Regarding Program Sustainability

An Interview with Chris Kitts of Santa Clara University

We came up with a five-point strategy that has embedded entrepreneurial mindset so deeply in our institution that the concepts have survived leadership and faculty changes and are part of SCU’s strategic future.
- Chris Kitts, Santa Clara University

Interview with Chris Kitts of Santa Clara University: Regarding Program Sustainability

Contributed by Edmond J. Dougherty. This article originally appeared in KEEN Annual Report, 2019-2020. Reprinted with permission.

Did you have a sustainability plan from the beginning of your KEEN program? 

Dr. Kitts: Since joining KEEN in 2009, I wanted to make sure we were going to do things that had a reasonable chance of being adopted long-term without external money. I didn't want to create a course that was only going to be offered once, so we followed a strategy to institutionalize the courses into majors, minors, pathways, the core curriculum, and so on. Having the courses be engaging for students is obviously helpful as well. It was critical to find a core of other faculty members who were very enthusiastic. We came up with a five-point strategy that has embedded entrepreneurial mindset (EM) so deeply in our institution that the concepts have survived leadership and faculty changes and are part of SCU’s strategic future.

Tell us about the five-point strategy. 

Dr. Kitts: The strategy was to give engineering students EM-integrated options in all their experiences. We bucketed the strategy into curricular programs such as our Design Thinking Core Pathway, courses (such as infusing EM in core courses, adding new elective courses, and offering one-credit topical courses like Opportunity Recognition), co/extra-curricular activities such as student design challenges, speaker series, and mentoring, faculty engagement such as seminars, on-line resources, and workshops, and student enterprises to provide authentic engineering engagements with long-term clients. 

While you focused on the co- and extracurricular elements, faculty focused on creating course material? 

Dr. Kitts: Yes. After an introduction to KEEN, faculty are asked to create active EM learning modules to incorporate into their courses, usually based on “holes” we see in the curriculum - areas where we know we’re lacking EM. This way we train faculty and get the curricular material we need. Once faculty have developed one or two modules, they can create a full-blown course. After that, the department usually continues to offer it, leveraging team teaching to ensure the EM elements continue even if a faculty member moves on to other things. 

How do you inform and inspire engineering faculty about KEEN program opportunities and how have you been able to spread the EM movement across campus? 

Dr. Kitts: When we started, we sent out a quarterly email to all faculty explaining the basic elements of KEEN at SCU and how to get involved, and I routinely visited every department to give a five-minute summary of the program. Over time, we had 40% of our engineering faculty really involved and another 20% with occasional involvement. Even now, I send out routine emails inviting faculty to participate in ongoing and new elements of the program. Ensuring student participation is also a big thing. We try to ingrain the material into graduation requirements -- to make it part of a minor or an approved technical elective. We also added at least one course in every single core curriculum category within the University and tried to make it particularly attractive to engineers. That is a way to institutionalize EM and make sure the material is being offered long-term. 

What is the most essential element needed to establish, grow, and sustain a program in engineering entrepreneurial mindset? 

Dr. Kitts: Financial resources certainly help; it gives you the money to implement things and gets the attention of department chairs, deans, and provosts. You can move ahead to build credibility for EM as you get faculty on board and engage the students. That said, funding isn’t sufficient for sustainability. You have to have institutional alignment, a culture that values more than technical student outcomes, and faculty who are dedicated to student relationships and improving their teaching. You have to stick to a strategy where you are influencing people, programs, and courses that will have the most long-term impact. Institutions and departments are constantly changing and, if EM fits in with the outcomes we want for graduates, then there are always opportunities to integrate EM. KEEN Leaders just need to be in the room and contribute to those conversations and activities.

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Meet the Authors

Edmond Dougherty

Edmond Dougherty, Retired Professor of Practice and Director Engineering Entrepreneurship, Villanova University

Edmond has many years of experience in the design, development, and management of complex electronic and software systems. He was part of a team that helped develop the Emmy and Academy Award winning Skycam, an aerial robotic control camera system. He also developed an aerial camera system called Wavecam that is now owned by Skycam. He has 13 US patents. He was awarded the IEEE Member Award for the Philadelphia area, and the Meyer Innovation and Creative Excellence (ICE) Award at Villanova University.
Christopher Kitts

Christopher Kitts, Associate Dean, School of Engineering; Director, Robotic Systems Laboratory; Professor, Dept of Mechanical Engineering; Faculty Director, Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University

Christopher is an academic entrepreneur. He is a believer in highly authentic, as real world as you can get educational experiences. He started and currently directs a field robotics program that designs, fabricates, deploys, and operates real, field grade robotic systems and technologies. They not only engineer the systems, but operate them to create value for their clients, work as a business enterprise, compete against other companies in the marketplace, and provide services to clients for periods longer than a decade!

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