Science and Art Converge at Westminsters Great Salt Lake Institute

Westminster Professor Matt Kruback with students at Great Salt Lake

July 12, 2017

Utah’s stark-white salt flats, pink waters at Great Salt Lake and extreme habitat at its shores inspire artists and scientists alike. This engaging landscape inspires the curiosity and inquiry that leads artists to expression and scientists to experimentation. Students at Westminster College can now explore the intersections between science and art at Great Salt Lake through a generous grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.

Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute recently received a $250,000 grant from the Keck Foundation for SALT: Scientists and Artists Learning Together. The grant will fund Westminster’s first STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) curriculum for undergraduate students.

“Creativity is inherent in the work of both scientists and artists. Combining the perspectives of science and art allows students to probe more deeply with questions about the natural environment,” said Bonnie Baxter, director of Great Salt Lake Institute and a professor of biology at Westminster. “This approach has been used at the K–12 level, but college programming is very rare. Westminster is the perfect backdrop for such innovation in undergraduate education.”

The grant will fund the SALT program at Westminster for three years. The project will create courses like The Art and Science of Creativity and Scientific Visualization. SALT students will enroll in learning communities such as Expressing Evolution: Organisms, Change and Representation, where they learn art and science simultaneously in two linked courses. During the summer, students will do undergraduate research on artistic elements of scientific questions with the guidance and mentoring of SALT faculty.

“Art and science are intrinsically related. While boundaries between these disciplines have formed and dissolved throughout history, they share substantial core elements of inquiry, experimentation and of course, creativity,” said Matt Kruback, associate professor of art at Westminster and co-director of the SALT project. ”Intentionally integrating the two disciplines inspires us to reconsider ideas, processes and ultimately our skills of observation and communication about the natural world.”

Groups of students and faculty in SALT will bridge gaps, create conversation and build innovative cross talk between science and art. Baxter and Kruback have already witnessed the benefits of melding disciplines. In a pilot project funded by the college last year, they saw biology students practicing their photography skills while banding baby pelicans, chemistry students pause gathering lake samples to join a drum circle and art students working in a lab to create designs like bio-signatures of microorganisms at the lake. The SALT project with its STEAM curriculum is available to Westminster undergraduate students beginning spring 2017 semester.

About W.M. Keck Foundation

The W.M. Keck Foundation seeks to generate far-reaching benefits for humanity by supporting pioneering discoveries in science, engineering and medicine, and organizations that enrich the lives of children. W.M. Keck established the Los Angeles-based foundation in 1954.