More students with engineering and technology majors are choosing creative minors
In any field of study, it is always important to incorporate new ways of thinking and new approaches to situations, even if those new ideas seem entirely different. This idea of interdisciplinary studies is especially true with science and art, two subjects that have traditionally been seen as completely separate disciplines. But if you look a bit deeper, it’s obvious that they are more connected than they appear, and can yield impressive results when applied together.
“Transdisciplinary thinking is absolutely critical for solving some of the world’s greatest problems and some of the biggest challenges that we face, like the planet, social problems, or health challenges,” said Rachelle Germana, associate provost for academic success in the Division of Undergraduate Education at Stony Brook University.
According to Germana, there are common qualities across all disciplines, including science, engineering and art. Critical thinking is important, and people use it to approach situations in different ways.
“It’s important to exercise your mind across different disciplines because the way that the disciplines approach those skills might be very different,” she said. “It’s not that one of them deals in critical thinking and the other one doesn’t. It’s about how you approach it, the kinds of questions you ask and the kind of skills you develop that make their critical thinking a little bit different. And I think that’s where the real value is.”
Recently, the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been exploring ways in which interdisciplinary ideas can be implemented in many different fields of study, especially in the connection between science and art.
In 2022, Professor Ete Chan in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Professor Nobuho Nagasawa in the Department of Art, developed a project to demonstrate how science and art overlap. In partnership with Stony Brook University Libraries, they created a unique installation in the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library called “STEM + Arts = STEAM.” It represented the inherent synergy between the natural sciences and visual arts, featuring biosignal-driven works that illustrated the influence our bodies have on technology portrayed artistically.
Students at Stony Brook are often exposed to interdisciplinary ways of thinking and different subjects from their field of study through classes that fulfill Stony Brook Curriculum (SBC) requirements. For some STEM students, general education classes in the arts or humanities provide a chance to explore other interests, which can often lead to entire other fields of study through a minor.
Rosemarie Gante is a civil engineering major with a studio art minor who has always been interested in art and exploring creative outlets, while also enjoying science and math. She wanted to combine her artistic side with her interests in science and originally expressed an interest in architecture, which led her to study civil engineering. Specifically, she wants to get into structural engineering.
When she came to Stony Brook, she said she wanted to “stay sane” throughout her major by pursuing a minor in studio arts, to have a creative outlet to contrast her engineering coursework. She likes the minor because it lets you explore many different artistic mediums, offering students a well-rounded creative experience.
She balances complex engineering classes while also dedicating time to complete her artwork. Even when it is difficult, she says it is worth it.
“There will be times when I have a midterm coming up, and I also have a critique coming up, and I feel like I’m melting down a little bit,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it is still nice to have that kind of break, and it’s not just the same thing over and over again.”
Gante believes her background in art will be helpful for her future career and give her a unique viewpoint on engineering. “I’m excited to say that, in a way, it’ll help me look at things a little more creatively, instead of just like black and white. I’ll be able to take a weirdly shaped plot that we have to work with and design a building for it and bring a different perspective to the table,” she said.
Todd Dickson is a career coach at the Stony Brook Career Center for diversity programs and internships for tech and engineering who helps CEAS students prepare for internships. He said it is especially common for majors like computer engineering or computer science to have a minor in digital arts, as the minor can aid students who want to pursue career paths like software engineering and game design.
“Making sure websites look professional while also getting the job done and running smoothly — all of that’s really interconnected, and I think having an artistic background helps students with that,” said Dickson.
Dane Meister is a computer science major with a minor in creative writing. He chose his major because he wanted to pursue a career that combined math and science, and said figuring out algorithms and computers is rewarding, like solving a puzzle. But he’s been interested in writing longer than anything else.
“I’ve always enjoyed telling stories,” Meister said. “I did creative writing in high school, and I took a class here for my arts SBC. I enjoyed it, and I wanted to do more of it because my other classes were just computers and math. It’s a different world, and it’s nice to play with both sides of your brain.”
Studying both fields is a balancing act that can make time management difficult. “There’s a lot of reading and that takes a lot of time, and there’s a lot of writing, and that takes even more time,” he said. “It’s not as important as my major career-wise, but it’s important to me, which is why I do it. You want to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Meister hopes to go into a branch of computer science and programming, and he plans to use the creative writing skills he’s honing in college to write a novel in his free time. He understands the value that creativity can bring to scientific fields like his own.
“I feel like a lot of people in science tend to get driven by facts while not really broadening their thinking,” he said. “When you hear about new discoveries in science, I imagine those people have a more creative outlook on what they’re studying, as opposed to someone who’s just learning everything that’s already known. And just becoming good at that takes a lot of creativity.”
It’s clear that exploring different subjects from your main focus is nothing but beneficial.
“I feel like people don’t think it’s possible to pursue other interests that make them happy because they feel that you should only focus on your career,” Gante said. “You can give yourself creative outlets, you can give yourself something that you enjoy personally, even if it’s not a career goal for you. There are so many things that you could add to your college career that would make you feel better and help you later on, you just have to look at it in the right way.”
— Sydney Corwin