STEM Majors, Art Thinkers – Issues of Duality, Rigor and Inclusion

  • Fay Cobb Payton
  • Ashley White
  • Tara Mullins
Keywords: STEM, STEAM, Arts, Dance


There is a growing interest in STEAM (STEM + Arts) education nationwide. To uncover why these interdisciplinary initiatives can play a significant role in the student educational experience, it is crucial to identify characteristics of university students, who are participating and enrolled in STEM and arts curricula. We are interested in students who would like to actively participate in dance curricula while pursing STEM degrees, and how those students perceive social inclusion given the dominant presence of STEM fields at a predominantly white institution (PWI). We conducted focus groups with undergraduate students from two NC State University dance companies. Focus groups transcripts were coded according to our research questions along with an additional taxonomy including academic emotional engagement, self-efficacy and level of activity. Sub-themes were analyzed using pattern matching and thematic analyses. Data themes included personal, academic and institutional issues, as well as career workforce preparation. Students indicated that rigor, stigma, enhanced problem-solving skills, interdisciplinary thinking, and increased diversity and inclusion opportunities characterize their dance experiences. These experiences highlight aspects of human diversity including ethnicity, race, gender identity and class, and how dance provides a safe zone that is significantly different than their STEM coursework. Current dance students expressed why the arts are an intentional part of their academic experiences. The students drew parallels to problem-solving approaches, team collaboration and data-driven application for the “think and do” ethos that is central to the university. Our findings offer STEM researchers and leaders, along with policy-makers and funding agencies, opportunities to reframe the current thinking and approaches central to broadening participation in STEM.

Author Biography

Fay Cobb Payton
Dr. Fay Cobb Payton is the founding director MyHealthImpactNetwork, a social network experience that focuses on health disparities and social media technology innovation. @MyHealthImpact provides “voice” for the millennial generation. She is the author of Leveraging Intersectionality: Seeing and Not Seeing (Hashtag #SeeingAndNotSeeing), an anthology of her research on STEM education and experience in both academe and corporate environments. Dr. Payton is an editor for Health Systems, an Associate Editor for Decision Sciences and Information Technology & People, and is a Full Professor of Information Systems at North Carolina State University. She received the 2013 National Coalition of Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) Undergraduate Mentoring Award. As an American Council on Education Fellow, she worked on issues of academic review, interdisciplinary graduate research and education, and institutional economic and community impact. Dr. Payton’s research interests include healthcare IT/informatics/analytics; social media use among the millennial and under-represented groups; intersectionality; racial, gender and ethnic identities in online communities; broadening participation in ICT & STEM education and workforce participation, and the influence of racial, class and gender identities on health information seeking and content creation. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles, conference publications and book chapters. Her research has appeared in the Journal of the American Informatics Association (JAMIA), European Journal of Information Systems, Information Technology & People, IIE Transactions on Healthcare Systems Engineering, Information Systems Journal, Journal of Health Disparities and Practice, Health Systems, Decision Sciences Journal on Innovative Education, Health Care Management Science, and Telemedicine and eHealth, just to name a few. She earned a Ph.D. in Information & Decision Systems from Case Western Reserve University. Prior to joining academe, she worked in corporate IT and consulting for IBM, Ernst & Young/Cap Gemini and Time, Inc. Dr. Payton was featured in Diversity Careers in Engineering and Information Technology for her mentoring work with minority and majority STEM undergraduate and doctoral students.