These Are My People

My Journey Toward Becoming a KEEN Faculty Member

KEEN has been a huge factor in my development as a faculty member and a great medium through which to share ideas and build relationships.
- Heath LeBlanc, Ohio Northern University

Ohio Northern University Engineering Building

These Are My People: My Journey Toward Becoming a KEEN Faculty Member

by Heath LeBlanc, July 13, 2017

My experiences with KEEN have helped to evolve my teaching philosophy and have provided me opportunities for professional development, scholarship, and professional networking. KEEN-related experiences and opportunities have had probably the highest impact on me in my development as a faculty member beyond any other single factor.

Since starting as an Assistant Professor at Ohio Northern University (ONU) in Fall 2012, my first engagement with KEEN occurred during the first semester while teaching Electric Circuits. 

Firas Hassan was awarded a KEEN course module grant by ONU to add an extra credit design project to his section of Electric Circuits that involved students pitching a customer-specific value proposition for their design of a temperature sensor. After learning about KEEN from discussions with Firas and Ken Reid, I helped Firas develop that project and implemented it also in my section. Firas, Khalid Al-Olimat, and I published a Frontiers in Education (FIE) paper on the experience in 2013, which at the time of this writing has six citations per Google Scholar.

Creating at the winter conference

I attended the 2013 Winter Conference along with the Shaping Entrepreneurial Engineers (SEE) Workshop in January of 2013. 

It was beneficial that I had already implemented one KEEN-related project prior to attending the Winter Conference and SEE workshop because it gave me a foundation of some prior experience and an awareness of my ignorance on some aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset (EM). This knowledge gap spurred my curiosity to learn more about the EM.

Faculty Development Workshop

The next significant involvement with KEEN was a one-day, abridged Innovating Curriculum With Entrepreneurial Mindset (ICE) workshop facilitated by Don Carpenter and Andy Gerhart and hosted by JD Yoder at ONU during the opening activities week of Fall 2013. 

Although I had heard of (and used) some teaching techniques that are classified as Active and Collaborative Learning (ACL) prior to this workshop, Don and Andy’s workshop really helped me to understand the richness of ACL techniques, as they presented multiple layers of difficulty and depth of various categories of ACL activities. Also, that workshop was my first detailed introduction to Problem Based Learning (PBL).

Circuits Extra-Credit Project

The abridged ICE workshop helped in the evolution of the circuits extra-credit project in the second year as well as improved my plan for an Engineering Economy KEEN course revision that I was awarded and implemented in Fall 2013.

In preparation for the course revision, I read a few books on business planning and strategy, including:

These books were great resources for me and my students in implementing the course revision, which included a business plan and an engineering economic analysis of a data center construction project.

Business school and business plan books

Students were required to create a full business plan on a business they would like to start after graduating. The business did not have to be engineering related, but they were required to create all of the pro forma cash flow projections based on their market research, analysis, and strategy as well as their business model. 

The second project was a joint experience with students in Bryan Boulanger’s Project Management course. The Civil Engineering students created the site development plans for the data center facility, while the Electrical and Computer Engineering students (i.e., the Engineering Economy students) assisted with information about computing, networking, and power requirements for the data center. The Civil Engineering students produced the proposals with a full cost estimate of the project. The students in the Engineering Economy course analyzed the proposals based on the cost and rank ordered them based on the economic analysis. 

Circuits project

Bryan and I wrote an American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) paper on this joint project that was presented at the 2014 ASEE National Conference. Firas, Khalid, Nesreen Alsbou, and I wrote a follow-up paper on the Circuits project that was also presented at the 2014 ASEE National Conference. 

The students involved with the second offering of the circuits project who tied in the pitch competition co-authored a 2014 ASEE North-Central Section conference paper with me on their technical and business approach. That paper won the Best Student Paper Award at the conference based on the paper and their presentation, which reenacted their elevator pitches from the course!

Workshops & Course Projects

In June 2014, I attended the week-long ICE workshop held at the University of New Haven. Although much of the material was repeated from the one-day abridged workshop, attending the full ICE workshop required the development of a project or module during the workshop that would be implemented in the following academic year. 

Working on the proposed course modifications with Grant Hoffman, Garrett Clayton, Vladimir Labay, Malcolm Daniels, and Eric Brisart was very helpful, and provided a great opportunity to share experiences with KEEN faculty outside of ONU. The two course projects I developed through the ICE workshop were implemented in the senior-level Electrical Engineering course System Design, which is a 1-credit lab course that is entirely project driven. In fact, those projects have run for a number of years with other faculty teaching them, including Firas and Ajmal Khan

The better of the two projects, the Wondermill electric grain mill redesign, was the focus of a 2015 ASEE Illinois-Indiana Section Conference paper.

Cooperative Learning

During the opening activities week of Fall 2014, JD hosted Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent, who facilitated a sequence of three workshops on ACL, new faculty advice, and Cooperative Learning. While the ACL workshop repeated much of the content of the ICE workshop, the cooperative learning workshop contained a lot of useful pedagogical techniques for team formation, conflict resolution, and successful teaming strategies that I immediately put to use in the Fall 2014 offering of System Design.

