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SMET is an ugly-sounding word.

So Winona State University President Judith Ramaley changed it. And now STEM is on the lips of President Obama and educators across the country.

In 2001, Ramaley was director of the National Science Foundation's education and human resources division, working to develop curriculum that would enhance education in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. The initial result was labeled with the acronym SMET.

"I didn't like the sound of that word," Ramaley said. She suggested STEM as an alternative. It captured the relationship among the subject areas - and had a much better ring to it.

It stuck.

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In STEM, science and math serve as bookends for technology and engineering, Ramaley said. Science and math are critical to a basic understanding of the universe, while engineering and technology are means for people to interact with the universe. STEM weaves those elements of human action and understanding into all aspects of education, Ramaley said.

Encouraged as she is by the spread of STEM into schools and colleges, Ramaley already sees STEM expanding to deepen students' understanding and experience.

STEM is becoming STEAM, she said: The "A" stands for arts.

She pointed to how Apple, while under the direction of Steve Jobs, created devices that are compelling because they are both useful and beautiful, as an example of how the arts and sciences can complement and strengthen each other.

"It gives us the power to create solutions to problems we know we have and the opportunities we didn't know were out there," she said.

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