Grant Aids Engineering Program

November 3, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Calvin College is planning to teach engineering students entrepreneurship skills, using a $50,000, two-year grant from the Kern Family Foundation.

Much of the money will be used to pay professors for re-tooling their classroom curriculums, but the rest will support programs that directly impact the private Christian Reformed schools’ 350 engineering students, said Calvin Prof. Randall Brouwer.

“What we’re attempting to do is to get engineering students more aware of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Not that we expect them to become entrepreneurs, but at least to be aware of what entrepreneurs do and that the entrepreneurial approach can help them in their work,” Brouwer said.

The Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network grant from the Kern Family Foundation is aimed at fostering entrepreneurial skills in tomorrow’s engineers. The Wisconsin-based foundation was established by Robert and Patricia Kern, who founded Generac Power Systems, one of the world's largest independent manufacturers of complete engine-driven generator systems. They sold the company in 1998 and established the foundation to promote strong pastoral leadership, educational excellence and high-quality, innovative engineering talent.

Last year, 10 Midwestern colleges received KEEN grants.

“What we’re trying to do in coursework is provide more opportunities for students to think not just about the theory of engineering, but how to take an idea that has engineering aspects to it and run with that idea, whether in big companies or independent.”

Brouwer said engineering students will take at least one business class, and a required class called Business Aspects for Engineers will be revamped.

The money also will support a faculty and staff book club that seeks out ideas for teaching entrepreneurship. Some of it will be used for the annual business plan competition for students and another allocation will be made to support a seminar series featuring talks by people who have successfully applied entrepreneurship to engineering. Some money will be set aside to improve engineering alumni connections, Brouwer added.

“When you ask employers what are the things they are looking for in engineers, the top five things are non-technical: people skills, the ability to communicate, the ability to work with people and manage their time and things like that,” Brouwer said. “They assume they have the technical background. What’s going to stand out in engineering is the non-technical aspects of a person, how well they can come up with creative ideas and problem-solving.”

Brouwer said he thinks University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was on the right track when, in a 2006 speech at the National Press Club, she revised the old higher edu>cation adage of “publish or perish” to “partner or perish” to emphasize the roles of research and higher education in economic development and global competitiveness.

“That’s a telltale sign that there’s a major shift going on in education and engineering,” Brouwer said, making initiatives such as KEEN grants crucial to the U.S. economic future.

“Because of the globalization that’s been happening in recent years, for companies in the U.S. — especially companies based on engineering — a big factor in continuing to excel is going to be ingenuity, coming up with new ideas and applying them.”

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