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ERIC L. WANG
Mechanical Engineering Department University of Nevada, Reno continued to provide the financial support required to teach our capstone course. Concerned with the decline in the United States’ industrial productivity (e.g. as described by Dertouzos et al.),3 Jerome Lemelson also developed his E-Team concept, where the “E” denotes both Excellence and Entrepreneurship. In his interview for the “Inventors” series on the Discovery Channel, he stated: “What I consider to be one of my best innovations . . . an E-Team is a group of students who train to go into business and develop products that can be produced in the future while at school.” E-Teams are development teams that consist primarily of students from a wide variety of disciplines, including those outside engineering, along with both faculty and professional mentors. These small interdisciplinary teams are charged with rapidly developing new technologies and products. One reason for the recent interest in the E-Team approach is that funds are being made available from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), a separate Lemelson Foundation program. Both Orthlieb4 (Swarthmore College) and Weilerstein5 (NCIIA) present good overviews of the NCIIA grant program and its goals. Hampshire College was the host institution for the establishment of the NCIIA. UNR served as both a charter member of the NCIIA and a role model for the E-Team concept. Since 1994, the multidisciplinary E-Team concept has been adopted at a variety of institutions. Lehigh University has created a unique set of degree programs centered around the E-Team concept. With strong funding from both private and federal sources, the programs involve the departments of Mechanical Engineering, Economics, and Arts and Architecture.6 At the University of Virginia, E-Teams also consist of a variety of majors from across the campus and begin by studying the methods used by successful inventors. By the end of Virginia’s Invention and Design course students are expected to draft a patent on their invention.7, 8 At Swarthmore College the E-Team concept has been implemented in both an elective solar energy class and as senior design projects.4 At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute engineering students can take an elective inventor’s studio course to develop either new fundable proposals or improve on previous projects that were funded by the NCIIA. The Illinois Institute of Technology’s invention center places E-Teams in a studio environment modeled after traditional art studios. Students work as apprentices in a shared space to develop and build prototypes, write patents, and develop business plans.8 Similarly, Rowan University has also embraced the ETeam concept within their eight-semester Engineering Clinic framework.9 While most of the student projects originate and are funded by local industry and faculty, junior and senior-level students can develop their own ideas and compete for “venture capital” funds.10 Journal of Engineering Education 565
JOHN A. KLEPPE
Electrical Engineering Department University of Nevada, Reno
A special capstone course for senior electrical and mechanical engineering students has been developed at the University of Nevada, Reno. The class also includes MBA students from the College of Business Administration. All phases of new product development including innovation, patent law, product liability, business, sales, marketing and venture capital are covered. This paper presents a brief description of the course and the assessment results. The assessment results indicate that the learning objectives are being met and that students strongly feel that invention and entrepreneurship should be part of the engineering curriculum.
Whether or not entrepreneurship has a place in engineering education is currently a topic of debate. Despite this uncertainty, many institutions have developed courses aimed at teaching entrepreneurship to engineering students. For the faculty at these institutions, the question then becomes, “How do we teach invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship?” At the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship have been part of an Electrical Engineering capstone course since the early 1980s.1, 2 The existing senior capstone class was reformed to include the elements of new product design including invention, innovation, patent law, product liability, marketing, sales, distribution, and finance. The students were separated into small “companies” that competed for grade points during the product development process. The company that ended up with the most points earned the best grade. In 1994 the late Jerome Lemelson, one of America’s most prolific inventors, provided the initial funds to establish the Lemelson Center for Invention, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (LCIIE) at the University of Nevada, Reno. Since that time, the LCIIE has
*Based on “Teaching Invention, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in Engineering” by Eric L. Wang and John A. Kleppe, which appeared in the Proceedings of the 2001 Annual Meeting of the NCIIA, Washington, DC, 6–9 March 2001, pp. 107 through 117, ©2001.
