Curiosity and Culture

How Ian Leslie’s “Curious” Can Transform Your Campus

“Curious” can be an excellent tool to use in a freshman orientation course to instill the awareness of how important curiosity is for lifelong learning and success.
- Heath LeBlanc and Brian Boulanger, Ohio Northern University

Ohio Northern University

Curiosity and Culture: How Ian Leslie’s Curious Can Transform Your Campus

by Heath LeBlanc and Brian Boulanger, October 31, 2016

One of the keys to developing an entrepreneurial mindset for our students is to form a culture of curiosity on our campuses. Faculty at Ohio Northern University (ONU) decided to use Ian Leslie’s book, Curious, to begin a campus wide discussion concerning the important role of curiosity in learning. Dr. Bryan Boulanger used the book as a tool for faculty development, engagement, and networking to promote KEEN and entrepreneurial mindset across campus through a Small Group Grant supported by KEEN.

The group of faculty who participated in the small group meetings was highly diverse, with 19 faculty representing all five of ONU’s colleges (including pharmacy, law, business, arts and sciences, and engineering). The backgrounds of faculty spanned psychology, religion, English, chemistry, law, business, and pharmacy, with at least one representative from each of College of Engineering’s traditional disciplines offered at ONU (civil, mechanical, electrical, and computer). 

The diversity of participant backgrounds and areas created a great mix to discuss curiosity and means of engaging our students in different disciplines.

The Small Group Grant supported six meetings during the Spring 2015 semester, held at the Inn at Ohio Northern. In these meetings, faculty discussed how themes and ideas from Curious relate to pedagogy and ultimately how to implement activities in the classroom to stimulate the curiosity of our students. One outcome that developed from the faculty discussions is presented with more detail, so that you can begin to consider how this book may be used on your campus.

Based on the small group meetings on Curious (and, more generally, curiosity), Dr. Heath LeBlanc decided to use the book in his freshman engineering orientation course as a means to instill a curious mindset in his students.

Curious by Ian Leslie

Many students struggle with the transition from high school to college in large part due to the paradigm shift in expectation and motivation. 

In high school, students are largely motivated extrinsically, with high expectations from parents, teachers, and coaches. In college, students must learn to find motivation intrinsically since parents are no longer able to be the drivers of performance. Awareness of this shift in motivation is a key factor in helping students to make the transition. 

This is why Curious can be an excellent tool to use in a freshman orientation course in order to instill the awareness of how important curiosity is for lifelong learning and success.

Curiosity Required

Curious is now a required book for Dr. LeBlanc’s section of engineering orientation and is required reading for the course. It should be noted that Engineering Orientation at ONU is a 0 credit hour course that meets once per week for an hour and fifteen minutes. Orientation’s major purpose is to introduce the student to the College of Engineering, the chosen profession (in this case electrical and computer engineering), and to act as a forum for first-year advising. 

Given the broad scope and limited time, only a few discussions and exercises throughout the semester are devoted to details of the book. However, themes from the book are integrated in many more of the activities and assignments.

For example, visualization of data and the ability to interpret plots and graphs are important skills for engineers to have. To emphasize this point and to simultaneously cover the importance of a curious mindset. The video, "Why We Must Continue to Learn and Be Curious," is used as a pairwise group activity on interpreting graphs. Leslie presents plots on the curiosity divide with respect to education and work. 

After showing the video (up to the plots), the video is paused and students are asked to discuss what information is being displayed and why it is relevant. After a few minutes, the pairwise discussions are scaled to a class discussion to be sure the key ideas are understood.


Another example of a class activity related to Curious is a discussion of the importance of diversity in education and the workplace. For this activity, guest speakers Briana Enty (the College of Engineering’s Graduate Assistant, who manages the college’s peer mentorship program among other student-related services) and Dr. Lynda Nyce (ONU’s Assistant VP for Academic Affairs and Director of Global Initiatives) are invited to discuss the importance of diversity, how to be culturally and ethnically sensitive, and how study abroad opportunities can benefit student mindset and self-growth. 

While these are very important topics, the link to Curious may not be obvious. However, a brief, yet pointed discussion of empathic curiosity from the book and its relation to diversity can easily make the connection concrete.

Curious by Ian Leslie

If you are considering opportunities to engage student and faculty to enhance your culture of curiosity on campus, we believe you will find Ian Leslie’s Curious to be a useful tool. The book lends itself to both informal discussion and more formalized classroom structured discussions that prove useful whether trying to promote KEEN and curiosity on campus or to have students question their own curiosity. 

If you are also inspired by the book or ideas within this blog post, then adapt them to fit your needs. As Leslie says in the book, “What makes us so adaptable? In one word, culture – our ability to learn from others, to copy, imitate, share and improve.” 

Adapt away and find out how Curious can impact your campus culture of curiosity!

Associated Content

Curiosity exemplar card

CURIOSITY: What do we mean?

Curiosity is invaluable for uncovering essential and unexpected information that shapes engineering solutions to their maximum potential. This card is about understanding CURIOSITY in depth and within an entrepreneurial mindset.
Curious Ian Leslie

Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It

Book club! Use this guide for a Small-Group Reading discussion on exercising the "curious" muscle to change the way you think about your own mental life, and that of those around you.
Faculty Mini-Retreat

The Faculty Mini-Retreat on Curiosity

Learn how to craft questions, activities, and deliberative structures to engage faculty at this condensed and accelerated retreat! Take away actionable ideas for supporting your students' curiosity.


  • Leslie, Ian. Curious. Basic Books, 2015.

Meet the Authors

Heath LeBlanc

Heath LeBlanc, Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Ohio Northern University

Heath is passionate about learning and motivating students to want to learn. His research interests include resilient cooperative control, networked control systems, distributed estimation, and security and resilience of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). Heath is a member of ASEE and IEEE.
Bryan Boulanger

Bryan Boulanger, Chair, Ohio Northern University

Bryan teaches courses in his specialty area of environmental engineering. He enjoys working with students on real-world interdisciplinary problems and has a particular passion for our National Parks, water related issues, and natural night skies.

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