Guest contributor Shannon Barnsley is a writer, blogger, and DI alum from New Hampshire, currently living in Brooklyn. She holds a degree in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion from Hampshire College. Her first book, Beneath Blair Mountain, comes out in November.
Lately I’ve been seeing DI being pushed more and more as a STEM/STEAM program. And DI is certainly a place where budding STEM kids could blossom or kids could discover a knack for engineering or other STEM skills they never knew they had. However, I did DI for seven years and I was most certainly not a STEM kid.
My skills were coming up with puns, scriptwriting, script-rhyming, art, working in the improv item (do they still do that?), and generally coming up with ideas. My teammates were talented and endlessly creative costume designers, writers, actors, artists, musicians, prop designers, and Though some of my old teammates have since gone on to be STEM majors and earn impressive degrees, it wasn’t what drew them to DI. Perhaps it influenced them, perhaps not. But the tech element of DI challenges (which became increasingly central as the years went on) was never our strength and was not what had attracted me to DI.
DI holds many of my fondest memories. I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had in DI. We played improv games together, we spent our winter breaks making sets together, we drove twenty hours in a van together to get to Globals, we cheered together, we cried together, and we encouraged each other to bring our very best ideas and be our very best selves. We were a team, whether we painted replicas of famous masterpieces, played the didgeridoo, spoke in Shakespearean verse, rolled streamers into fake sushi, designed Medieval band posters, researched Aboriginal folk art, made a Lady Godiva costume with chocolate censorship bars, or threw a meter stick like a javelin to save the day in the very last moment of an instant challenge.
DI was a place where I was valued. It gave me a confidence I hadn’t had before. It was a place where I could be myself, that encouraged the uniqueness many of us had been teased for or the skills we hadn’t realized could be useful. And the skills I learned and honed in DI are ones I use every day, whether it’s the creative problem solving to tackle daily challenges or the years of scriptwriting that led to my first book being published this fall.
I think back to my young self when I first joined DI (one of the best decisions I ever made). If it had been pushed as a STEM program back then, I likely would have thought DI wasn’t for me or that I did not have the skills they were looking for. A STEM/STEAM friendly message bringing in more skills and creative problem solvers that can share their unique outlooks and abilities (or learn new ones) is wonderful. DI has always been a place for using every asset and celebrating.
But it’s a balance of getting these kids’ attention without losing the dancers and the singers and the painters and the stage hams. Part of this is what message sells DI to the schools, so kids have a chance to experience DI at all. But my school’s interest in DI waxed and waned. It was the artistic moms who pushed for it and made it happen.
Somehow we need to reach both of these camps and show people that DI is valuable to future engineers, programmers, scientists, and astronomers AND future writers, illustrators, composers, and performers. We need a STEAM train, with room for everyone who wants to get on. A message that says, “We are DI. All aboard and full speed ahead.”
Shannon Barnsley is among the 1.7 million Destination Imagination alumni, and we’re proud to call her an alumni of New Hampshire Destination Imagination.