Entrepreneurship-focused engineering education unleashes potential
ASU's Chao Wang earns Engineering Unleashed Fellow award for hands-on, team-based, open-ended design projects
Chao Wang, a senior lecturer in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, has been named a 2020 Engineering Unleashed Fellow by the Kern Family Foundation.
Engineering Unleashed is a community of more than 2,500 engineering faculty and staff at colleges and universities in the United States whose mission is to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering graduates. Engineers who apply the engineering mindset create personal, economic and societal value through meaningful work.
The Engineering Unleashed Fellow award recognizes Wang’s leadership in education and entrepreneurial engineering.
“I have more work to do to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering students,” said Wang, who is a faculty member in the Fulton Schools Academic and Student Affairs unit. “I will continue to work on understanding student motivations and providing them with an engaging learning environment.”
Wang’s journey to be named a fellow started when she attended an Engineering Unleashed Faculty Development workshop, Motivation and Mindset, in August 2019 in Atlanta. These workshops draw in faculty members from across the country to work alongside peer coaches to develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset in teaching, learning, research, industry and leadership roles. Projects developed in Engineering Unleashed Faculty Development workshops are published on the Engineering Unleashed website as “cards,” which are resources for other faculty and staff to explore and implement.
Wang’s project, An Open Ended Design Project Promoting Autonomy in an Introduction to Engineering Course, focuses on the importance of hands-on, team-based, open-ended design projects in first-year engineering courses for student retention, skill development and a sense of community and success.
For example, students in the course are tasked with designing an automated solution for spaces such as a home, dorm, retail space, office space, restaurant, hospital, library or factory. Students' designs are expected to add economic, environmental and/or societal value.
This type of project supports student autonomy and results in more positive student motivation than more constrained projects. Wang also found that having more choice and control has a dramatic positive impact on female engineering students.
Since 2016, she has been using open-ended design projects to teach the entrepreneurial mindset to first-year engineering students in her Introduction to Engineering course.
"I have always been curious about the ‘right way’ of assigning open-ended design projects,” Wang said. “The faculty development workshop I attended confirmed my belief that giving students more autonomy leads to more positive motivations."
The workshop, she said, "also gave me the tools to quantitively measure student motivations in Introduction to Engineering. Understanding student motivations helped me formulate better open-ended design projects, and it also helps me with other curriculum improvements.”
Wang said students enjoy the freedom they're given in their design projects, and she has received feedback from students who say these projects are fun, personal and purposeful, and make engineering exciting.
Her open-ended design project card also won a second-place award in the 2020 American Society for Engineering Education Best Card Competition.
Wang was nominated for the Engineering Unleashed Fellow award by her peer coaches, and her application was recognized by an independent review committee from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, or KEEN, partner institutions.
As an Engineering Unleashed Fellow, Wang received a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to advance her current project, develop a new project, participate in conferences and share her work with the Engineering Unleashed community at a virtual event earlier this month.
Wang was one of 29 individuals across the U.S. named Engineering Unleashed Fellow in 2020, which represents approximately 10% of faculty development workshop attendees.