WPI Receives Award from The Kern Family Foundation

The award will help WPI infuse its pioneering project-based curriculum with an entrepreneurial mindset.
July 08, 2015

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $488,500 award from The Kern Family Foundation to support the development of new programs aimed at enhancing the impact of the WPI Plan, its renowned project-based approach to undergraduate education. The award will help the university realize a strategic goal of infusing the undergraduate program with an entrepreneurial mindset, according to WPI president Laurie Leshin.

"The WPI Plan does an exceptional job of educating world-class problem solvers," Leshin said. "We would like to help our students harness their resourcefulness and innovation and learn how to turn their ideas into tangible impact and bring valuable solutions to individuals, communities, and markets. We are thrilled to be able to work with The Kern Family Foundation to advance this shared goal."

Developing entrepreneurially minded engineers who can "support human flourishing by recognizing and acting on opportunities to create economic, personal, and societal impact" is a major focus of The Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). The Foundation created the network to support colleges and universities interested in developing innovative ways of instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering students to help ensure that the United States remains competitive in the global marketplace.

The successful proposal to the Foundation was developed by a team of 12 faculty members and two WPI trustees charged by Leshin with exploring how an increased focus on entrepreneurial mindset within WPI's project-based approach to education could help students create value and have a positive impact on society. The team was led by Glenn Gaudette.

The proposal review process included a visit by Leshin, Gaudette, and WPI trustees Michael Aspinwall and James Baum to the Foundation offices in Waukesha, Wisconsin. During the presentation to the Foundation Board and staff program team, Baum shared that entrepreneurship—creating businesses—will impact less than 10 percent of WPI students, as most will go on to work in established companies. But raising expectations that students graduate with an entrepreneurial mindset is relevant to 100 percent of students.

The program, "Developing the Entrepreneurial Engineer," is designed to infuse the undergraduate experience with entrepreneurial experiences, challenges, and opportunities as students develop the skills they need to solve the grand challenges of the world. "We want to educate entrepreneurial-minded engineers," Gaudette said. "To us, that’s taking the next step in our project-based education."

"We need to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in our technical courses and as part of our core curriculum," he added. "Our undergraduates need to experience it during all four years at WPI, and our graduate students need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, as well."

The Kern Family Foundation grant will enable WPI to develop new programs for faculty training and for undergraduates, such as a course for first-year students focused on approaching problems with curiosity, insight, and an intent to create value. In addition, extracurricular activities—including the student-initiated WPI Test Kitchen—and an annual team competition designed to reward the entrepreneurial mindset will engage students from first years to seniors. The grant will also support collaboration with WPI's Morgan Center for Teaching and Learning and additional opportunities for curriculum development.

A proponent of the entrepreneurial mindset, Gaudette has provided an example for other faculty members by integrating entrepreneurial thinking and skills into his courses. He is a 2010 Coleman Foundation Faculty Entrepreneurship Fellow, a designation that recognizes faculty members across the country who are actively incorporating entrepreneurial concepts and activities into their teaching. Gaudette also participated in many of the faculty development opportunities made available through two previous grants from The Kern Family Foundation, which brought WPI into KEEN. The Network currently includes 20 universities from across the country that are collaborating and co-creating tools and resources to promote entrepreneurial engineering. Gaudette has been a participant in and champion of the KEEN approach and says he looks forward to advancing WPI's and KEEN’s missions with the support of this latest grant from The Kern Family Foundation.

"This unique opportunity to work with The Kern Family Foundation and KEEN universities will help establish an ecosystem where developing an entrepreneurial mindset in students is the norm," said Gaudette, "and where impact will become an expectation of all WPI graduates."