LTU to lead foundation’s effort to boost engineering research with an entrepreneurial mindset

SOUTHFIELD—Lawrence Technological University is the lead institution on a three-year, $734,000 grant from the Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation to improve the participation of undergraduate students in engineering research with an entrepreneurial focus.

The grant, titled “An Entrepreneurial Mindset (EM)-Driven Framework for Undergraduate Research,” aims to introduce more than 2,000 engineering undergraduates to research, and create a system to make it easier and more efficient for faculty to engage students in research activities that can be shared with institutions around the country.

Participating with LTU in the grant will be Baylor University, Georgia Institute of Technology, the Oregon Institute of Technology, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The principal investigator on the project is Liping Liu, associate dean of graduate studies and research in the College of Engineering at LTU. The LTU Co-PI is John Peponis, senior lecturer and project engineer in the LTU Department of Biomedical Engineering.

As a member of KEEN, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, LTU describes EM as being comprised of “three C’s—curiosity, connections, and creating value.” This project aims to equip students with the skills and mindset necessary to translate research breakthroughs into high-impact innovation. KEEN believes that in traditional academic research, students are focused on proficiency in the specific skills needed to execute the research—which can result in a failure to connect their work to a larger context, and missed opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and value creation. This project also aims to prepare faculty to be entrepreneurially minded research mentors.

Liu said the grant will establish collaboration between small universities focused on undergraduate education and larger universities with leading research infrastructures, with the aim of creating a systematic, efficient, and sustainable training system for both students and faculty to explicitly embed EM into the research experience.

“There are many challenges getting undergraduate students involved in research,” Liu said. “Many of them don’t hear about opportunities. Many of them have no idea they can pursue it. And when they do, they find out late in their curriculum, junior or senior year. We want to let them know earlier, freshman or sophomore year, that there are opportunities to participate in impactful research.”

At the same time, Liu said, “we found research training takes a lot of time, because it’s mostly relying on one-on-one interaction between students and faculty. So faculty members find themselves repeating the same things when they have an undergraduate student join their labs. We want to create a training system so these students can be trained in a more efficient way, to reduce the burden on faculty.”

Under the grant, LTU and its partners will develop professional videos to let undergraduate students know about research opportunities, as well as develop publications, presentations, and outreach materials. The institutions will also develop student research training programs emphasizing an entrepreneurial mindset among the student engineers. Faculty workshops will also be developed and conducted to encourage more participation in research by undergraduates.

“The work of these partners builds upon what KEEN has accomplished over the past 15 years,” said Dr. Douglas Melton, program director at the Kern Family Foundation. “We believe this new work will tightly connect entrepreneurial mindset and value creation to undergraduate research as a best practice. It’s an exciting endeavor that will impact even more engineering students across the United States.”

Established in 1999, the Kern Family Foundation invests in the rising generation of Americans, equipping them to become tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. It aims to effect systemic change through partnerships to preserve the tradition of private enterprise. One such partnership is the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). KEEN is a partnership of 50 colleges and universities across the United States who share a mission to reach all of their undergraduate engineering students with an entrepreneurial mindset (EM) so they can create personal, economic, and societal value through a lifetime of meaningful work. Lawrence Tech has a long relationship with the foundation and KEEN, dating back more than 15 years.

Lawrence Technological University,, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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