Kern Family Foundation

Preparing Engineers for Entrepreneurship

WPI has received two grants totaling $298,000 from the Kern Family Foundation to fund a program aimed at preparing engineers with the entrepreneurial skills and experience needed to lead and transform the U.S. workforce in the global innovation economy. 

A grant of $75,000 supported the second phase of WPI’s continued involvement in the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN). In the program’s first phase, the university became part of KEEN and a $50,000 award helped WPI create a course titled “Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation” and two workshops for faculty members to learn how to integrate the entrepreneurial mindset into their courses. This second phase supports a variety of curricular development and faculty engagement activities aimed at broadening the reach of entrepreneurship education at WPI. Jerry Schaufeld, professor of practice in the WPI School of Business who has a dual appointment in engineering, is the principal investigator; John Orr, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the co-principal investigator. 

Additionally, in partnership with five other colleges and universities with KEEN programs throughout the country, WPI received a $223,000 grant in support of a larger proposal, the Dynamic Compass Network (DCN). The DCN encourages each school’s KEEN program to work together to share programs, projects, and best practices to advance the initiatives on each campus. 

The DCN focuses on a student-centered effort to accelerate the KEEN mission on their campuses through Faculty Excellence, Practitioners Community, Peer Collaboration, Continuous Improvement, Experiential Learning, and Curricular Innovation. Joining WPI in the DCN collaborative are Boston University, Gonzaga University, Kettering University, Lawrence Technological University, and St. Louis University. 

Created by the Kern Family Foundation in 2005, KEEN seeks to help universities foster an entrepreneurial mindset among engineering students. According to Selçuk Güçeri, WPI’s Bernard M. Gordon Dean of Engineering, this is an objective closely aligned with WPI’s vision that all engineering students should graduate with an understanding of the skills required to be innovators and entrepreneurs. 

“WPI has a history of preparing engineers who become leaders in their fields and are entrepreneurially minded and innovative,” says Güçeri. “Many conveniences we take for granted were invented at WPI – for example, elevators, caller ID, barbed wire, stainless steel, and the list goes on. The support of the Kern Family will strengthen WPI’s ability to continue producing such engineers with the skill set and ability to solve challenges society is facing today.” 

With this renewed support from the Kern Family Foundation, Schaufeld looks forward to more faculty participation in the KEEN initiative. He notes that faculty participation is critical to achieving the Kern Family Foundation’s ultimate goal of having every engineering student receive some level of entrepreneurship education. “Through the KEEN initiative, I expect that half of all WPI undergraduate engineering majors will receive some level of exposure within five years,” he adds. 

Schaufeld says WPI’s efforts to engage engineering majors will begin in their first year. “If we can energize freshman about entrepreneurship, then we can have a longer impact on their careers,” he says. “We are grateful to the Kern Family Foundation for their support of our efforts to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and help prepare them to become industry leaders and innovators.”