KEEN grant will expose freshmen to the entrepreneurial mindset in IME 100

"We don’t want them to stop here with what they learn, we want them to take the concept and find other scenarios where these skills are applicable or find other products the technology could be used in.”

Beginning in 2016, freshmen in Kettering University’s Interdisciplinary Design and Manufacturing (IME 100) course will not only learn the basics of a range of practical engineering skills -- they’ll learn how they can build on those concepts to solve other challenges.

In 2015, Dr. Girma Tewolde, associate professor of Computer Engineering, was one of six Kettering faculty members to receive internal topical grants from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) that encourage instructors to creatively infuse entrepreneurial elements in their classrooms.

Additionally, distinguished faculty members in multiple departments at Kettering University have received about $40,000 each, for a total of $240,000 over the last two years, from KEEN to embed and incorporate various aspects of innovation and entrepreneurial mindset into their individual engineering and science courses.

Through the grant, Tewolde has revamped the Electrical and Computer Engineering Component of the IME 100 curriculum to ensure students are gaining a sound overview of different engineering skills and disciplines while also learning how they can apply what they’re learning to situations they will encounter as engineers outside the classroom.

“The goal is to instill curiosity in students -- we don’t want them to stop here with what they learn, we want them to take the concept and find other scenarios where these skills are applicable or find other products the technology could be used in,” Tewolde said. “We hope what they do in the course will open their mind to what they can do outside of the classroom.”

IME 100 is a required course for freshmen. Multiple faculty teach the course, giving students an overview of Industrial Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering during the term. The new curriculum resulting from the topical grant keeps that core mission of the course while infusing entrepreneurial skills such as learning from failure, identifying new product or market needs, evaluating elements like cost, complexity of design and time to market and evaluating or improving functionality of a system.

Assignments during the course will include designing a mini traffic light circuit in different ways. One module focuses on building the product using a battery-powered dedicated circuit. Another component will have the same challenge -- building a traffic light circuit -- but using a more flexible USB-powered small micro-controller and software.

“The first approach is a hardware approach, the second uses a micro-controller, programming and basic circuits approaches,” Tewolde said. “We want to expose them to multiple approaches to the same problem. It gets them thinking about what else they can do with technology and allows them to learn about how to make more flexible designs or think about new product features.”

The grant also allowed Tewolde to add more complexity to robotics modules in the course. Students will now be able to identify new parts, do more wiring, learn how to use a micro-controller for motors, lights and object detection and build an “intelligent” robot.

“There are many different aspects to building an intelligent robot,” Tewolde said. “It has to be able to detect targets and control speeds to avoid crashes. Students will deploy that technology in a small robot that will follow a line using light sensors. It will also have a wireless interface mode -- they’ll be able to use an Android phone to remotely connect to the robot through Bluetooth and switch between human-controlled and autonomous modes. They’re learning the basic technology in developing self-driving cars.”

The open-ended projects in the revised course are a contrast from the existing curriculum, which was more task and step-by-step procedure oriented. Making the curriculum more flexible is intended to more closely mirror what students will encounter in their professional lives.

“The focus is showing what the components of an electrical system look like and how you can use software to design and simulate before you actually build something,” Tewolde said. “Before putting together a product, they have to design it and test it, so that models real industry. They will be learning how to troubleshoot as they go.”

The new modules for the course have been in development since 2015. Tewolde also created an online component that makes course resources accessible since multiple faculty teach the course.

“As we implement the course, we’ll be assessing and comparing with the previous way the course was taught and the results,” Tewolde said. “We’ll have the ability to continuously make improvements. Entrepreneurial thinking is a culture that students need to learn, and because this course is for freshmen, it will be introducing the concept early to them and hopefully prepare them for future courses that use the entrepreneurial mindset. The KEEN grant has allowed us to introduce more innovation into the class and help students make more connections between the classroom and the real world.”