With the rigid Penn curriculum, most students take classes to fulfill requirements. While schedules very quickly become full, there might still be a little something missing—perhaps a little soul. At Penn, it's almost too easy to forget that our creative side needs some of the attention that we usually devote to our academics—but there are solutions. One is through taking art classes—yes, it's possible to take them just for fun. Students blessed with a bit of room in their schedule who have taken such classes can attest to just how important it is.
Durga Srivatsan (E ’22) majors in systems engineering, but this semester she is also taking intro to stage design. All of Durga’s other classes are in STEM fields. "I like that [the stage design class] lets me explore my creative side," she said. Durga explains that, in the class, students have done activities like building dioramas based on songs or reading a play and thinking about how they would stage it.
"I’m not necessarily the most artistic person, but I want to become more artistic," she said. "It allows me to relax and have fun.” These classes that focus on creative expression allow for personal development that a class focused on statistics or memorization may not allow for.
Anirudh Agrawal (E ’22), who is in the Networked and Social Systems Engineering (NETS) program, has recently joined an improv club and is taking a theater class. The class has only 12 members who often meet outside of class to practice. Like Durga, all of Anirudh’s other classes are related to STEM—but his theater class provides a stark contrast to these. "It's the one class where I can express myself," he said.
While this isn't the first time Anirudh has been interested in acting, it wasn’t until he got to college that he had the opportunity to actually try it. This was the first semester that he actually had the time and flexibility to take this class. He emphasized how it has provided him with the freedom to express himself.
With the multitude of required courses that engineering students must take, art classes allow students to access their creative side. “I think, especially for engineering, that we take so many STEM courses that are very similar, and sometimes it is good to explore other sides,” Durga said. All students, STEM or other, could benefit from going out of their comfort zone—taking an arts course is an ideal way to do so.
Durga expressed the same sentiment. “I think being able to explore a different side and explore everything is the whole point of college," she said.
While many students do feel passionately about—and challenged by—the classes they are taking, an art class has the unique potential to push people in a different way. “I like [computer science], but it’s not entirely who I am,” Anirudh said. “If I’m concentrating on CS, I need something else that I like that is testing my creative side.”
Many courses at Penn push students academically. Art classes, however, encourage students to push their creative limits. They not only offer a break from the typical problem sets, midterms, and finals, but they also allow students to explore another side of themselves and their interests—a side that may be just as important.