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Sarika SharmaScience student Sarika Sharma says a masterclass in film is a reminder of the benefits of cross-disciplinary learning.

Film profs share skills with STEM students

Science and engineering students got a chance to express themselves creatively through film in the first SMArt Masterclass, organized by the faculties of science and engineering.

The visual media-focused class is the first in a series of non-credit courses offering students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines the opportunity to hone their communication skills.

Filmmakers Nick Hector and Kim Nelson, professors in the School of Creative Arts, taught science and engineering graduate and undergraduate students how to create a short film that would effectively communicate their science knowledge to a wider audience.

Arts courses are useful for every student, says Hector, they foster problem solving and critical thinking skills as well as build self-confidence through self-expression.

“Creativity is an integral part of a student’s intellectual development,” says Hector. “On the practical side, these skills will help future scientists communicate their findings to a broad audience in an engaging way.”

Hector says teaching STEM students was a fascinating experience. Film instructors must get film students, typically drawn to the field by their deep love of narrative, to step out of the story world and cast a critical eye on their work.

“Though analysis of an immersive artform can be difficult, STEM students seem to have no such problem, he says.

“They immediately recognized the mechanics of the art form. Their challenge was engaging with narrative, but they got there and the results were impressive.”

Sarika Sharma will start second-year studies in the School of the Environment this fall. She created a short film called Redefining Research: A Science Narrative. She says the class was a great reminder of the natural intersectionality that exists between disciplines and she would encourage fellow students to take this type of class.

“The instruction from professors Hector and Nelson really pushed me to think like a filmmaker who is trying to communicate scientific work, not like a scientist who wanted to make a film,” says Sharma.

“Treating film as the primary focus that science would then be woven into made the process feel less restrictive and encouraged greater creativity. It aided in creating a final product that would be more accessible for people without a scientific background and who are more visually inclined.”

The collaborative masterclass aims to increase communication skills for STEM students, allowing them to share scientific results, from research to what they are doing in the community.

Learning specialist Lisa Salfi from the Faculty of Engineering says it can be challenging to break down STEM knowledge into less complex terms.

“We’re helping STEM students to effectively communicate what they are learning to varied audiences using widely relatable and accessible forms of media,” she says. “This is a crucial skill in the working world and in introducing people to new or complex topics.”

Additional masterclasses will be offered in the upcoming fall and winter semester, with topics including visual arts, drama, creative writing, and music.