Student View: Bringing STEM and the Arts Together

Grace Krajewski is a third-year student majoring in Human Biology in Lyman Briggs College and minoring in Dance and Spanish, both in the College of Arts & Letters. The Rochester Hills, Michigan, native writes about how her love of the arts has had an impact on her studies in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field.

Grace Krajewski

Dance was destined to be a part of my identity — my parents named me Grace. My love for science and medicine, though, began in high school. And realizing that they were both connected? Well, that happened at MSU.

I come from a strong lineage of Spartans, including my parents, aunts and uncles, two grandparents, and even two of my great-grandparents. In a sense, a serendipitous connection and love for MSU has always existed within me.

Once I decided that I was going to become a physician, I knew that I wanted to earn my education at Lyman Briggs. As my junior year is nearing an end, I am grateful for my experiences and excited for my senior year. Besides my studies at Lyman Briggs, I have two minors in areas I am passionate about: dance and Spanish. Dance is as beautiful as it is challenging, and the ability to speak fluent Spanish is integral to my connection to other cultures.

Grace Krajewski performs in the Infinity Room of the STEM Building at MSU. (Photo by Aran Kessler)

Starting as a first-year at MSU with both Human Biology and Dance as cornerstones of my undergraduate education, I didn’t yet understand how these two diverse paths would intersect perfectly. As a passionate student of science and lifelong dancer, I have always been fascinated with the science behind what my body does when practicing my craft — the rotations and articulations of my skeleton, my cells rapidly going through the process of aerobic respiration and fermentation to continuously provide myself with energy and more. However, these connections were never explicitly associated during my education.

As I progress through my Human Biology degree, my courses have become increasingly geared toward medicine and the body’s workings, which has enabled me to form meaningful connections between my learning and my interest in dance. I will never forget when, in one of my Dance minor courses with Brad Willcuts, Associate Professor of Musical Theatre, Choreography, and Dance, he talked about specific muscles in the body, their attachment sites, and how to think about that specifically when carrying out particular movements. It was one of the first times I experienced a genuine connection between the arts and human anatomy and physiology in my educational career. There have been similar discussions in my current Dance minor course about neurons and electrical signals, as well as the regions of the spine and how to isolate each of them in our movements.

Focusing on the multitude of connections within STEM and the arts has given me a new sense of purpose for my career path. These two fields are commonly thought of as entirely separate domains. Yet the connections between them are innumerable. Not only does acknowledging these intersections strengthen my education, but it also provides an outlet for me to exercise both sides of my brain. Regularly, I can implement both creativity and critical thinking into my education.

Using motion capture technology, Grace Krajewski watches a 3D skeleton carry out her exact movements in real time.

I also have been able to explore interactions between science and the arts with my involvement in motion capture research with Brad Willcuts and Daniel Trego with the College of Arts & Letters. As a part of this exploration, I wear a motion capture suit and watch a 3D skeleton carry out my exact movements in real time. Throughout this project, I have learned about the physics and technology behind motion capture and how these STEM-based ideas can enhance how I see the art of dance. Visiting the movements of my skeleton, seeing where my joints are and how they are moving in relation to one another has allowed me to view this art through an entirely different lens.

I am fortunate to be at an institution with passionate instructors who understand the value of forming connections between different elements of students’ education. The more interest students have in something, the more they will get out of it, and I think that defines my experience with STEM and the arts here at MSU. Exploring how the arts and STEM go hand-in-hand has added another level of interest to my education and has allowed me to apply what I am learning to many more situations.

The arts are something that will always be a part of my life. Being a dancer is part of my identity, and now that I can marry my love for the arts with my passion for science, I am even more excited to explore how they can both remain a part of my life in a connected way.

(Originally published by MSU Today)