Skip to main content
Open navigation

The theme of this year’s Black History Month is “African Americans and the Arts.” Around the country, everyone is encouraged to recognize, learn about, and celebrate the impact that African Americans have had on art throughout the history of this country.

It’s impossible to look at the creativity achieved over the history of the United States without acknowledging the significant contributions that Black Americans have made to several movements in the arts.

However, “art” isn’t just painters, designers, and musicians as many people conceive of it. Creativity can show up in many facets of society, even in areas we think of as opposites, like math and science.

The integral role of the arts and creativity in STEAM

For the past few decades, we’ve referred to careers that revolve around math and science as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). However, the way that we think about these careers is changing, and as a result the acronym has recently been updated to STEAM, introducing the Arts into the picture.

Art serves as a crucial bridge between technical and creative disciplines. At the heart of STEAM is the idea that the arts aren’t simply fun and aesthetics but are instead central to a full understanding of the world, encouraging innovative thinking and creative problem-solving.

From software engineers to lab scientists to aerospace technicians, all these brilliant thinkers employ creativity every day, helping to enhance their critical thinking, visualization, and hypothesizing new solutions to old problems.

Introducing art into the STEAM field also helps to ground advancements in technology in actual human experience. It contextualizes advancements in the real world, laying it up against real human behavior.

This human-focused perspective contributes to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence, which are critical skills in all professional fields. Especially when we’re considering STEAM education, making sure to leave space for the arts helps to mold well-rounded human beings who are set up to create truly meaningful change in an ever-evolving world.

African American Innovators Bridging Arts and STEM

While the introduction of arts to the STEM field is new in naming conventions, it’s not new in practice. The most successful people in STEM have naturally employed a creative mindset in whatever problem they’re trying to solve.

African Americans in the arts have played a critical role in shaping this multi-dimensional approach. So, for Black History Month, we wanted to highlight some incredible African American innovators who have paved a new way in science and technology by thinking outside of the box.

Nettrice Gaskins, Ph.D

Nettrice Gaskins, Ph.D. is an artist who is a pioneer in AI-generated art. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and creativity, using algorithms from the STEM field to create art. Her processes pull the curtain back on how technology can be used in creative projects.

Her scholarly background spans both ends of the spectrum in STEAM. She has a BFA in Computer Graphics, an MFA in Art and Technology, and a Doctorate in Digital Media. This varied background gives her a solid footing in both worlds, revealing a lot of overlap between the two.

Currently, she’s an artist-in-residence at the Autodesk Technology Center, representing MathTalk PBC. This group’s goal is to create public art that encourages people – both children and adults – to explore the math that exists all around them.

Jerry Lawson

Considered “the father of modern gaming,” Jerry Lawson is not only a pioneer in video games but is also one of the only Black engineers in Silicon Valley during the critical rise of this field.

A quote from an NPR article sums up his creative approach to problem-solving perfectly: “Like the sci-fi books and movies he devoured, Jerry saw no rules to what he could do in life.”

In his time at Fairchild Camera and Instrument, he led a team that released a product known as Channel $ in 1976. This product was the first of its kind, as the first console with interchangeable game cartridges, and a precursor to modern video game consoles like Playstation or X-box.

Prior to this, there were only Pong-like games that offered a very limited selection of games. Lawson recognized the potential and started his mission to create a console that helped to expand the possibilities for play.

His fascination with electronics started at a young age, constantly pulling apart devices and putting them together. This wonder never stopped in his career and gave him the ability to look at engineering in a different way. He even kept this spirit alive through his children, who often served as his guinea pigs for his consoles.

Ayanna Howard, Ph.D.

Ayanna Howard Ph.D. is a roboticist and current Dean of the College of Engineering at the Ohio State University, known for her innovative work that focuses on human–robot interaction.

With a passion for AI, but reasonably concerned about the proper use of such strong technology, she aims to boost trust, mitigate bias, and improve the ways that AI can be used to enhance the lives of humans.

Much of her work is done in the healthcare field. In her time at the Georgia Institute of Technology, she explored ways that robots could improve access to and scalability of services for special needs children. She went on to found Zyrorobotics, which creates assistance technology like mobile therapy and educational tools for children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries, among others.

Beyond her work in directly creating robots that align with the human experience, she is also passionate about advocating for more inclusive and accessible STEM fields. She has been involved in leading many education initiatives that demonstrate the potential for blending robotics with elements of art and design to open the door for a broader range of STEM students.

What This Creative Potential Means for the Future of Solar Energy

In the realm of solar energy, the fusion of creativity with a diverse range of backgrounds – in all senses of the word – is not just beneficial; it's essential.

As we continue to navigate a world that is in constant flux, approaching each challenge with a creative and innovative mindset, and with a team whose expertise and lived experience vary, is critical.

Not only do you need to be able to look at problems in different ways to find new solutions, but you also need to integrate creativity into your design processes that bring this solar energy to life.

Consider the importance of buildings in the overarching goals of sustainability and clean energy and the significant opportunities they offer to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ecological design/architecture and solar energy go hand-in-hand, creating a unique intersection for both science-driven and creativity-driven processes.

The way we see it, the future of clean energy is science-driven, creative, and diverse.

Back to all news