The Symbiosis of STEM With the Liberal Arts

By Faith Walessa

A great misconception about science, technology, engineering, and math is that they have no place in a liberal arts education. In actuality, they are an integral part of the classical tradition.

The idea that art and science are inherently separate is a recent one, and is not benefiting our scientists or our artists. There is a certain artistic creativity, curiosity, and wonder necessary for excellence in science; similarly, scientific analysis, structure, and technique are required for good art. These disciplines are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually beneficial, and a student with a solid foundation in both stands to gain more than from a singular commitment to either.

This is one of the primary appeals of a liberal arts or classical college. Interdisciplinary education is a hallmark of the classical tradition, because it recognizes that knowledge is not meant to be absorbed in isolation. When a variety of subjects are combined, they are better understood and are more complete; the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Consider, for example, some overarching skills attached to a few generic academic disciplines: philosophy teaches how to ask difficult questions by not accepting ignorance; science shows to never accept the obvious, but to search for connections and causes throughout creation; math illustrates the beauty of truth and how to effectively engage with a problem; history is the art of storytelling combined with imagination and patience. The traits developed in any one of these individual studies could easily transfer over to the others, creating a more well-rounded, accomplished student.

The arts and the sciences need each other, and a classical education was designed with that in mind. Perhaps part of the reason this is sometimes forgotten is because the phrase “classical education” comes with the immediate recollection of names like Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton–people who are type-cast as poetic, philosophical, and artsy. These certainly seem like some of the more obvious poster children of the liberal arts, but the fact is that many of the most influential, well-respected scientists were formed through classical education–including Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Kepler, Galileo and many others.

When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

The truth is, STEM and the liberal arts are inherently linked. If you pursue an education in science at a liberal arts or classical college, you have no reason to fear that you are settling for less. In fact, I would suggest that you are gaining substantially more.

If this interests you, we’re proud to claim many incredible classical and liberal arts schools as our Partner Colleges, and are pleased to provide a brief list (certainly not comprehensive) of some highlighted majors and programs that showcase what these colleges have to offer to the world of STEM:

Grove City College—Computer Engineering

Grove City College’s computer engineering program boasts a machine shop with state-of-the-art equipment and collaborative space that enhances hands-on experience. 96% of GCC graduates in this program secure full-time employment or admittance to top graduate programs at institutions like MIT, Virginia Tech, and Carnegie Mellon.

Hillsdale College—Biology

Hillsdale’s Biology program stands out as one of the largest departments on campus, boasting the highest rate of placement into graduate-level programs among all majors. All labs are taught by professors, not teaching assistants, and you’ll have access to the kind of equipment that’s often available only in graduate programs elsewhere, including a cadaver lab and an off-site research center in Northern Michigan.

Montreat College—Cybersecurity

Montreat College, designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the first member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) to receive this designation. Montreat cybersecurity students have access to competitive internships with companies like Bank of America, Mission Health, and Harris Corporation. Students also participate in regional and national competitions and -attend professional conferences during their undergraduate studies. 

Benedictine College—Biology

Benedictine College’s newly expanded and improved Westerman Hall of Science and Engineering means that Benedictine students will now have access to the best STEM building of any small American college. Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis said, “This building allows us to capture the vision of being the Catholic liberal arts college that educates future doctors, engineers, scientists and health care professionals for the 21st century.” Though this building is for all their STEM programs, their department of Biology notably won the Heuer Award for best undergraduate biology program in the country.

For more information about these and the other amazing colleges that partner with us, you can view our whole list of Partner Colleges here. Each of them have many STEM programs worth exploring and would be a great fit for a CLT student.

We wish you all the best in your future college search!

Faith Walessa is a rising senior from Ontario, Canada. She hopes to study English at Hillsdale College, write books, and someday travel to England. She loves fanciful poetry, theater, reading by flashlight, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out our content on the great books and great minds of Western history. CLT offices were closed Thursday to Monday inclusive (28 March-1 April 2024) in observance of the Easter holiday, so we are freshly back and rejuvenated. Thank you for reading the CLT Journal.

Published on 27th March, 2024. Page image of a celestial globe, created in 1144 by Yunus bin al-Husayn al-Asturlabi, probably in Isfahan, Iran; currently displayed in the Louvre in Paris, France—used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license (source).

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