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Langevin and RISD partner to encourage innovation

June 22, 2011

WARWICK - Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and leaders from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) hosted a forum on Capitol Hill Wednesday about the importance of integrating art and design into our country's efforts to maintain global leadership in technological innovation. Leaders in business and education joined them in Washington to highlight the need for workers trained in these disciplines to effectively communicate complex data and information, design easy-to-use products based on scientific research and build accurate and useful models for scientific demonstrations. The event builds on Langevin's efforts to ensure our workforce is trained to meet the needs of emerging industries, including renewable energy and health information technology.

In his remarks, Langevin spoke of the importance of artists and designers in developing modern technologies to support new manufacturing opportunities and innovations that will boost the American economy. He also announced his introduction of a resolution urging Congress to include art and design in the STEM fields as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In addition, it calls for the creation of a STEM to STEAM Council, which would bring together artists, designers, education and business leaders, and federal agencies to facilitate a comprehensive approach to incorporate art and design into federal STEM programs.

"These days, we hear a lot about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM fields," said Langevin. "We know that our nation is woefully behind in these subject areas. And we know that if we do not engage future generations to excel in these fields, it will hurt our nation's ability to innovate, and hurt our employers' ability to fill the jobs of the 21st Century. I also believe that art and design play a key role in advancing the understanding of STEM learning and collaboration, and that is why I have joined the effort to turn STEM to 'STEAM.'"

As one example of the potential of this initiative, Langevin cited the contributions of artists and designers in helping medical doctors to design prosthetics. In another practical illustration, RISD artists recently worked with researchers to design toys specifically for disabled children.

John Maeda, President of RISD, said the school is committed to emphasizing the importance of the arts to STEM curricula and ensuring policymakers understand the need for both the STEM fields and the arts for a balanced education that translates into the most capable workforce. His school's work on "STEM to STEAM" was recently part of an effort that won Rhode Island a $20 million National Science Foundation Research Infrastructure Improvement grant. These funds are allocated to advance research on the effects of climate change and build appropriate institutional, technological and communications infrastructure.

"In the past 20 years, we've focused on just the science aspect of technology innovation. Art and design humanize those developments, and fuel true innovation, which ultimately leads to economic recovery and leadership," Maeda said. "Apple's iPod is a perfect example of technology that basically existed for a long time as an MP3 player, but that nobody ever wanted until design made it something desirable and useful in a way that you could integrate it into your lifestyle."

Langevin has pointed out that the innovators and job creators in the business sector recognize the benefits of the arts and the detrimental impact of underemphasizing them in our educational system. In a study called Ready to Innovate, undertaken by the Conference Board, Americans for the Arts and the American Association of School Administrators, a survey of school superintendents and employers found "employers are placing greater strategic value on innovation and increasing the importance of employing creative workers."

Furthermore, 97 percent of employers agreed that creativity is of increasing importance in the workplace, in part because of a demand for customized products and services, and "85 percent of employers seeking creative employees said they were having difficulty finding qualified applicants with the right characteristics." Other speakers at today's event included Adam Bly, the CEO of SEED magazine; Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts; Martin Storksdieck, Director of the Board on Science Education at the National Research Council; and Brian K. Smith, Dean of Continuing Education at RISD.

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