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Posts tagged ‘George Mason University’

Art Education Improves Scientific Discovery and Innovation

Every now and then you meet someone who changes the world. That certainly applies to Rebecca Kamen, Professor of Art at Northern Virginia Community College. I met her two years ago when writing an article about the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) at George Mason University. At that time, she had just been awarded the Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professorship by the Virginia Community College System and was beginning to test her hypothesis that arts education would change the way people viewed the world around them and therefore improve the interpretation of scientific data.

Art by Non-artists

Image of Spatial Memory, depiction of a hippocamups.

Spatial Memory by Aspiring Scientists Himika Rahman, Alexa Corso, Man Hua Zhu, and Akshay D.

The test with the Aspiring Scientists was the first step in validating her hypothesis. She and ASSIP program director, Amy VanMeter, challenged students to interpret their findings in the areas of nanotechnology, bioinformatics, neuroscience, proteomics, and genomic analysis and produce some form of artwork.

I attended the poster session, and their results were not only beautiful, but astonishing and varied widely—from composing and singing songs to rendering images like the one to the right. Please take a moment to look at it and think about what you see.

Revealing a Universal Truth

Spatial Memory is an image of the hippocampus. I think it looks like something completely different. And that’s part of the magic. Through the discovery process associated with interpretation, Kamen has discovered what appears to be a universal truth. First, that the patterns that underlie the different sciences—from neuroscience to astrophysics to chemistry and more—are essentially the same. Second, the experience of considering data through an artistic lens, whether it be visual arts, music, literary arts, or other form of creative activity changes the way researchers interpret their results.

Kamen has demonstrated this universal phenomenon through lectures and projects with Harvard University, MIT, the National Institutes of Health, George Mason University, the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain, and a host of other venues. During the course of the past two years, she’s given 40 lectures. It doesn’t matter the audience, she is able to captivate people’s imagination. And that’s how she came to be invited by the US Patent and Trademark office to speak at World IP Day. They also see the link between art education and innovation.


While a lot of people talk about the STEM to STEAM movement (that’s science, technology engineering and math with the influence of art), few have been able to apply the concept as effectively as Kamen. In fact, she’s retiring from 35 years of teaching to pursue what she views as her new life’s work: Pushing the STEM to STEAM movement forward in a way that improves the quality of scientific discovery and business innovation on a larger scale.

If you’re interested in knowing more about her work, please visit the Transformative Projects page and Rebecca Kamen’s website.

How We ‘Broke’ Leadership by Using the Wrong Yardstick

Image of man stepping into danger

© Sergej Khackimullin –

After last week’s conference, Leading to Well-Being, at George Mason University, I finally understand how the leadership function has become so broken in corporate America.

For some time now, I have been thinking that the predominant style (command) and typical org structure (top down) have lagged the social/economic structure by a couple of generations. The styles that worked during the agricultural and industrial ages do not work well in an information economy that has an increasingly distributed workforce. Somehow, I couldn’t figure out why we continued to disconnect between today’s reality and yesterday’s leadership.

Annie McKee, founder of Teleos Leadership Institute, answered the question during her keynote address at at the conference. Our collective thinking has been grounded in flawed studies about leadership. During the late 40’s and early 50’s, researchers cataloged successful leaders’ traits. The top 3 were as follows:

  1. Male (Caucasian implied)
  2. Tall
  3. Presbyterian

The mistake: Researchers focused on measuring traits rather than behaviors. The false results became a deeply seated cultural belief about what it takes to lead effectively. Not only are these beliefs about leadership inaccurate, they foster unhealthy, low productivity work environments. It just goes to show you have to be careful about what (and how) you measure things.

Emotions Are Contagious… Manage Them Well

McKee asserts that we are in the midst of the greatest change in human history. Technological advancements amplify the pace of change. In order to thrive, she suggests that “We need to raise our awareness on how we need to live and lead differently. . . the basic platform for leadership is the capacity to influence, motivate, and inspire other people.” And also downplay the idea that you should leave your emotions at the door when you get to work.

Image of Shannon Polly

Your emotions become a resource for others.

As much as people may try to suppress their emotions at work, they’re not only there, they drive behavior. Modern neuroscience shows the tight interplay between emotions and cognition. The emotional brain processes information and reacts first, followed by the rational brain. Always. So, we may as well admit we have them and use emotions to our collective benefit.

If that sounds a little too far ‘out there,’ consider this. Your nervous system can become a resource for someone else. Emotions cause biochemical reactions that are transmitted to other people. As a result, human communication consists of more than body language, tone of voice, and word choice. It also contains a powerful, emotionally-based biochemical interchange.

Change Is Not a Dirty Word

Friday’s event on Leading to Well-being, sponsored by #MasonLeads and the Center for Consciousness & Transformation, happens once a year.

If you’re interested in improving the level of well-being in your workplace and live the in the Metro DC area, please join the Positive Business DC Meetup group. We sponsor quarterly lectures and offer Webinars that give people the tools they need to transform their workplaces and their lives. This month’s topic, Change Is Not A Dirty Word, features a technique called Appreciative Inquiry. We’re meeting at Canvas on April 24th at 7:00 p.m. Shannon Polly, MAPP, headlines.

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