WPI Receives Kern Family Foundation Grant for Programs that Prepare Engineers to be Entrepreneurs

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $75,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation to fund the second phase of 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.

In the program's first phase, supported by a $50,000 award from the foundation, the university, as part of the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), created a course titled "Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation" and two workshops for faculty members to learn how to integrate the entrepreneurial mindset into their courses. In the second phase, support will be given to 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, is the principal investigator; John Orr, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the co-principal investigator.

Created by the Kern Family Foundation in 2005, KEEN seeks to help universities foster an entrepreneurial mindset among engineering students. According to Mark Rice, dean of the School of Business, this is an objective closely aligned with WPI's vision that all students should graduate with an understanding of the skills required to be innovators and entrepreneurs.

"This new award supports WPI's strategic commitment to advancing entrepreneurship education in a technological context," Rice says. "We appreciate the opportunity to build on our proactive relationship with the foundation and with its partner institutions in developing innovative and entrepreneurial leaders for a global technological world—undoubtedly one of the keys to economic recovery and to achieving global prosperity."

WPI's entrepreneurial roots go back to its founding in 1865, when two local industrialists funded the establishment of a technical institute where students would learn theory and practice. Building on that tradition, in 1999 the university established the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), a university-wide center that connects WPI's many entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives. CEI works with over 3,400 students, faculty and staff members, and alumni, as well as the external business community,  through more than 40 programs, workshops, and competitions that nurture a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation on the WPI campus.

Another of the university's more recent investments in this area is an endowed professorship in innovation and entrepreneurship established by the late Paul Beswick '57 and currently held by Frank Hoy, an internationally recognized leader in entrepreneurship education.  In addition, a faculty committee dedicated to curricular innovation has been working for the last several years to further infuse WPI's academic program with an innovation mindset.

"The KEEN initiative is absolutely consistent with WPI's thrust toward entrepreneurship and innovation," added Schaufeld. "WPI has taken a leading role in building an engineering and entrepreneurship network in this region by spearheading the establishment of the Northeast Regional KEEN Conference and hosting its first meeting—a gathering that attracted representatives from Boston University, Norwich University, and Villanova.  Looking ahead, WPI will also host the spring 2011 Northeast Regional KEEN Conference in February."

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. "I share the Kern Family Foundation's commitment to engaging all engineering majors in entrepreneurship through a course or other learning experience," he says. "Through the KEEN initiative, I expect that half of all WPI undergraduate engineering majors will receive some level of exposure within five years."

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."

About the Kern Family Foundation

In keeping with the vision of its founders, Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern, the Kern Family Foundation seeks to enrich the lives of others by promoting strong pastoral leadership, educational excellence, and high quality, innovative engineering talent. In practice, the foundation intentionally focuses on systemic change, rather than charities. It seeks to target funding toward broad-impact, long-term programs. The foundation's programs include a partnership with Project Lead the Way (a pre-engineering program for middle and high school students), the Pastoral Ministry Program, the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), the Education Reform Program, and the American History, Economics, and Religion Program.

About the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN)

The mission of KEEN (www.keennetwork.com) is to graduate engineers equipped with an action-oriented entrepreneurial mindset who will contribute to business success and transform the U.S. workforce. The long-term goal is for these new engineers to catalyze a transformation in the workforce and to build economic and technical commerce in their communities. The KEEN program aims to fulfill this mission by supporting the creation of programs that develop technical leaders with strong skills and an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate engineering programs at select private U.S. colleges and universities. A fundamental and distinctive element of the KEEN initiative is its focus on developing a network of engineering schools. Together these schools identify best practices in entrepreneurial education at the undergraduate level and share them among institutions to create institutional advantage by being part of the network.