Lehigh-KEEN initiative wins kudos for educational innovation

Lehigh University’s partnership with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) has won the 2017 Award of Excellence in the Innovation Category from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA).

UEDA’s Awards of Excellence Program recognizes organizations who are transforming their campuses into engines of economic prosperity through leading edge initiatives. Projects were judged on scalability, sustainability, impact originality and replicability.

Lehigh’s winning project is the Lehigh-KEEN Initiative. Lehigh became a KEEN partner in 2015, enabling the university to collaborate with 31 other partner institutions focused on elevating engineering education by incorporating core principles of entrepreneurial minded learning (EML).

The Lehigh-KEEN Initiative is a comprehensive, multi-phased process designed to revolutionize engineering education by integrating EML and engineering skillset development within Lehigh’s engineering education ecosystem.

KEEN, an initiative of The Kern Family Foundation, is a collaboration of colleges and universities dedicated to developing an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering students. The root of the entrepreneurial mindset that KEEN seeks to instill in engineers is summed up by KEEN’s “3C’s,” curiosity, connections and creating value.

The idea is to encourage engineers to adopt holistic thinking that challenges conventional ideas and integrates fresh ones. By taking ownership and thinking broadly and creatively about every aspect of projects they work on, engineers have a chance to enrich the lives of the people that their work touches.

The initial goal of the partnership between Lehigh and KEEN includes training of all Lehigh undergraduate engineering teaching faculty in the pedagogy of active collaborative entrepreneurial minded learning and to incorporate these teaching methods into their core engineering courses. Most importantly, the ultimate goal is to reach 100% of the engineering graduates at Lehigh with KEEN’s entrepreneurial mindset.

“We’re leveraging KEEN training to influence the way faculty create their curriculum,” says John Ochs, a professor of mechanical engineering founder and director of Lehigh's award-winning Technical Entrepreneurship capstone and master's program, and a KEEN Faculty Mentor. “All undergraduate engineering students should be exposed to KEEN’s EML techniques and have the chance to incorporate them into their educations and careers. So, we intend to infuse EML in some way into all core courses across every major.”

“We are very broad about how we want this mindset change to occur,” he says. “We are providing a roadmap, and cultivating a community of like-minded faculty who will integrate EML across Lehigh’s engineering landscape.”

Sue Perry, a professor of practice in Lehigh’s bioengineering department, has been working with faculty on implementing KEEN principles within the bioE undergraduate program.

“We are examining current courses to identify overlap in specific topics between early and advanced classes, and developing modules through which faculty can create context connections in earlier courses,” says Perry. “We intend to create a learning continuum so students retain fundamental principles and have the tools to strengthen their knowledge as they progress through the curriculum.”

“For example,” she continues, “we are using the human cardiovascular system as a way to create context across the portion of our curriculum dedicated to fluid dynamics. In sophomore level classes, we’ll introduce the concepts of biomaterials and biomechanics by having students design and 3D print artificial heart valves in one class, then test them for function and output in the next. Our junior-year fluids course examines the principles of fluid dynamics of the cardiovascular system—and by that point, students will have context for the theory we’re presenting, and will be prepared to think more deeply about how they can apply their knowledge.”

“If we can use active, project-based learning to create connections,” she continues, “we will create a greater depth of understanding from start to finish in the curriculum.”