key personnel. they will: 1. along with recent project descriptions. In addition to the engineering students.13 The course utilizes a series of two-dozen special guest lectures on innovation and entrepreneurship. can be found in other papers. small business innovation research (SBIR). be more comfortable working on multidisciplinary teams. Finally. attendance constitutes approximately 30 percent of the grade points. the E-Team must either resubmit a revised proposal or select another project and submit a new proposal. 3. the grading criteria are largely performance based. developing a working prototype. objectives. product liability. In the end. the E-Team concept was added to the Mechanical Engineering capstone design course at UNR and since 1998 the Departments of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering have participated jointly in an E-Team entrepreneurship program. industrial assessment. an MBA student may join an E-Team by selecting one E-Team.2 If the proposal is rejected. The two major determinants of individual contribution are peer evaluations and class attendance. more often than not. 12 Because of the unique nature of the guest lecture series. It is recognized that the vast majority of the students will not become entrepreneurs. a panel of practicing engineers judges all student projects. This paper presents a brief description of this unique capstone course and discusses the assessment made during the past few offerings. a more inductive teaching method is used. Since EE491 and MECH 452 were combined in 1998. In this course we assign the team an “average” grade based on the work submitted as a team. The Design Projects Project concepts can be generated by faculty.11. B. II. invention. evaluating and selecting one of the ideas. The role of the MBA student is to help develop a business plan with the E-Team. an individual's attendance record is also used by the faculty a measure of individual contribution. with the team's own project proposal serving as the benchmark. The points earned are treated as currency. In addition to affecting the entire team's grade.11. development plan. Topics. Additionally. local industry. each E-Team is charged with the responsibility of generating product ideas. Via this heuristic approach of providing students with a broad experience of relevant lectures. At the end of the semester. ficity of material vary widely depending on the guest lecturer. previous E-Teams. The student projects are judged based on both the engineering and business content. Like a design review. Due to the time constraints imposed by the course. The average. must always remain the same. Additional information on EE 491/MECH 452. venture capital. product development. based on the perceived merit of the project and positive team dynamics. The grade received by each team member can be either higher or lower than the team average depending on individual contribution. Several standard peer evaluation forms are made available to all teams. gain an understanding about intellectual property and patents. the main goal of the course is to produce engineers with a better understanding of the business world. The above four items constitute the major learning objectives for the course. the final presentation is given to four to five representatives of ASME and IEEE. Each presentation and report is graded by at least two faculty members. it is hoped that the students will infer what innovation and entrepreneurship is all about. constructive criticism is the main emphasis of the two progress reports. ethics. however. the place within the development cycle is different among teams. whereas the E-Teams that have an MBA student develop more of a sales document. Grading Student work is assessed during the semester in three ways: faculty assessment. despite the focus on invention and entrepreneurship. and budget. 12 Each E-Team consists of four to six engineering students. and customers. a multidisciplinary senior-level capstone undergraduate course (MECH 452/EE 491) is taken by all mechanical and electrical engineering undergraduates. facilities. be able to communicate effectively to their peers. The combined course is team taught by the authors.11 As part of this program. COURSE DESCRIPTION A. which can be traded between teams for services rendered and/or parts. financial records. MBA students enrolled in an independent study course (BADM 793) also participate in the capstone design course. lecture formats. creative thinking. and student peer assessment.In 1996. which is evaluated based on seven topics: significance of problem. Course Overview Both EE 491 and MECH 452 are four-credit capstone courses offered once per year during the spring semester and traditionally have enrollments of approximately 25–35 students each. and 4. and speci566 Journal of Engineering Education III. and students. The lectures cover areas including: patent law. the rejection of a proposal places additional pressure on an E-Team. E-Teams are awarded “points” for their oral and written reports. the students must then provide both an oral presentation and a written proposal. The faculty provide oral examinations for students who missed lectures as a chance to earn back team attendance points. When one team member misses a lecture. related research. Evaluating teams relative to one another is difficult because each project is different and. suppliers. 2. Business plans that are developed by engineering students typically look like a technical document. C. Lectures Rather than having the faculty give lectures defining what entrepreneurship is. Thus. the entire team is penalized. approximately 170 students have participated on E-Teams. E-TEAM PROJECTS A. Approximately 3–5 MBA students participate each semester. be able to develop a business plan. It is up to the team to inform the member who missed the lecture as to the content and main points made by the guest lecturer. Once a project has been selected. and starting your own company. Thus. the major difficulties October 2001 . We feel that by giving the students the hands-on experience of trying to develop marketable products. and performing market and financial analyses to determine if the product could sustain an actual business. Understandably.
