In a recent conversation with Utah Tech professors Randy Jasmine and Jim Haendiges for the "Being Human UT" podcast, Professor Mitch Ogden, Professor Jennifer Astwood and undergraduate researcher Olivia DeCosta dove deeper into opportunities they presented at the 2023 Polytechnic Summit for polytechnic universities to embrace humanities through fabrication and other hands-on teaching methods.
By expanding traditionally polytechnic STEM academics, and the acronym, to reflect not only art (the "a" in STEAM) but humanities—Ogden calls it "SHTEAM"—polytechnic universities can contextualize the traditional bedrock of liberal arts institutions in a way befitting of the applied learning model.
FabLabs, with their 3D printers and other technologies, continue to gain popularity, but the concept of "humanities fabrication" remains more obscure. The Stout trio, and others involved in the project, are pushing to change that through a build-based education experience that teaches students about cultural innovation.
To make sure the learning sticks, the project deliverable is embracing the absurd with inspiration from Russell E. Oakes (aka "Professor I.M. Nuts").
Sara Brewer ('17), a graduate of the professional communication and emerging media program, discovered the 19th-century-born ad man from Waukesha, whose overactive innovation led to a legacy of odd inventions and theatrics. Among more than 50 creations, Oakes's Spaghetti Aid was part hand beater, part fork and 100% absurd. It also made for a perfect oddity to help younger students explore iterative design, Wisconsin history and cultural evolution through the maker lens.
Since Brewer's initial research, Stout students have played a important hands-on role in the project's development—doing research, creating content, designing and redesigning Oakes's prototype, testing and developing the process, and working with elementary students. DeCosta, an industrial and product design major from St. Paul, finished version 2.0 of the initial redesign in Spring 2023.
Listen in at 1:14:00 when Ogden, Astwood and DeCosta discuss the inspiration and development of their project.