The result of an educational system that prepares students to excel in science, technology, engineering, arts and math is a capable workforce.
Rhode Island groups are on a quest to reach that end line and are looking for clues in neighboring Massachusetts, which has been developing similar programming for more than a decade.
“Our goal is to solve some of the economic problems we’re having in Rhode Island, and the key to that is education, specifically more defined career paths,” said Middletown Town Council President Chris Semonelli, who is also a Newport County Mentoring Co-op Group volunteer. “We don’t want to [just] talk about the problem anymore.”
Semonelli is one of the organizers of the first STEAM Summit Rhode Island, scheduled for April 3 at Salve Regina University. The summit is expected to host Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University STEAM proponents, as well as science, technology, engineering and math coordinators from Massachusetts.
Rhode Island’s STEAM approach, including the arts in the equation, is an outgrowth of STEM, says Semonelli. So the goal of the statewide summit is to get decision-makers who can effect change in the room to hear what’s been done in Massachusetts, what’s being done with STEAM here, and how to build a student pipeline that feeds the state’s workforce, he said.
“The thing that’s very powerful in Massachusetts is [that] a lot of their initiatives are part of their public education system,” he said. “We need that, too.”
Since 2002, Rhode Island has developed a state Science & Technology Plan and a K-16 Council, but neither is focused explicitly on STEM. In 2009, the state also invested in a STEM center at Rhode Island College.
“The STEM Center is trying to serve as [a] hub,” said Carol Giuriceo, the center’s executive director. “The state does fund individual projects, but we’re moving toward much stronger alignment of programs and what everybody’s doing.”
In 2011, when John Maeda was president of the Rhode Island School of Design and leading the way with STEAM, Rhode Island artists, designers, scientists, educators, business leaders and policymakers came together to advocate for the role of art and design in fostering innovation.