ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Breaking Down STEM Stereotypes

By Elizabeth Cutbirth

Breaking Down STEM Stereotypes

Our society idolizes the famous—the directors, the actors, the sport stars and the CEO’s. But what about the creators? The designers? The writers? The engineers? What about the people behind the scenes responsible for the all the magic we see? 

Oftentimes, the creators are left in the background. Their work is mysterious. The public perception is misinformed or foggy at best, especially when it comes to STEM-related fields. The entrenched perception is that STEM fields are “too difficult,” “too geeky” and “antisocial.” The challenge of inspiring STEM interest is changing public perception—rebranding. Perceptions are powerful and unfortunately, the negative perceptions associated with STEM hinder career aspiration in these fields.

Dismantling STEM stereotypes, Two Bit Circus launched STEAM Carnival—a carnival reimagined featuring fire, lasers and robots to ignite interest in STEM+Art. Reaching over 13,000 attendees with 21 million media impressions, the inaugural STEAM Carnival showcased engineers, mathematicians, developers and designers, sparking spectacular new perceptions of these fields.

The cast of STEAM Carnival—Two Bit Circus staff or “carnies”—demystify misperceptions with their diverse backgrounds in engineering, unicycling, education, graphic design, theater, programming, game design,video production, creative writing, fire dancing and more. No matter their professions, they all agree that persistence, problem solving and creativity are fundamental to their success.

Roboticist and world-class whistler, Two Bit Circus co-founder Eric Gradman advocates for failure and lives by the motto “fail and fail fast.” Gradman, like many Two Bit carnies, advocates for the design process—an iterative method that recognizes the importance of design, teamwork, failure and revision.

“Take apart something that you think you have no business taking apart. And then fix it. And if you don’t know how, figure it out. Stop being intimidated by STEM. Just dive into it,”said Andrew Baker, a Two Bit Engineer. “My grandpa was my role model, and we were handy by necessity. I came from a culture of building. I had an informal education of hard knocks; if I wanted something, I would create it or find something old and fix it.”

Many of the engineers at Two Bit had different paths to their fields, but what they do have is interest, willingness to learn and the ability to problem solve. “Most of my work is problem solving,” said Dan Busby, Lead Engineer at Two Bit. “My background in physics gave me the tools to solve problems and the likely places to find solutions. However, the best way to learn is by doing. Pick a small project that you can accomplish. That’s really where you’ll learn skills. Just be ready to fail. Two Bit Circus is helping people realize that what we’re doing is something they can also try themselves.”

Professional unicyclist and Research and Development Engineer at Two Bit Circus, Spencer Hochberg, offered his insight, “If you want to be an inventor, then you should start making things and start with small projects. It’s essential to ask good questions and search for explanations, because many people have faced similar challenges. There are resources and libraries of data available to use.  It’s also important to find communities of people who share similar interests and aspirations.”

You don’t have to be “nerdy,” “gifted,” or look mad and disheveled to enter STEAM fields, unless you want to be.  What is important is the mindset—the willingness to dive in, fail, learn and revise. Like many professions, STEAM fields are challenging, but they’re also badass. Pyrotechnicians, web developers, geneticists, computer hardware engineers, software developers, doctors, computer programmers, astronomers, rocket scientists, bio designers...The possibilities are endless, especially when you throw art into the STEM mix. Busby advises, “Get started before you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’ll never get started.”

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