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Leveraging The Unique Character Of A General Engineering Program To Enhance Students’ Entrepreneurial Mindset

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Sustainability, Service Learning, and Entreprenuership

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.843.1 - 15.843.11



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Paper Authors

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Randall Brouwer Calvin College

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Steven VanderLeest Calvin College

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Paulo Ribeiro Calvin College

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Robert Medema Calvin College

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Leveraging the Unique Character of a General Engineering Program to Enhance Students’ Entrepreneurial Mindset


The General Engineering degree provides a unique foundation to connect engineering with business and entrepreneurship. A significant portion of engineering students are interested in aspects of entrepreneurship which provides a springboard to engage the student’s vision and imagination for better business education and better engineering education. This paper will first discuss recent curricular changes to our BS in Engineering degree, partly sponsored by a Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) grant, intended to enhance engineering students’ understanding of business practices, societal needs, and engineering solutions. Initial changes focused on the “endcaps” of our first-year and senior-year courses. Based on those results, an extension of the changes throughout the curriculum may be implemented. Secondly, we identify some distinct characteristics of the general engineering curriculum that provide a fertile ground for this type of integrative, multidisciplinary work to be carried out. The learners within this context are often driven by a need to understand the “why” before they can be engaged on the “what” and “how” of engineering. The justification and explanation for technical topics and concepts are embedded in the broader context provided by a general engineering education. Finally, the paper concludes with an initial assessment of results and plans for expanding the business topics into intermediate engineering courses.

I. Introduction: Why is this subject interesting and important?

The multidisciplinary approach of general engineering programs (a distinct category of engineering degrees that ABET accredits without program-specific criteria) provides a particularly good foundation for entrepreneurial education. First, the breadth of these programs is more contextual than more narrowly defined engineering degrees. That context encourages students to “connect the dots”, taking a systems approach that applies knowledge from one context to another domain. Although occasionally a new idea comes completely formed without a prior version, most new inventions take existing ideas and combine them in new ways. A contextual education encourages creative, systems level thinking that forms fertile ground for combining technical design, business, and entrepreneurship. Second, general engineering programs are typically less regimented and thus more flexible, allowing them to address entrepreneurship in a variety of ways. They can add entrepreneurial content to the curriculum within specific courses or introduce entirely new courses. Third, faculty in general engineering programs come from multiple engineering disciplines and tend to be entrepreneurial themselves when it comes to curricular change and reform. Fourth, students in general engineering programs tend to be multidisciplinary and multifaceted in their academic ambitions. These students selected a general engineering degree because they see the world from a systems perspective, a contextual perspective. They want to see the big picture and make a difference in the world. They are a receptive audience for entrepreneurial approaches.

Engineering students in any program, whether general or disciplinary-specific, can benefit from learning some of the concepts of entrepreneurship. The students in our engineering classes are

Brouwer, R., & VanderLeest, S., & Ribeiro, P., & Medema, R. (2010, June), Leveraging The Unique Character Of A General Engineering Program To Enhance Students’ Entrepreneurial Mindset Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16192

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