These days, a nation's capacity for innovation is measured by its strength in science, technology, engineering, and math, better known by the handy handle of STEM. Indeed, the acronym may be the single sexiest term of art in public policy circles these days.

But is it too narrow? John Maeda, the designer and technologist who serves as president of the Rhode Island School of Design, certainly thinks so. Little surprise, then, that RISD is near the center of a nationwide push to add an "A" for arts —to move from STEM to STEAM.

"It's an idea about a missing piece," Maeda says.

The shift is, in part, about acknowledging the centrality of design to the new economy — iPod as triumph of design, as much as technology. But shifting from STEM to STEAM is also about giving scientists a powerful tool for communicating their complex ideas to other scientists and to the public.

Among the initiatives underway at RISD: Mark Milloff, a foundation studies professor, is working with the National Science Foundation to build three-dimensional images of the cell.

A new $20 million federal grant designed to stimulate research on climate change at the University of Rhode Island and other colleges in the state calls on RISD to communicate the findings through a "Making Science Visible" initiative.

And in January, armed with a National Science Foundation grant, RISD will host a STEM to STEAM conference with hopes of kick-starting a revolution in education.

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