When Baylor art instructor Heath Montgomery ’99 was asked to meet every day after school with the group of students interested in exploring and honing their problem-solving skills in engineering, design, and robotics, it made perfect sense to him.
“I think, essentially, engineers are artists,” says Montgomery. “After all, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘day job’ was designing military implements. He was all about science and understanding how things work, and he was one of the greatest painters in history.”
As a Baylor boarding student from Charlotte, N.C., Montgomery began seeing the science and art connection during his high school years. “I liked science at Baylor, but I was more of an art student,” he remembers. “Even if I didn’t see it formally, I intuitively understood the connection between the two. I liked the shop, and I liked the art studio. I got instructions for some things and found my own way in others.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Montgomery found his way back to Baylor in 2012. He is currently teaching five different art classes – Art as Activism, Painting, Digital Design, Advanced Placement Art 3D, and a new Middle School offering called Experiments in Art and Technology. Filling the role with the after-school group has allowed him to reconnect his inquisitive side to his love for art. “It fits me well as an artist,” he explains. “I like to know how things work, and I ask ‘why’ a lot.”
Dr. Vince Betro and Dr. Mary Loveless, who also work with the after-school robotics club, see the value of having a creative mind on the ‘coaching staff.’ According to Betro, a math teacher with an engineering background, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is the basis for problem solving. Adding art (STEAM) brings in the creativity that Betro sees as a must for solving problems. “An artist helps with thinking outside the box and can keep the team members focused on considering more than just function. Additionally, Heath brings knowledge of materials and best practices for design.”
“With the two disciplines intersecting,” explains Loveless, who teaches Baylor’s engineering design class and directs the IdeaLab makerspace, “the students can more freely and exhaustively explore solutions, which lends to a higher probability of converging on a unique idea. I always encourage my engineering students to take a 3-D art class or pottery to reinforce their understanding in visual-spatial skills, perspective, and material strength and structure. Heath’s presence definitely enriches the experience for the students.”
“It’s a common misconception that art is only about making things pretty,” says Montgomery. “Art is decorative, but it is also informative. Poetry is a decorative use of the language, but it also communicates in ways that only it can. It’s functional but in a different way than instructions from IKEA are functional. As an artist working with these students, sometimes I can be the IKEA instructions, and other times, I can be a poet.”