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Building STEAM: Creating a Culture of Art in an Engineering Education

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Endeavors: Engineering, Art and Society

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Katherine Hennessey Wikoff Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Katherine Wikoff is a professor in the Humanities, Social Science, and Communication Department at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she Is a member of the UX faculty and teaches courses in communication, film/media studies, and political science. She has a B.A. in political science from Wright State University and an M.A. and PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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James R. Kieselburg Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Director and Curator, Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering
Adjunct Professor, Visual Design, Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Margaret T. Dwyer Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Margaret Dwyer has been a faculty member of the Milwaukee School of Engineering since 2007. Before coming to the classroom, she spent 15 years working for the state of Wisconsin as a publications editor. She received a Bachelor's Degree from Marquette University, a Master's Degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her teaching credentials from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in the Milwaukee area.

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Candela Marini Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Candela Marini is an Assistant Professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she co-directs the University Scholars Honors Program and coordinates the Spanish minor. She specializes in 19th-century Latin American history, with a focus on visual culture. She has published numerous articles on Latin American visual culture and literature.

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This paper discusses an ongoing, successful effort to create a culture of art at a STEM-centered university, not only within the engineering curriculum but also throughout campus life and its physical spaces.

In a paper presented at the 2014 ASEE conference, we discussed how an art museum on campus worked with professors in engineering and humanities/communication disciplines to incorporate art into the engineering curriculum. In summer 2019 we conducted IRB-approved research into student engagement with public art surrounding our urban campus. A walking tour of the sculptures was followed by a focus group discussion in which student participants explored how art might intersect with their engineering course work and how art could be integrated on campus to further reinforce connections between engineering and aesthetics.

Our paper for this year’s conference reports on progress made to date, summarizing our summer 2019 research findings together with the results of innovative learning strategies and art-related partnerships and developments across campus. A Qualtrics survey of faculty and academic staff conducted in 2020 rounds out the snapshot of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) at our institution.

Art is already integrated into several areas of our curriculum. Our institution values an applications-oriented, community-interfacing, experiential approach to learning. A required first-year communication course features museum visits and tours of public art followed by a formal analysis paper. Students in mechanical engineering and construction management classes regularly visit the campus museum’s industry-related art galleries. In an upper-level creative thinking course, students recently contributed to a large-scale, high-profile public art project involving a massive piece of engineering infrastructure in our city.

Additionally, our campus has established many opportunities for integrating art into extracurricular activities. A museum on campus has organized a number of faculty- and student-driven exhibitions. An artist lecture and workshop series is in the planning stages. An art lab in the lower level of the museum is a great new initiative on campus—totally student-driven through the newly-formed Art and Design Club. What began as a proposal in a business management course has grown into what we have today: a space equipped with supplies and apparatus for art projects and opportunities for students to exercise their creativity both formally and informally. The A+D Club also sponsors photo competitions and exhibitions with plans for future additions. This growing number of art-related activities reflects the potential of STEAM education, particularly considering that we are a technical school with no formal art or music curriculum.

The paper concludes with potential future directions for implementing changes in curriculum and bringing art more fully into our campus life. A focus on art as something communally experienced in public places and legitimately connected to engineering coursework serves to highlight its importance as an intrinsic, exciting part of engineering design. Integration of art in engineering education fosters critical and creative thinking, allowing students to conceive alternative approaches in problem-solving and communication of ideas.

Wikoff, K. H., & Kieselburg, J. R., & Dwyer, M. T., & Marini, C. (2021, July), Building STEAM: Creating a Culture of Art in an Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36773

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