Want to Become an Empathy Expert? Become an Artist First

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS: As the finance guy at Peck, I’m not often associated with the importance of the arts. But here’s my dirty secret: I was (gulp) an English major! In fact, I started my career as a teacher.

Back when I taught English at a Connecticut boarding school, I could set my watch to the time of year when the first student would ask “why doesn’t he just say what he means instead of saying it all weird-like?” It was always in October, and it was always after being assigned T.S. Eliot’s The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. As a young teacher, I struggled to answer the basic question: “why do we have to read poetry?” Admittedly, there was a part of me that wondered the same thing my students did. Deep down, perhaps I didn’t want to admit these feelings because it would have invalidated my career path or, even more simply, because I thought it would make me look stupid. In my mind, the real answer was probably “poetry is important because a lot of smart people say it is, and if you don’t think so, then you are probably not smart enough to understand why it’s so important.” So rather than answer the question, I consistently dodged it, continuing to tell my students about “the wonderful imagery” of “measuring out my life in coffee spoons” and how they needed “a hundred visions and revisions” of whatever essays they were submitting the following week.

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Entrepreneur: At the Crossroad of STEAM and Empathy

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONSWe’ve all experienced the feeling of “getting in the zone” at some point, that heightened sense of focus, a blissful tunnel vision that drives us when creating something that we’re passionate about. It’s a wonderful feeling. But it’s this same passion that blinds us from how our creations might be received by the world around us. 

We must strive not just to teach STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in our school curricula, but STEAM with empathic social awareness.

I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times on Shark Tank, an inventor, so entrenched and myopic after thousands of hours drumming up his or her invention, unable to comprehend why “the sharks” simply cannot recognize the genius in the creation that is being presented to them. So often the final hurdle to clear when turning an idea into a business is empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of others in order to help solve their problem, not your problem.

For that reason, we must strive not just to teach STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) in our school curricula, but STEAM with empathic social awareness. More specifically, we need to teach our students to be entrepreneurs.  Engineers solve problems, but entrepreneurs go a step further, solving problems for others. Entrepreneurship is the convergence of engineering and empathy, and teaching it through a STEAM curriculum offers our students an opportunity to have an immense impact on the world around them.

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