STEM: Paolo Blanchi

Earlier this year, I led a team looking for the identity of the creator and owner of the mysterious @lake_mcq Instagram account. In the end, a panel of Shield staff and interdimensional beings who will not be named (but whose initials are “the Morales”) determined that it was best for all of us if the results of that investigation remained unpublished.

The matter at hand, however, is much more serious. McQuaid’s “STEM” Center was a common discussion topic before the groundwork on it had even begun, and remains one after its completion. Unsurprisingly, when the mysterious note arrived at the Shield‘s offices, and the staff decided it had to be a reference to the M in the STEM Center, each staff member posited different theories, none of which could coexist.

The obvious answer is “mathematics,” as, in general, the acronym “STEM” stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”—a group of subjects usually placed in contrast, though not opposition, to the traditional humanities. Unfortunately, after extensive research, the Shield‘s findings showed that, while there are indeed various science, technology, and engineering classes taught in the STEM Center, exactly zero* mathematics classes are taught there.

Given these findings, something deeper had to be afoot. I needed sources—but before I could seek any out, someone approached me.

He was a short man, with an unkempt beard and mustache, and wearing store-brand sunglasses. He requested anonymity, so I have referred to him as “Mr. Gorales” throughout.

When presented with the above chart, Mr. Gorales expressed amusement. When prompted to offer his thoughts on what the ‘M’ stands for, he attested to hearing multiple theories from others. Since the Campus Ministry office is located in the STEM Center, he posited that perhaps the stood for “Magis,” a sort of continued commitment to the spirit of Jesuit education in tandem with the scientific and technological progress embodied by the Center.

While a tantalizing theory, and (according to Mr. Gorales) a fairly popular one, it did not seem to account for all the necessary variables. I next turned to a fellow student of mine, who considers himself fairly acquainted with the “STEM” Center. This interview doubly shocked me; first, because it affirmed my exact suspicions, and second, because I attempted to attach the audio file to this article, and only succeeded in causing every computer in a mile-wide radius to crash.

At any rate, the intervieweee agreed with my own theory: it is possible that the M stands for nothing, and is in fact just a placeholder to make the “STEM” Center sound more appealing. Through many minutes of discussion, the Shield staff has ascertained that “STEM Center” more or less objectively sounds better than “STE Center.” If anything, more than one person argued, this reveals a much deeper problem at the root of our obsession with the euphony of the STEM Center’s name.

Corporations, ever seeking to make their products more memorable and enticing to consumers, may use soundplay as complex as a jingle or as simple as an especially rhythmic or assonant name or tagline. Try saying “STEM Center” a couple times out loud. Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue? The name is literally poetic: its dactylic rhythm, coupled with the consonance of sibilants and nasals, means it easily sticks in students’ minds. My interviewee agreed that the inclusion of the M makes the name sound better, which suggests that the name “STEM Center” was created purely to appeal to the masses. It has everything modern Americans like: study rooms for isolation, sleek and minimalist design, and diner-style booths. It is obviously just another product fed to the sheeple with the same advertising tactics that have been used by corporations for decades.

What especially troubled me about the student I interviewed, however, was that he seems to have bitten into the ploy. He agrees that the better-sounding name makes him more likely to use the “STEM Center.”  If we continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated like this, who knows what the higher-ups can feed us. There is only one call to action I can send out to hopefully inspire us to fight against these tactics – #Boyc-

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* The Shield acknowledges that there may be science, technology, or engineering classes that include a heavy mathematical component.