State Officer Blog: The Spectrum of Academic Interest

Emily Wright's picture

      When it comes to extracurriculars and academic exposure outside of the school setting, we may often find ourselves as students questioning the extent to which we can apply the skills we’ve learned from these experiences to areas outside of the realm from which they originate. This feeling manifests itself most strongly in the academic conflict between STEM and the humanities — from as early as our middle school years, most of us who are inclined to develop our writing and speaking skills are drawn to activities of the debate club or world affairs club category, while those of us interested in developing our analytical reasoning skills are drawn to more STEM-oriented activities. But does it always have to work out this way? Are we always required to restrict our skill development to “science and math” or “english and history”? Perhaps we should put greater effort into considering how we can strengthen our abilities in applying academic interest to skill development, and how we can use TSA as an outlet to extend this principle.

      One example of an outlook regarding the effective combination of skill development from all academic areas regards the STEM vs STEAM debate. It is believed by many that the incorporation of art education into STEM activities strengthens the core value of these programs, developing well-rounded skill sets among participating students. The first time I heard the term STEAM was four years ago at a TSA national conference during a conversation with a fellow competitor in a holding room right before an event. In talking about where we were from and what our chapters were like, the student I was speaking with mentioned that her school placed a lot of emphasis on STEAM-oriented activities in her community. As a student who joined TSA due to a strong interest in technological innovation, I immediately rejected the concept upon hearing the term — STEM isn’t spelled with an A! Despite the fact that most of my work for TSA dealt with speaking and writing, I still felt that the communication skills I chose to develop still fell strictly under the category of STEM (and as did every other skill developed through every other event).  

      It wasn’t until years later that I revisited the concept after participating in a summer program that afforded students the opportunity to get exposure to lab work through leading independently-designed experiments with fruit flies. We spent about five hours twice a week working on our experiments — designing, implementing, revisiting aspects that needed improvement — with the goal of creating something that we would eventually present at a symposium at the culmination of the program. On top of our experiment work, we’d take about an hour each day to develop our communication and design skills in creating our presentations and constructing illustrative elements to accompany them. This part of the program was the section I definitely enjoyed the most — I was so incredibly excited to present my work for the sake of presenting something — I didn’t want my presentation to reflect my experiment, but rather my experiment to reflect my presentation. It was this aspect of the program that earned it its “STEAM-oriented” description — and it was also this aspect that altered my outlook on the academic relationship between creation of product and development of skill.

      I think something really unique to TSA is the opportunity for us as students to apply our common interests in innovation to all academic areas through the decisions we make regarding the events we compete in. While we are alike in that we share the same principles in the execution of our events, the choices we make regarding our contributions to each event shape the academic value we extract from doing so. The varying degrees of construction, research and writing, graphic design, and presentation among TSA’s several events allow us to gain insight as to how we can use these skills to our advantage in any academic setting. Rather than focusing on the end result of our events, we should place emphasis on the skills we work to develop along the way. Regardless of whether you gravitate towards STEM, STEAM, or only certain components of either, it is important to keep in mind that in all of your endeavors, you have the ability to decide how to use a task to your advantage in developing the skills you see as most valuable to your interests.


Emily Wright, PA-TSA Parliamentarian