Full Steam Ahead

Ford integrates arts education into STEM instruction.

By Patrick Dunn

Education in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—has long been considered a vital qualification in the auto industry. But Ford is shaking it up and turning STEM into STEAM.

An innovative education initiative introduced through Ford’s Detroit-based STEAM Lab program for middle schoolers adds an arts component to the traditional acronym. But Shawn Wilson, manager of multicultural community engagement for the Ford Motor Company Fund, says that it’s not “art” in the traditional sense.

“The ‘A’ really represents what art stands for, which is that creative, thinking-outside-the-box element of an artist,” Wilson says.
STEAM Lab kicked off with a 2015 “hackathon” that challenged 100 Detroit middle schoolers to design, code and present original mobile apps. Ford volunteer coaches helped students realize ideas, including an app that provides students and parents access to curriculum outside the classroom, and another that combines music and math into an educational game. Students then pitched their apps to a panel of judges, competing for more than $42,500 in school funding and college scholarships.

Wilson was pleased with the success of the initial hackathon, but he was also interested in broadening the reach of STEAM Lab programming beyond a small group of kids in a single city. Over the past year he’s been working at turning Ford STEAM Lab into a digital platform that teachers nationwide can adopt. “We’re ensuring that we don’t just have engineers, but that we have creative engineers and entrepreneurial engineers,” he says. Learn more at fordsteamexperience.com.



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