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Photo Credit: Fei Fei Ma for TRW

UMBC humanities gaining STE’A’M

It is well known that UMBC is a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. In fact, under the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classification system, UMBC is classified as an undergraduate research school, with a very large funding budget for research in the STEM fields. The science departments here are nationally renowned for their research and quality of teaching.

However, with the increasing demand for well-rounded students, UMBC’s focus began shifting to its arts and humanities programs. Employers, even those in tech fields, are beginning to look for students with a working knowledge of or a degree in the humanities.

Some of the employers believe that knowledge of humanities increases creativity and fosters diversity in ways of thinking and approaching problems. Schools are consequently beginning to emphasize the arts and humanities, even for their science majors.

With this national focus on the valued study of arts and humanities, UMBC is trying to switch its focus from being a STEM school to being a STEAM school — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

For example, the new Performing Arts and Humanities Building, completed just last year, shows the increase in funding and attention that the arts departments are receiving. This building is filled with state of the art, million-dollar equipment, for the theatre and music departments.

Dr. Sally Shivnan, the associate director of the writing and rhetoric division of the English department commented that, “the humanities at UMBC are really dynamic. I don’t think they’re an afterthought to the STEM fields.  I think they’ve always been important at UMBC; the difference is that in the last few years they are getting the recognition and attention they deserve.  Certainly, building PAHB was a way of showing that recognition.”

Shivnan says the new PAHB building is a good indicator of the kinds of resources UMBC is putting toward the arts and humanities, as it is the most expensive building ever built on the campus. The Fine Arts building is also being completely renovated to update it and to give more space to departments like Visual Arts.

However, among students there is some dissent. Adam Savage, a senior visual arts major, said, “As much as Dr. Hrabrowski tries to fairly distribute money and attention, UMBC remains primarily a STEM school.”

Long known as a STEM school, UMBC has been trying to prove that it can be a STEAM school. With the increasing focus on the humanities and arts departments, the university needs to emphasize its well-rounded departments.

However, UMBC still advertises itself as a STEM school to its current and prospective students. Majority of the advertisements about UMBC that appear on other websites and the radio profile engineering and the sciences.

If UMBC still bills itself as a STEM school, then the university cannot expect recognition for its arts-related departments. UMBC needs to follow through on the promise the funding has made and truly become a STEAM school by honestly focusing more on all the departments, not just the sciences.