Study links exposure to art as a child to careers in adulthood

Studying arts during childhood may be responsible for out of the box thinking required for STEM careers.

There is an interesting new study from Michigan State University (MSU).  What do the arts have to do with scientific discovery, patents and owning your own business?  Plenty!  As it turns out, what may just seem like child’s play may have an important impact on a future career.  According to a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Michigan State University, MSU honors college graduates who majored in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) who own businesses or patents received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general public.

In a MSU Today article, A Young Picasso or Beethoven could be the next Edison, researchers stated that the skills learned and practiced through childhood years and into adulthood could help adults see how a product can be improved. One researcher stated that visual arts and similar projects encourage out-of-the-box thinking skills that are also needed to solve complex problems.

What does this mean for Michigan State University Extension and 4-H programs that involve many visual arts projects as the hook to get youth involved in the largest youth organization in the country?  4-H was not directly included in this study, however, 4-H offers many communication, expressive arts and visual arts opportunities.  These are the largest program areas in Michigan 4-H and include areas such photography and video, all types of arts and crafts, and creative writing among many others.  4-H youth typically do these project through their county programs and there are also state and national opportunities for youth to explore these areas. 

One such opportunity is 4-H Exploration Days at MSU.  The three-day program is a premier event in which young people, 12-years-old and older stay on campus living in the dorms, eating in the cafeterias and taking classes in campus classrooms.  Many of the classes center around the arts and teaching youth new skills as well as preparing them to achieve their college goals.  There are many other workshops statewide that provide these opportunities to youth including those held at 4-H Kettunen Center, Michigan’s state training facility for teens and adults located near Cadillac, Mich.  Even though 4-H was not included in this study, it is a perfect way to implement these findings to Michigan 4-H. 

Researchers who conducted this study were James Lawton, John Schweitzer, Rex LaMore and Eileen Roraback.  The study was published in Economic Development Quarterly.

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