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A Keen Partnership for Lehigh

Lehigh University has partnered with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN), a collaboration of 22 U.S. colleges and universities that strive to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate engineering students with a goal of benefiting society. To advance this mission, Lehigh received a 15-month, $200,000 grant from KEEN’s founding organization, the Kern Family Foundation. Lehigh was the 20th school invited to partner with the Network, which is primarily made up of private institutions across the country, including Bucknell University, Lafayette College and Villanova University.

“The KEEN grant is a recognition of our leadership in engineering entrepreneurship education as well as an opportunity to advance and improve what we do in our classes,” said John Ochs, lead co-principal investigator on the grant, Lehigh professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, and director of the university’s technical entrepreneurship master’s degree and Integrated Product Development programs.

“Our mission is to graduate engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset so they can create personal, economic and societal value through a lifetime of meaningful work,” said Thor Misko, KEEN program director and team leader. “In a dynamic and interconnected world, it is critical for undergraduate engineering schools to teach technical skills while fostering curiosity, connections and the creation of value. KEEN promotes collaboration among institutions and individuals who share this compelling vision.”

Lehigh partnered with KEEN because its goals fit well with the university’s existing and long-standing history of innovation, engineering and entrepreneurship, Lehigh University President John D. Simon said.

“We want to build on that foundation to create topical learning that engages engineering students, encourages them to solve problems through creative approaches, and prepares them to respond to current and future challenges in ways that are both meaningful and satisfying to them and bring value to society,” Simon said.

Through the grant, received in June, Lehigh has developed a team of “KEEN Champions” made up of faculty from a range of engineering disciplines, graduate students and staff from Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. The 20-member team is charged with exploring and developing best practices in entrepreneurially minded learning. Over the summer and continuing this fall, members identified courses with a goal of creating at least one KEEN-related course activity, co-created with students, for implementation in each discipline during academic year 2016-17. They will report on and share best practices developed with the Network.

“We are already implementing many novel approaches that can benefit students at other institutions,” said Greg Tonkay, co-principal investigator, associate dean of undergraduate studies for Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, and associate professor of industrial and systems engineering.

“At the same time, our students will quickly benefit from existing approaches that have been proven at other universities. In the long run, I see KEEN philosophies shaping the way that Lehigh engineers approach and solve problems.”

Adaptations may include a move away from lectures for certain modules and toward student teamwork, small groups and activity-based learning, Ochs said. Some faculty are already using the principles or have existing projects or modules where they are a natural fit. Others are taking a new look at courses and assignments to evaluate where changes could be made.

“The whole idea is simple: focus on student learning using real-world examples and students will learn and retain what they learn,” Ochs said. “This puts projects up front, puts real problems in front of people, with an intended result of students developing an understanding of engineering principles in the context of that project instead of developing them in a vacuum.”

Lehigh’s College of Engineering and its faculty associated with the university’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation are nationally recognized leaders in multidisciplinary entrepreneurship education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, said John P. Coulter, interim dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. “The partnership recognizes our continued efforts and commitments to undergraduate engineering education, preparing our graduates for real-world experiences to become this generation’s successful entrepreneurs,” Coulter said. “Our goal is to infect all of our students with the ‘3 Cs’ of the KEEN entrepreneurial mindset: Curiosity, Connections, and Creating value.”

In the KEEN model, these tenets are expressed through 1.) Demonstrating curiosity about the changing world and exploring new views of accepted solutions; 2.) Integrating information from many sources to gain insight and assessing and managing risk; and 3.) Identifying unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value and persisting and learning from failure.

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Ochs; Tonkay; Edmund Webb, associate professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics; and Lisa Getzler, Baker Institute co-executive director.

“Lehigh already has a strong entrepreneurial spirit,” Tonkay said, but it is not always evenly distributed among disciplines or courses. “It is my hope that this grant will help to better reinforce the principles of the entrepreneurial mindset to all engineering disciplines, starting with the first-year curriculum and building throughout the programs. The initial meetings have brought together key faculty from across the college and the university with a focus that has not happened in the past. This interaction will have a strong benefit for the college, and ultimately the university.”

About the Kern Family Foundation

The Kern Family Foundation is a private, independent grant-making organization based in Waukesha, Wis. In keeping with the vision of founders Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern, the Foundation seeks to enrich the lives of others by promoting the value of work, developing the formation of good character, increasing educational achievement – particularly in areas of science, technology, engineering and math – and instilling an entrepreneurial mindset, especially in undergraduate engineering students.

About Lehigh University

Lehigh University is a premier private university founded in 1865 by Asa Packer, an industrial pioneer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Lehigh is consistently ranked in the top tier of national research universities and its four colleges have earned a reputation for their entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary approach to learning. Based in Bethlehem, Pa., Lehigh is the academic home to nearly 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students across its College of Engineering and Applied Science, College of Business and Economics, College of Arts and Sciences and College of Education. Lehigh’s engineering college has embraced the campus’ entrepreneurial culture for well over 150 years, establishing a heritage of leadership and collaboration that still thrives today. The engineering college has seven academic departments with 1,861 undergraduate students and 725 graduate students and a number of integrated and interdisciplinary majors and programs.

Its programs are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET and American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. Lehigh University is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

-Amy White is the communication specialist with Lehigh University's Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

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