Saturday, November 22, 2014

A is for Art

I discovered my passion for space history in COMM 114, the required Freshman Communications class.  In 2002, I attended a Lunch-and-Learn on Space History, which rekindled my interest in the subject.  I always learn something a little new, and the engaging speaker reminded me that there was more to unpack from that era.

Soon after the Lunch-and-Learn, I became aware of a course being offered at the nearby University of Houston - Clear Lake (UHCL), titled "International Space Politics and Technology."  The course was part of the Space & Exploration Studies concentration for UHCL's M.A. in Humanities.

I applied to the program and signed up for the course that year.  My second class that term was International Training.  The description was not very clear what "international training" referred to, but because of my interest in globalization and cultures, I took the class.

The first class was taught by Dr. Andrew Aldrin, and included U.S.-Soviet arms race theory.

The second class was taught by Dr. Anna Agathangelou, who at the time was also part of UHCL's Women's Studies department.  From reviewing my notes and what I have learned since then, I believe she was working with Transnational Feminism.

The two classes together were challenging.  Some aspects of space history can be very technocratic, and focused on the "great men."  Meanwhile, the international training discussion of the Utilitarian Discourse System brought out a history of science that I had not known.

I am beginning, very slowly, to review and digitize my notes from the two classes.  The cognitive dissonance they created in that semester was a source of great personal growth, and I am beginning to apply that learning to my life and my discourse.

One of the things that bothered me about the #shirtstorm harassment campaign, was criticism of a science writer's profession and education.  There has been a movement to change the acronym from "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to "STEAM," with an "A" for "Arts."

The Arts affect how we see the world.  A friend of mine recently shared a link to this article, on "Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals.":
When their intensity is combined with multi-potentiality, these youngsters become particularly frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to develop all of the talents that many of these children have. Making choices among the possibilities is indeed arbitrary; there is no “ultimately right” choice. Even choosing a vocation can be difficult if one is trying to make a career decision between essentially equal passion, talents and potential in violin, neurology, theoretical mathematics and international relations.
I made a point to include a STEAM theme in some of my #scishirt postings last week, because I wanted children, especially girls, to know that there are varying ways to do both.  Not always all at once, and both may not always be career options.  But doing one does not necessarily mean giving up the other.

Part of that comes from what I learned in my Humanities degree.  As an undergrad engineering student, I can remember looking down on the liberal arts as "easy classes"... even as I studied them.  I once saw a text that suggested colleges and universities pair engineers with humanities majors, called "Hu-buddies."  I was bemused to realize that, with a Humanities major, I was becoming my own Hu-buddy.

Many scientists and engineers are excellent researchers and/or have good technical skills.  Not all of us are good communicators.  Science writers and science communicators are critical to telling the science story to the general public.  Having the knowledge is not sufficient.  Communicating that knowledge is critical to good science.