Go left to science, right for art

By Sandi Funke, Education Director

19-Marsha Connell-August Afternoon, Mt. St. Helena-oil-24x36" 2009

Marsha Connell, August Afternoon, Mt St Helena

When I was a student in high school back in the *throat-clearing* 1980’s, our fully enclosed Midwestern high school had “wings.” All of the humanities and language classes were upstairs. Downstairs to the left there was a long winding hallway which housed the science classrooms. These halls always smelled a little funky and to me, they represented hands-on, relevant learning. Way at the other end of school were the hallways where the visual arts classes happened. I often craned my neck looking at the desktop easels to get a glimpse of what those classes were working on. I have always LOVED to draw, but in high school, drawing and painting weren’t “college prep” classes so I didn’t take many of them. I took so many science classes however, that they added up to 6 years of high school science.

What if things had been different?

STEM represents the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. STEM seeks to integrate these subjects while focusing on solving real-world problems in education and research. The STEM to STEAM movement, led by the Rhode Island School of Design, adds “Art and Design to the national agenda of STEM education and research in America. STEM + Art = STEAM”. The objective is to “foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer.”


Photograph of Mt St Helena seen from Pepperwood

How would our world be different if artists and art were regularly included in scientific endeavors?

STEAM in our Own Backyard
Last year, Sonoma State University took the creative step of integrating authentic natural sounds with music and dance. With training from nationally known bioacoustics expert Dr. Bernie Krause, students from SSU recorded a diversity of sounds in the field at SSU’s Fairfield Osborne and Galbreath Wildlands Preserves. The recordings were given to composer Jesse Olsen Bay, who created an original composition. Choreographers Christine Cali and Kristen Daley and dance students used the original score to explore the sounds and create a dance performance. The collaboration was shared with the public last fall. Check it out here.

Marsha Connell Oil Painting Demo at Pepperwood Preserve

Marsha Connell painting demonstration at Pepperwood

Art and Science Merge at Pepperwood
Collaboration is also central to the relationship between Santa Rosa Junior College visual artist and instructor Marsha Connell and biology instructor Shawn Brumbaugh. Marsha and Shawn discovered their common interests through co-teaching the Natural History of Pepperwood course, which certifies participants as UC California Naturalists. This course, which served as the pilot for the now state-wide program, emphasizes sketching, nature journaling, and practicing deep observation as fundamental skills for naturalists of all experience levels.

Marsha and Shawn will be presenting a Discover Nature lecture entitled The Synergy of Art and Science – Perspectives of Pepperwood on April 1st, 2016. Through lush slides of artistic renderings of the environment and its inhabitants, they will discuss the relationship between art and science including the historical importance of sketching in documenting scientific inquiry. Click here for more info on the lecture.

Later in the season, you can deepen your own observational skills and express your responses to Pepperwood’s verdant and blossoming spring landscape through a Landscape Painting class with Marsha on May 15th, 2016. Click here to learn more about this class.


  1. Becca Lawton says:

    Down the middle for enviro ed!

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