Engineering Leadership Innovates Curriculum
April 28, 2017 | Chyanne Smith
The Department of Engineering Education and Leadership at The University of Texas at El Paso specializes in preparing students to enter the workforce as well-rounded, confident individuals by not only preparing them as engineers but by providing them with business, communication, leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
The department provides students with pioneering education by incorporating the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) curriculum into their classrooms beginning in fall 2016.
The incorporation of I-Corps curriculum comes after Meagan Kendall, Ph.D., assistant professor of engineering leadership, attended an NSF regional I-Corps training session at UTEP, and later attended a national version of I-Corps with David Novick, Ph.D., professor of engineering leadership. As a part of the I-Corps sessions, Kendall and Novick, alongside two of Kendall's students, developed a product and business model, then traveled around the El Paso region and the United States gathering customer feedback.
"The way it was taught was a really eye-opening experience," Kendall said. "After talking to over 100 people, we had a much better feel for if anyone would even pay for our technology. It was really validating to figure out what the business model for our product was going to look like and later, after getting customer feedback, decide if our company would be a go or a no-go."
Kendall and Novick have since used the experience to develop an engineering innovation and entrepreneurship course sequence, that runs from the fall semester through the end of the spring semester and contains four phases: explore, ideate, design and market.
Students in the course, divided into four teams, are currently in the market phase, interviewing members in the cyclist, hiking, beer-drinking, and senior citizen communities in El Paso to gain insight about customers in these communities.
"I've learned to work with people, not only in the classroom but outside with people in our community," said Noelle Zavala, a senior engineering leadership major. "It has opened our eyes to all of the things we can create and do for a group of people we started off knowing nothing about, as well as given us the chance to mix our technical side with our creative side."
Before transitioning to studying beer drinkers, Zavala and her team spent the explore phase interviewing musicians in the El Paso area, observing their audience, how they perform, and learning about their backgrounds.
"Dr. Kendall and I have worked hard to provide the students with the same, or greater, level of challenge as teams encounter in I-Corps," Novick said. "The students have responded exceptionally well to the challenge and are now facing the actual, substantive problems faced by commercial design teams. We have supplemented the I-Corps curriculum with significant additional learning that will enable our students to address these problems they're facing, both technically and organizationally."
In the spring, students decided if their business and product were a go or a no-go, and moved forward with developing their product prototypes. At the end of the spring semester, students will present their products in a Shark Tank-style competition where local businessmen, engineers and venture capitalists will critique their business models, give them feedback, and – with monopoly money – fund the student's projects.
Kendall recently obtained funding from VentureWell – a higher education network that enables student inventors to move forward to commercialize their ideas and inventions – to enable students to travel to conferences and trade shows outside of El Paso so that they may have the opportunity to gain feedback from customers around the nation.