The grade-level comparisons indicated that only freshmen felt less confident in their ability than those that have taken the class (mean 3. Oftentimes products and/or projects fail due in no part to the engineering. ASSESSMENT RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Student learning has been assessed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Differences with a P-value less than 0. IV. there is a significant potential for students to develop and retain all intellectual property. university. but as they learned what really goes into one (as a result of the class). Early in the semester the E-Teams typically tend to concentrate on the engineering aspects of a problem and lose sight of the overall goal (deliver a marketable product on time). The mean response for those that have taken the course was 4. Not surprisingly. To ensure that they complete their project. Students who had completed the course more than one year ago were not included in the survey due to concerns of external influences. A student who has been fired must either interview with other E-Teams or retake the course next year. Again. Thus. It is emphasized to students that products fail. or personality problems. The course culminates with final written report/presentation and a student trade show.05) are listed in the second column. The written report must include a description of both of the engineering and the business research that went into the development of the prototype product. Since the students had several lectures on intellectual property and were required to conduct a patent search as part of their project.Working on a failing project or being fired is rarely treated as a negative outcome. in regards to the third learning objective (be able to develop a business plan) we found no statistical difference (question 14). and Layoffs If a team cannot complete the project selected. a student trade show is held the last Friday of the semester. An interview with students who had just completed the course helped to interpret this result. all points earned by the E-Team are lost and each individual member of the E-Team is faced with the choice of either “interviewing” with other E-Teams or retaking the course next year. To analyze the data. this result was not too surprising. This indicates that students who have taken the course do not feel any more or less confident that they could write a business plan (mean 3.encountered are usually business related. A recent poll of several hundred alumni of the course showed that alumni often find themselves in key positions in their workplace due to the additional knowledge they gained from the course. this difference was also evident at all grade levels except graduate students. if the University judges the idea valuable. However.001 are underlined. However.7). All E-Teams must produce a working prototype by the end of the semester. In this event. The rankings were converted to numerical rankings for this analysis (VSA 1. Of these students 14 (six undergraduate/eight graduate) had taken EE 491/MECH 452 within the last year. five. the mean (3. It is a major event attended by faculty. Interestingly. students’ families. those that own their own business did show a statistical difference (mean 2. Question 17 addresses our first learning objective and indicates that students who have taken our course feel more comfortable working on interdisciplinary teams than those that have not taken the course. a post-course interview with students helped us interpret this result. alumni of the College that did not have the course overwhelmingly support the course because they wish they had been as well prepared as our current graduates are. Table 2 presents a summary of the results.1).2) indicates that all our students feel fairly comfortable giving presentations. Seniors and graduate students who had taken the class were included only in the “taken class” group. Our last major learning objective was addressed indirectly with question 18 (public speaking). Approximately 19 percent of respondents were self-identified as female. at this institution. While no difference was detected. business. Likewise. Again. The groups compared are listed in the first column and questions for which a statistically significant difference was detected (P 0. In an effort to determine if the learning objectives are being met. such as market projections. the E-Team can declare bankruptcy. which usually results in an amicable agreement being reached. The royalty amounts are negotiated on a per case basis. The first comparison (taken versus not taken course) is an indication as to whether the learning objectives had been met. Table 1 presents specific demographics for each grade-level. 228 undergraduate and 18 graduate students were given a 25October 2001 question entrepreneurship survey to complete (see Figure 1). VSD 6).1) that they could write a business plan. business. The students indicated that before the class they thought they could develop a business plan. Several course alumni have returned as guest speakers to testify as to the importance of what is learned. For both questions the mean responses was 2. the nine students who own their own business felt very strongly (mean 2.9 (disagree). and government representatives. they felt less confident in their ability to draft an effective business plan. due either to engineering.0 (disagree) for those that have taken and not taken the class respectively. E-Teams can also choose to layoff a team member for unsatisfactory performance or behavior. Bankruptcy. unpaired t-tests were conducted for questions five to 20 to determine if the learning objectives had been achieved. Intellectual Property A fairly standard intellectual property policy exists for faculty and graduate research assistants students. The t-tests were also used to look for trends in the data based on groupings (questions one to four). not people. indicating that they feel much more comfortable communicating verbally. C. local and national media. The students indicated that communication. B. both within a team Journal of Engineering Education 567 . Questions 15 and 22 address the second learning objective and indicate that students who have taken our course feel they know more about patents and patent searches than students who have not taken the course. This difference was also evident at all grade levels except graduate students (comparisons four. six and seven in Table 2). Students can also elect to assign the intellectual property to the University. The course faculty always mediate any bankruptcy or personality/performance conflicts before any action is taken. the University incurs all the patent costs in exchange for royalties.4 (strongly agree) and 4.5). and others interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. Failure. for undergraduates the University maintains ownership of intellectual property only if a student uses “significant” resources other than normally accessed for instruction. In the event of a bankruptcy.6 (strongly disagree) and for those that have not taken the course the mean response was 3. who felt they knew as much about patents.
