone from a complete lack of knowledge about the creative arts to fully embracing the important role art and design have in a technology-driven economy.


My path in engineering started, like most careers nowadays, back in high school. Influenced by the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education movement, the college prep program I attended focused on the liberal arts and sciences while only offering one introductory semester in the creative arts.  Being a girl who had a talent for and an interest in math and science, engineering was a natural choice. 


Once in college, courses like thermodynamics and machine design left me wondering, “Where's the beauty?”  I was learning a lot about how to make things work well and last a long time, but I constantly came back to the desire to learn what it would take to tackle product development in more elegant and sustainable ways.  Even after graduating and joining the workforce, I kept asking myself where the human element and the innovation were.


Remembering that I once really enjoyed art classes when they fit into the curriculum, I decided to start taking drawing classes at night to spark that creative side once again.  Through these classes, I came across the field of Industrial Design, which would begin to open my eyes to a more wholistic approach to product development.  Industrial Design is the first stage of developing a product - from defining the problem to designing how the product will look and feel.  Traditionally, products start in Industrial Design to get designed and then get handed off to Engineering to be manufactured.

What I’ve learned from studying and practicing both Engineering and Industrial Design is this: When you ask the right questions and keep in mind the human element to your solution, you can create a product that exponentially improves life by creating a bit of joy with every use.  Think about the products you love - not only do they do their job, but they’re beautiful and they have an intention behind every detail that makes using them a joy.

Product Joy

Now, not every engineer needs to become an industrial designer.  There are certainly outstanding benefits to an in-depth technical education, and we can all see the amazing advances made as a result of a focus on STEM subjects.  What would be beneficial is if our STEM curriculums fostered a mindset of appreciation and collaboration between all of the fields important to a thriving technology-driven economy: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM).  


In the end, creating opportunities for Art and Design to be included in STEM programs - for STEM to become STEAM - results in more beautiful, useful products that make our lives easier and more joyful.  Wouldn’t it be cool if more of the products we used everyday sparked a bit of joy and put a smile on our face every time we used them?

If you liked this article, be sure to read my follow up: Lessons from STEM to STEAM: Why STEAM is the Path to an Awesome Future.

Creating handmade products that are beautiful and useful are my mission with Ciseal.  I like to think that each of my products make life more enjoyable and spark little joy-filled smiles throughout the day.  If you're feeling the need for more smiles, feel free to check out Ciseal's current collection.

Nicole Hodsdon
Nicole Hodsdon