Megan Smith is Upgrading the White House: Could a STEAM Renaissance Be Next?

In October, na2ure’s own Alex Wolf had the honor to meet Megan Smith, the new chief technology officer for the United States, at a council on women in business. We wrote about it then, sharing our excitement over Ms. Smith’s vision of attracting girls into STEM fields. Now, the world is taking note. Over the weekend, the NY Times ran a profile on Ms. Smith, a life-long big-thinker who came over from Google and is challenging the White House to upgrade not only its operating systems, but our culture’s gendered and limited approach to STEM achievement.

 

Whether on the part of Ms. Smith or others who are working tirelessly to change career expectations for girls, a cultural shift seems to be taking root. One sweet example: in late 2014 President Obama set the internet a-twitter by acquiescing to a Girl Scout’s request to don a tiara, a move that some dismissed as undignified, but we happened to see as a show of acknowledgement and respect.

In the larger culture, feminism has become a hot button topic. On a lowest common denominator level, it has become viewer-bait for press who’ve adopted the habit of asking young actresses whether or not they are feminist, hoping, it seems, to catch them saying something controversial. On the highbrow-brilliant level it has brought attention to bright young women (Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson come to mind) who have a perspective-shifting, positive message to share.

As far as STEM achievement goes, we think the link to STEAM is an obvious step in this process. There was a moment during the White House council when Alex stood up and suggested that if the White House and others want to invite girls into STEM fields, education should involve a strong visual arts component. Later, Alex was approached by organizers of the event who asked her to stay in touch to help them push the STEAM initiative forward.

A first step in getting the message was this op-ed by Alex, which appeared in the Providence Journal in December. In it, she argues not only that STEM should be STEAM, but children’s toys should be, too. Teach boys and girls STEM through play using art, and you’ve just significantly widened your pool of future scientists and engineers, including girls. Even the mainstream media is taking note.

2015 is a year to think big. Full STEAM ahead!