To this end. Being able to decide what specific parts they needed. and with suppliers. 568 Journal of Engineering Education While we have always acknowledged that most of our students will not be entrepreneurs. it has always been our hope to “plant a seed” in their minds. it is interesting to examine several of the results that are not directly related to the learning objectives. and then incorporate them into their prototypes—all within 90 days—was found to be a difficult task that relied heavily upon communication skills. order the parts. Entrepreneurship survey used in this study.Figure 1. October 2001 . was a critical skill learned this class. have the correct parts delivered.
innovation. that they needed additional skills and experience before launching their own ventures. female students felt more realistic about the riches to be had at start-up companies (question 16. Table 1. Summary of t-test results. Two teachers commented: “Teaching innovation in the schools calls for an innovative teacher.2). October 2001 Journal of Engineering Education 569 . the students who have taken our course are more likely to entertain business school as an option (mean of 3. 2.9 respectively). While it would appear that teaching invention. and entrepreneurship we hope to increase the innovative and entrepreneurial content in education by starting earlier in the education process. along with other gender differences. Evidently students who have taken the class are slightly more inclined to work for a large company.to the senior year (question 7).4).9 and 3. Students strongly believe that business and entrepreneurship should play an important role in engineering education. Students also lack interest in an MBA fairly uniformly regardless of year in school (question 23. Year is school was self-reported by students. Students are not benefiting from this in my opinion.05). Differences with P 0. CONCLUSIONS Based on the assessment results and our experience with this multidisciplinary course. These. to teach to the standards and do it through the text. was offered to 20 high school teachers. are important when assigning students to E-Teams.2 and 3.8 for female and male respectively). and not by their collegiate education. The data strongly indicates that they are learning in our course and not via an external source. The results also indicated that male students felt slightly more entrepreneurial than female students (question 5.8 and 3. interviews with students indicated that many of them realized. In the summer of 2000. and entrepreneurship may actually reduce entrepreneurial intentions. means of 4.7) that engineers don’t need to know economics (question 11). Students strongly disagree (mean 4. TOWARDS THE FUTURE Beyond educating engineering students about invention. based on this capstone course. for question 21 there was a significant difference between students who had and had not taken the class concerning working for a large company (means of 2. but that prospect declines as they progress V. However. 3.0). (P Table 2. the following conclusions can be drawn: 1. The latter result is very promising in that we are producing engineering students that want to gain more business skills. means of 2. they were more inclined to work for a large company.3 and 2. Thus.” “I think that the concepts of invention and innovation are potential pathways to unlocking a student’s creative thinking skills.4) and that engineers usually are involved in business decisions (mean 2. Demographics of survey respondents. The students are meeting the learning objectives for the course.001 are underlined. albeit only for a short time. the results indicate that freshmen begin with graduate school as future option. means of 2.2 respectively) and were more comfortable investing in the stock market (question 10. The results to questions eight and nine indicated that all our students strongly agree that a knowledge entrepreneurship is important (mean 2.2). Survey questions for which statistically significant differences were detected between groups 0. as a result of the course.” V I. It is extremely difficult for a student group to form and/or operate a business successfully without the long-term support of a mentor with extensive business experience. Unfortunately. a short course. mean 4. which reflects very positively on the impact our program. Interestingly. Finally. However. teachers are groomed.
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