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ASU enters partnership to imbue entrepreneurial mindset in engineering education

A group of students with the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) team Engineering Smiles meets to work on their project. Facets of entrepreneurially focused programs like EPICS will be applied across the curricula of the Fulton Schools to develop a model entrepreneurially minded engineering program within a public research institution, as part of the partnership between ASU and the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

March 03, 2016

Arizona State University recently received a $2.86 million grant from The Kern Family Foundation, launching a partnership dedicated to furthering the entrepreneurial mindset in engineering education on a mass scale.

The philanthropic grant is part of a two-year project headed by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering that aims to create a standard for training engineering faculty in the entrepreneurial mindset on a national level, as well as develop a model entrepreneurially minded engineering program within a public research university.

To do so, ASU partnered with, and will draw upon resources from, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). KEEN is a collaboration of 24 colleges and universities committed to graduating engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset so they can create personal, economic and societal value through a lifetime of meaningful work. KEEN defines the entrepreneurial mindset as a combination of three key attributes: curiosity, connections and creating value.

Since its creation in 2005, KEEN has built an extensive network of institutions collaborating to develop educational approaches to instill the entrepreneurial mindset. However, this is the network’s first time partnering with a public institution.

“To date, we’ve worked exclusively with private institutions,” said Doug Melton, a program director for The Kern Family Foundation. “We looked at private institutions as being more nimble and receptive to change, but we’re extremely pleased to find ourselves working with such a progressive public institution as ASU.”

“ASU is committed to being a leader in entrepreneurial education and to fostering unparalleled, adaptive learning environments where the entrepreneurial mindset is woven seamlessly throughout all we do,” said Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University. “We are thrilled by our shared dedication to entrepreneurial learning with The Kern Family Foundation and by their selection of ASU as their first public partner institution.” 

ASU has long been a leader in entrepreneurially minded learning, with a range of programs, resources and classes to empower students. University-wide resources such as the Startup Accelerator, Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and the Startup School provide support for transdisciplinary collaboration, while school-specific classes and programs teach students how to employ entrepreneurial thinking to a given career or field. The Fulton Schools alone have two undergraduate degrees and three masters’ programs that specifically reinforce the entrepreneurial method.

“Instilling the entrepreneurial mindsets in both our students and faculty is one of the defining features of the Fulton Schools, which makes us a natural fit for this partnership,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “We’re eager to combine the existing resources of KEEN with our own approaches to create lasting change in engineering education.”

Partnering with a large institution such as ASU will accelerate that sort of change, granting access to infrastructure capable of influencing engineering education on both a local and national, said Melton.

“It’s important to note that this project is not just about ASU,” said Ann McKenna, director of the Polytechnic School and the principal investigator on the project. “This has to be about making connections within KEEN and other national efforts to partner and leverage the existing resources to create a sustainable model to support engineering faculty in entrepreneurial thinking at a national scale.”

The model of training for engineering faculty McKenna plans to build will draw on best practices of faculty development. In particular, the model will embed a collaborative approach and use modern technologies to enable faculty to form communities of practice. The model will not only draw from the existing resources within KEEN, but also provide a platform to coordinate those activities and pedagogical approaches. McKenna notes that it’s vital this model works on a local, university level as well as a national one.

“Scalability is key,” said McKenna. “For this to work, it needs to be reasonably applicable on a large scale. We’re looking to find the value propositions that would engage all types of engineering faculty at different types of institutions. Lecturers, pre-tenure, tenured faculty — they will all be looking for something different to advance their specific goals, and we want to find what it is that will keep them interested in this collaborative approach to training.”

While McKenna endeavors to develop a platform to bring the entrepreneurial mindset to engineering faculty, the other component of the project aims to instill the mindset in students. In doing so, the goal is to create the model entrepreneurially minded public research institution. Spearheading this aspect of the project are co-principle investigators Jim Collofello, Scott Shrake and Brent Sebold.

“Our goal is not to turn all our engineering graduates into entrepreneurs, but that all of our graduates will, indeed, possess the entrepreneurial mindset that is essential for engineers working in all types of organizations,” said Collofello, senior associate dean of academic and student affairs. “The attributes of the entrepreneurial mindset are essential for innovative solutions to today’s engineering challenges.”

Shrake and Sebold, directors of Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) and the Fulton Startup Center, respectively, aim to take facets of their entrepreneurially focused programs and apply them across the curricula of the Fulton Schools.

"With the support of KEEN, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to challenge instructors and faculty to continually improve and purposefully innovate their curriculum,” said Shrake.

“This partnership with The Kern Family Foundation is significant on many levels,” said R. F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr., CEO of the ASU Foundation, an organization whose mission is to cultivate the partnerships and private support that enable ASU to achieve excellence in its programs.

“On one level, ASU will be able to scale its model of infusing entrepreneurial thinking throughout university curricula. But on another level, the partnership will enable ASU to continue to transform higher education and create the adaptive, capable, entrepreneurial learners who are prepared to thrive in the twenty-first century economy and enact positive change in the world,” Shangraw said.

Established by Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern, The Kern Family Foundation is a private foundation that enriches American lives by promoting the value of work, developing the formation of good character, increasing educational achievement — particularly in science, technology, engineering and math — and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset, especially in undergraduate engineering students. 

Learn more about the Foundation and its other programs.

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