Educating Engineers To Think Like Entrepreneurs

WPI receives a $1.76 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation to support entrepreneurial mindset learning programs across campus
Media Contact
August 09, 2016

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $1.76 million grant from The Kern Family Foundation to incorporate the entrepreneurial mindset into its renowned project-based undergraduate education. The grant expands upon $500,000 in funding the university received in 2015 from the foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports broad-impact, long-term programs to bring about systemic change.

According to The Kern Family Foundation, an entrepreneurial mindset is key to personal and professional success. Engineers equipped with this mindset understand the bigger picture, and can, therefore, recognize opportunities and respond creatively with a focus on making a positive impact. These engineers are capable of more than solving technical problems; they are constantly looking for unexpected ways to create value.

"As a leading global polytechnic, WPI has a strong focus on elevating our impact in communities around the world," said WPI president Laurie A. Leshin. "We are grateful to have a partner like The Kern Family Foundation to bring this vision to fruition at WPI. Entrepreneurial mindset learning aligns perfectly with WPI’s plans to leverage our students’ strengths, passions and interests, and empower them to create solutions that will make a lasting difference. It will also play a key role in our new Foisie Innovation Studio, a central location for students to work collaboratively on their ideas from incubation to the production of something that will have value in society."

In addition to the grant, WPI is a partner of the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), enabling WPI to collaborate with more than 20 partner institutions with a similar mission to teach the entrepreneurial mindset. The Kern Family Foundation launched KEEN to support the collaboration of 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.

In the past year, WPI has added a full-time professor of practice to oversee the KEEN programs on campus and help the faculty develop active, collaborative, and entrepreneurially minded learning (EML) approaches in the classroom through co-teaching and curriculum development. The university has also introduced “Innovation to Impact” challenges—timed team competitions in which students define a problem, develop an idea on how to solve it, and create a prototype. Several students and faculty members have attended conferences with other colleges in KEEN to share ideas and enhance collaborations.

Over the next three years, WPI will continue professional and leadership development for its faculty; develop curriculum for 100 courses that will instill the entrepreneurial mindset in all its students; and annually host 10 extracurricular activities exposing students in all disciplines to KEEN programs. WPI will also incorporate EML into its Summer Institute for Project-Based Learning, while making opportunities available for collaborations with KEEN schools.

“KEEN partners have a shared mission to transform the U.S. workforce. And within KEEN, each institution adds its own strengths to the network,” said Doug Melton, Kern Family Foundation program director. “I expect that WPI’s nationally recognized faculty expertise in project-based learning will continue to emerge as a powerful vehicle for developing students' entrepreneurial mindsets.”

“KEEN programs provide a platform for WPI to modernize our project-based education. Together with solid technical knowledge and communication skills, students are encouraged to think beyond short term results and focus on broad-impact, long-term initiatives.” said Glenn Gaudette, WPI professor of biomedical engineering, who was named 2015 KEEN outstanding faculty member of the year. Gaudette will continue to lead the WPI team in implementing the KEEN programs on campus.