ASU instructor's dedication to entrepreneurial advancements leaves lasting impact

Portrait of ASU Instructional Professional Richard Filley.

Richard Filley, an instructional professional in the technological Entrepreneurship and Management program at The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, taught more than 140 classes during his 37-year career at ASU and won the 2011 IMPACT and Fulton Difference Award for outstanding innovation among various other awards. Photo by Sona Srinarayana/ASU


Entrepreneurship activities weren’t typically part of Arizona State University’s academic curriculum in the 1980s. But that changed when Richard Filley, an instructional professional in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program, joined the university in 1985.

With years of industry experience under his belt, Filley felt strongly about broadening classroom curriculum beyond textbook lessons. He envisioned globally-driven curriculum and programming that put an equal emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership and community service activities in partnership with local industry.

Filley incorporated this trifecta into the foundation of many entrepreneurial programs that he founded and co-founded within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS, the Corporate Leaders Program, the Global Futures Initiative, the Fulton Schools of Engineering Internship Program (a forerunner of the Fulton Schools Career Center), various global engineering and enterprise courses and the launch of the technological entrepreneurship and management program at The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools, were just some of the entrepreneurially-fueled programs that Filley helped spearhead during his time at the university.

“I believed there weren’t enough leaders within industry being cultivated and developed,” Filley says.

This sentiment motivated him to infuse entrepreneurship and community service into the engineering curriculum — rooting it in leadership principles.

Filley will retire in June but leaves behind a robust legacy in these areas. Part of that legacy is the Richard D. Filley Make a Difference Award that he established for ASU engineering students who have demonstrated entrepreneurial accomplishments and have future startup potential.

Merging engineering academics with corporate experience

One of the first programs Filley developed was the Corporate Leaders Program, which enabled engineering graduate students to develop and apply leadership skills through community service projects while simultaneously getting corporate experience through an industry sponsor. Students were able to directly apply the concepts they learned in the classroom to an extended environment.

ASU industrial engineering and Corporate Leaders Program alumna Jannine Prokop says one of the benefits of the program was that she was given a generous stipend by her industry sponsor for working part time so that she could go to school full time — a benefit offered to all Corporate Leaders Program students.

“Along with propelling me into my career, I gained an instant family in the program,” says Prokop, who is currently a chief of staff at NXP Semiconductors. “I’m still friends with many of the connections I made in the program.”

Filley was able to bring in a constant stream of industry funding to support the program due to its high success rate. He secured $18 million dollars over the 20 years that the program was active and says it benefitted both students and industry.

“One of the reasons we were able to keep the companies coming back year after the year was because they would hire close to 90% of the students they collaborated with,” Filley says. “One of Motorola’s plant managers at the time pointed out that they had almost 20 managers in that building from our program, and a similar scenario played out at Honeywell.”

When engineering directly impacts the community

EPICS was a program developed by Filley and Jim Collofello, vice dean of academic and student affairs and a professor in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, one of the seven Fulton Schools, based on an opportunity at Purdue University. It is now a national, award-winning, social entrepreneurship program at ASU, enabling students to use their engineering skills to benefit the community. Filley directed EPICS for three years and continues to mentor students of the program.

Chemical engineering and EPICS alumni Taylor Barker and Lindsay Fleming designed a water purification system with a community partner during their time in the program. The device eventually ended up being deployed in an African community.

“Filley encouraged us by saying, ‘You can’t win if you don’t apply,’ and made sure we knew we were more than engineers and could think broadly about business concepts, too,” says Barker, who currently works for medical device and health care company Abbott as a product manager.

Globally effective engineering

As a student, ASU mechanical engineering and Global Futures Initiative member Holland Van de Krol heard about a new multidisciplinary program that combined engineering and international affairs and knew she wanted to be a part of it.

Filley says that the idea behind the Global Futures Initiative stemmed from “wanting to bring global perspectives directly to student projects.”

When it came time to learn about the African continent, a group of Global Futures Initiative students, including Van De Krol, virtually set off for Africa. They reenacted and modernized an actual caravan led by Airstream founder Wally Byam, traveling from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, in 50 Airstream trailers in the 1950s.

“We were tasked with trip logistics and successfully getting from destination to destination,” says Van de Krol, who currently works as a systems engineer for Arizona Public Service. “We also developed technology solutions for a rural community in Australia during my time in the program.”

Van de Krol says these experiences gave her the confidence to travel, and she ended up traveling to 24 countries in her first job out of college.

Traveling was a key part of Filley’s global curriculum. ASU sent him abroad more than 50 times to support students in gaining global perspectives. He spoke in 23 different countries on entrepreneurship and leadership over the span of his career.

Infusing entrepreneurship into the engineering classroom

Filley developed courses that infused concepts from the Corporate Leaders Program, EPICS and the Global Futures Initiative for undergraduate students at the Tempe campus and later at the Polytechnic campus.

He also provided guidance to students who designed projects for ASU Venture Devils, the Edson Student Entrepreneur Institute and various national and international entrepreneurship competitions.

One of those students is third-year computer information systems and technological entrepreneurship and management dual major Devarshan Patel. After taking a course with Filley, Patel decided to become an undergraduate teaching assistant for two of Filley’s courses. Through this experience, Patel honed his entrepreneurial skills, and this year he was in the running for two Venture Devils awards for his startup concepts, winning $20,000 for one of them.

“Under Professor Filley’s leadership, I was able to launch one of my startups in his course,” Patel says. “We do everything from ideation to execution and copywriting, copyrights, patents, legal formalities, building software, hardware, prototype graphics and everything else involved in a startup.”

Making a difference

After 27 years at the Tempe campus, Filley moved to the Polytechnic campus. As a founding director of the Polytechnic campus, he continued to bring industry and students together through various programs. In 2013, Filley joined the technological and entrepreneurship management program, where he became the lead faculty member for social entrepreneurship.

Over the course of his 37-year career, many of Filley’s graduates have gone on to start businesses that promote all kinds of innovation.

“I feel like one of my secrets to success is helping students believe that they can do anything they put their minds to,” Filley says. “I helped take away the barriers that students put up around themselves, and once they realized they could make a difference, they started to go out and do exactly that.”

This was a common theme through all of Filley’s successes during his career at ASU — making a difference. And it’s what he decided to title his award.

“Enabling and empowering students who have a great idea requires resources like this,” says Fleming, who currently works for Avient Corporation as a health care sales manager. “As students, we competed for awards like this, and it built our confidence beyond the skill set engineers have.”

Following retirement, Filley will continue judging for Venture Devils, Edson and other successor programs at ASU. He plans to guest lecture and stay active at campus events, while also writing his novel and enjoying spending time and traveling the world with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“I am grateful to ASU for giving me the freedom to create programs that attract change-making students,” Filley says. “It has been my privilege to work with incredibly talented students who want to make a difference and change the world.”

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