Fitting the Arts into a STEM School

Attending a math and science school does not need to mean losing one's passion for music. | Source:

Well, it’s the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Seniors and Juniors, welcome back. Sophomores, hello and welcome to the crazy world of IMSA! Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh gracious Brandon, tell us your information. How can I, a student at a math and science school possibly keep up with my undying PASSION for the arts? 

Well fear not, I have the answers. This article will start with more low commitment activities and progress into higher commitment activities. Start anywhere and if it’s too much of a commitment or too little, then find a new thing to do. Either way, I will 100% confirm that you can still engage in the arts despite IMSA’s STEM-orientated environment.


Take advantage of your free time!

 Keep your artsy stuff, whether it be your instrument, your writing journal, or your drawing supplies, ready in your dorm. Whenever you have free time to kill, whether it’s half an hour or three, pull out your items, find a cozy place, and just let your creative juices flow. Other than my room, some of my favorite places to get in my artsy frame of mind are under the trees by the 02 slabs, the couches in the building, or the music wing! Especially if you play an instrument, it’s easy to get a practice room for a couple of hours and jam out. In my opinion, the practice room between the band and choir room has the best piano and the most space.


Engage in fine art club events!

There are a ton of club-sponsored events every year where you can get involved in the arts. Heliotrope, the art club at IMSA, hosts weekly open studio sessions, and the a cappella group Mod21 is planning on holding workshops next year about a cappella and singing. SMAC, otherwise known as Spreading Music Across Campus, hosts monthly coffeehouses where you can sign up to perform by yourself or as a group. You don’t have to attend every single event, but if you have the time and motivation, go for it. 


Perform in a culture show!

There are four culture shows every year that you can participate in every year as a dancer, singer, actor, and so much more! For the dances, the time commitment gradually increases from at least an hour about 1 ½- 2 months before the event to tech week, when you should expect to be spending about at least an hour each day, probably more. If you’re up for the challenge, you may also apply to choreograph a dance. Furthermore, individual acts and actors will have to audition for each culture show, but it’s always worth a shot. There’s a limit to how many things you can do in each culture show, but also be aware of your own personal limits. Know what else you should prioritize during those months and plan accordingly! 


Participate in Clash!

For many, Clash is month-long commitment right before spring break. Since there are specified times for clash prep, expect those times to be used to the max every day, and make sure you keep your grades up to be eligible. Most clubs simmer down during clash prep due to the student community’s involvement, but when I say Clash goes hard, it goes hard. It is only for a short time and only for certain hours, but your commitment is adjustable depending on what different events you help out with; you can do drill, hall decorations, talent show, mural, or a mix of any of those. You can also try to be a clash head, but expect a lot more time commitment. It’s a lot, but it truly pays off in the end, especially when you see your hall coming together to hold spectacular performances. 


“All Are Welcome” Clubs!

There are a bunch of clubs where EVERYONE can go to there events. Our creative writing club is one of these, for instance. Most will meet for around an hour every one or two weeks. The best way to find out is to search for them at club fair or ask your wingmates and friends! Next year, there will also be a Jazz band you can participate in.


Audition/Try-Out Groups

To become a member in these clubs, you must tryout, and will definitely be more of a time commitment. Mod21, the IMSA a cappella group, is a group of singers that meets for about 5 hours a week and performs at culture shows, other IMSA and external events, and competes in the International Competition for High School A cappella. The Dance Team practices for at least 4 hours a week and is an IHSA sponsored activity. 


Leadership Positions

If you really love your arts, apply for a leadership position in any of the various art clubs on campus! Commitment varies depending on how often your club meets, so talk to other people involved in the club to find out.


Outside Ensembles

A good population of IMSA musicians participates in a youth symphony orchestra in Chicago, Elgin, Rockford, and more! Here’s what Kodai Speich (’21) has to say about his involvement in Rockford Youth Symphony Orchestra (RYSO): “Being part of a youth symphony orchestra outside of IMSA is a rather chunky time commitment, at least for me. I play in an orchestra for five and a half hours every week, effectively taking up my Sunday afternoons, not to mention the time outside of that spent on practicing alone. Even though effectively managing my time can, therefore, be somewhat stressful, I would never quit given the choice. In my opinion, having the opportunity to play music with others is an experience unlike anything else.

All in all, there are SO many ways you can get involved or stay involved in the arts at IMSA. My music program at my old school was great, and I was really worried about if I would be able to keep up with all the music activities I loved to do. At IMSA, I’ve been able to do just that and so much more. Don’t be afraid to get out there to try something new, or pick up where you left up. I leave you with some words of advice from Speich, on what it’s like to participate in the Arts at IMSA:

“Even though [music] eats hours out of my week, I believe my time was well-spent.”


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