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Innovation Sandbox: Engineers in a Multidisciplinary Playground

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division – Innovative Course Offerings

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.968.1 - 26.968.11



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Paper Authors


Robert S Crockett California Polytechnic State University

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Robert Crockett received his Ph.D. from University of Arizona in Materials Science and Engineering. He holds an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley. He is currently Professor and Director of the General Engineering Program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Crockett is a specialist in technology development and commercialization of advanced materials and manufacturing processes. Prior to joining Cal Poly, he was founder and President of Xeragen, Inc., a San Luis Obispo-based biotechnology startup company. In addition to his academic work in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Dr. Crockett is currently involved in 4 technology-based startup companies.

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Jonathan L. York Cal Poly San Luis Obispo


Thomas M. Katona California Polytechnic State University

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Thomas Katona is an Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). He works in the BioMedical Engineering Department and has a joint appointment in the Orfalea College of Business. Before joining Cal Poly, he worked in startup companies in the LED and LED lighting industry. His roles in industry included leading product development teams, business development, and marketing.

He received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from UC Santa Barbara, studying with the inventor of the blue and white LED, and an MBA from the University of South Carolina, Moore School of Business.

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Innovation Sandbox: Engineers in a Multidisciplinary PlaygroundInnovation Sandbox is a physical and programmatic environment where students of all academiclevels and majors across campus can come together to explore and develop their early-stageideas. The goal is to stimulate creative play outside the traditional academic environmentthrough a mix of formal and informal engagement. This space allows innovations to progressbeyond a single classroom project or exercise, but decouples innovation from a particular courseor department, making it a true separated space devoted to team based and individual ideation.Content is driven by participants and facilitated by Student Mentors who ensure that there is alow barrier to entry. The Mentors assist with simple fabrication, facilitate connections withfaculty and other campus resources, and provide mentoring/coaching and design input toprogram participants.Due to the technical nature of many of the innovations, the College of Engineering was an earlyand enthusiastic adopter of the program, serving as both a source of expertise (e.g. fabrication,coding) and as the largest pool of participants. Through involvement and sponsorship of theUniversity-wide Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the program is broadening andmaturing. Engineering students are seeing significant benefits from working with diverse majorson designs that sometimes involve technology in only a minor supporting role. This type ofproblem solving develops abstract, innovative “soft” skills that complement the technical depththey develop in their traditional curriculum. These skills are critical to producing engineers thatcan thrive in a global environment. At our institution, engineering students are provided manyopportunities in the classroom to develop technology innovations through class projects, seniorprojects, internships, and as part of their regular instruction. However, the environment is notreadily available to facilitate the progression of student directed innovations, nor is it suited fortruly interdisciplinary efforts. Innovation Sandbox is a promising solution.Grassroots efforts over the past year have laid the foundation for a successful program. Currentactivities involve turning these early efforts into a durable program with appropriate assessmenttools that is fully integrated into the broader institutional goal of increasing innovation campuswide. The overarching goal of Innovation Sandbox is to change the culture of our students toembrace innovation. Assessment of demonstrable outcomes covering innovation, creativity,design, communication, and multidisciplinary activities is a high priority, to formalize the valueof the program and support ABET accreditation activities. This paper discusses our process ofdeveloping, implementing, and validating assessment methods that are appropriate not only forengineering, but other participating colleges. Specifically, we seek to establish and quantify alink between skills developed through play in a voluntary, extra-curricular program and the skillsrequired to meet the global engineering challenges of the future.

Crockett, R. S., & York, J. L., & Katona, T. M. (2015, June), Innovation Sandbox: Engineers in a Multidisciplinary Playground Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24305

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