Zen and the Art of STEAM: Student Knowledge and Experiences in Interdisciplinary and Traditional Engineering Capstone Experiences

Dominique Dredd, Nadia Kellam, Suren Jayasuriya

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


This Research Full Paper examines the concept of flow, derived from Zen philosophy and positive psychology, and how interdisciplinary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and disciplinary electrical engineering students find flow within their coursework and their capstone design experiences. STEAM education incorporates the arts and humanities into the traditional disciplines of STEM. However, students involved in this interdisciplinary space often struggle to find a balance in applying both creative and logical knowledge in their work. The theoretical framework for this study leverages the concept of pure experience from Zen philosophy to analyze flow states in students' interdisciplinary experiences. This theory focuses on the unity of subject/object and rejection of purely logical, positivist thinking for more integrative knowledge acquisition while in flow states. In this secondary analysis, we analyzed interviews conducted with electrical engineering and STEAM students. STEAM students from an interdisciplinary program were found to approach their coursework differently than engineering students, likely because of a difference in assignment guidelines. The engineering students in the study had more restrictive guidelines, while the STEAM students were given more freedom to move between disciplines. Alternatively, students from both disciplines shared many similar values about education and knowledge including the need for enjoyment and personal interest within the coursework as well as finding a balance between logical thought and the desire for creation that a student's program did not determine whether they reached a state of pure experience, or flow, in their work. However, rigid adherence to either the arts or engineering seemed to create disharmony and very few students find cohesion between their values and their approach to knowledge. This paper points to new insights into the design of capstone experiences for STEAM education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2021 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2021
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
ISBN (Electronic)9781665438513
StatePublished - 2021
Event2021 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2021 - Lincoln, United States
Duration: Oct 13 2021Oct 16 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings - Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE
ISSN (Print)1539-4565


Conference2021 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Capstone projects
  • Zen
  • positive psychology
  • student experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications


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