Former U.S. Congressman discusses need for STEM and humanities to work together


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While the University of Iowa has stressed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies recently, former Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, says that the humanities, including arts, should work hand-in-hand with these studies.

Leach’s presentation was the first in the Distinguished Speakers Series hosted by the UI College of Education. These individuals, with their vast experience, can help people form a better understanding of large issues related to education, said College of Education interim Dean Nicholas Colangelo.

Leach represented Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years. He has been a UI visiting professor since earlier this year.

Unfortunately, Leach said, many view the STEM studies and the humanities as two separate fields.

“It’s my intent to address the psychological rupture [between STEM and humanities],” Leach said in his presentation.

He said despite great strides taken by sciences, none of them would have been possible without the study of humanities.

“Stimulating the imagination is the key to the future,” he said, and the study of arts and literature is needed to create this imaginative stimulus.

He also noted that much can be accomplished through studying the humanities that could never be achieved with science.

“The Higgs boson has been discovered” Leach said. “But peace on Earth is not yet secured.”

He said students shouldn’t think they have to choose between one path of study or the other but could pursue majors in both fields, and he encouraged that.

Colangelo agreed with Leach’s premise.

“It’s unfortunate that so many people see [the humanities and STEM] as separate entities,” hge said. “Some of the best scientists I have known [appreciate the humanities.]”

Colangelo said he believes that the UI is doing a good job in unifying these areas of study, and he said that the future for the university looks bright.

“I think there are a lot of people [at the UI] that see that [STEM and humanities] need to be together,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence.”

John Blesz, a UI graduate student in social-studies education, said it might be difficult to unify these ideas at the UI because of its size.

“Ultimately … the mission of the university is different than a small school,” Blesz said. “It’s a good idea in theory. It’s really tough to pull off in practice.”

Kirk Cheyney, director of operations at the new Fab Lab STEAM Room at Sycamore Mall, which adds arts to the STEM acronym, said one problem is perception of the STEM studies.

“People regard science and technology as cold and unfeeling,” he said. “Getting the love of science back is a huge priority.”

He said if the sciences and humanities can work together, it would greatly improve progress.

“It brings everyone a greater understanding of how to work in the real world,” Cheyney said.

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