Starting in Fall 2014, JD asked me to join the KEEN committee at ONU to replace Ken Reid as the ECCS Department representative. Working directly with JD on KEEN related activities and planning has been a very rewarding mentorship experience for me, which has helped to further my understanding of the EM. 

Also starting in Fall 2014, Vladimir Labay served his sabbatical at ONU for the 2014-15 academic year. During the Fall 2014 semester, we modified the circuits extra-credit KEEN project with the help of Vladimir, Nesreen, and Firas so that students were allowed to pick from one of four circuits project on which to focus their design and business case for the pitch competition. Although I did not teach the circuits course in Fall 2014, I helped with the judging of the pitch competition and we wrote another paper on the experience, presented at the 2015 ASEE national conference in Seattle by Vladimir.


In the Spring of 2015, Bryan Boulanger led a KEEN small group grant, which focused on Ian Leslie’s book, Curious, and brought together faculty across all five colleges at ONU to discuss the ideas presented in the book and how those ideas relate to teaching strategies in our various disciplines. During this semester, I also attended the “Curiosity Index” KEEN seminar and the KEEN workshop “Nurturing Curiosity in the Classroom and Beyond” at the University of Dayton.

Together, all of these experiences helped to shape a deeper understanding of the nature of curiosity and motivated me to focus more on the curiosity aspect of the EM.

As a consequence, I adopted Leslie’s book in my orientation class starting in Fall 2015 and have used it each year since as a tool to impart the importance of KEEN concepts, and in particular, curiosity, in my freshmen students. 

In 2016, I co-authored a KEEN blog on Curiosity with Bryan Boulanger entitled “Curiosity and Culture: How Ian Leslie’s “Curious” Can Transform Your Campus,” which discussed our ideas and experiences with Leslie’s book.

Person holding globe


Participating in Bryan’s small group grant on Curiosity led me to pursue leading a KEEN small group grant on Creating Connections during the Fall of 2015. The meetings focused on the book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, by Gary Klein, and planned discussion questions and activities were centered on insight creation, impediments to insights, and the importance of creating connections to form insights. 

Many of the participants were the same as Bryan’s group, which led to a good continuity of discussion. The leadership experience for me in executing the grant as Principal Investigator (PI) was formative in my development as a faculty member.

With the additional funds left over from the grant, I was able to host a junior faculty luncheon in which all of the junior faculty were invited to discuss career development opportunities within KEEN. JD was also invited to the luncheon to give advice to junior faculty.

Overall, the experience created a bond among the junior faculty that had not been there before the event. For example, Alexandra Coman, David Johnstone, Louis DiBerardino, Todd France, and Blake Hylton joined the next small group grant as participants. Also, Todd France felt comfortable enough with me to ask for my help in preparing his house to sell during the following summer, and we have since worked together in developing several electrical engineering related projects for the Intro to Engineering sequence, even though I do not teach those courses.

Connections plug

Creating Value

In the Spring of 2016, I led a second KEEN small group grant on Creating Value, which focused on the book, Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want, by Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot. For this small group grant, I recruited more junior faculty to participate in order to help with the KEEN faculty on-boarding across campus. 

One of the most important takeaways from this small group grant and the book has been the Need-Approach-Benefits-Competition, or NABC, framework for articulating value propositions. Firas Hassan and I have used this framework extensively in our courses since this small group grant and we have co-authored a paper submitted to FIE 2017 on our experiences.

Solar panels

Community Groups

I attended the KEEN Fall Meeting of 2015 and presented some of my work in “EML Breakout Session on Circuits, Signals and Controls”, with Alan Cheville and Pali Singh. I also attended the 2016 KEEN Winter Conference where I presented several posters on the EML Projects in Electrical Engineering Courses on which I have worked. Also for the 2016 KEEN Winter Conference, Don Carpenter invited me to serve on a panel for “KEEN Career Advancement” where I discussed the KEEN opportunities that have led to success in my development as a faculty member. 

Much of the discussion at those two conferences centered around the idea of community groups (formerly known as subnets), which led me to submit a proposal entitled “Strategic Directions for a KEEN Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) Group”. Although this proposal was not funded, the Foundation ultimately held group meetings hosted at the Foundation the following fall, during which strategic directions for groups were explored.

Question Formulation Technique

I attended the first group leader’s meeting in Fall 2016 as a representative for the Electric Circuits group. During the meeting, I learned of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from Kundan Nepal, and I have since implemented the QFT in Electric Circuits and in the Freshman Engineering Orientation course. Also in Fall 2016, I attended the KEEN Fall Leaders Meeting in St. Louis.

Together, Kundan, Greg Mowry, and I have co-authored a paper submitted to FIE 2017 on our work with QFT in the circuits course.

Importantly, the QFT and NABC frameworks have given us tools that we believe affect the EM of our students. Firas Hassan and I are working on a workshop proposal for the 2018 annual KEEN conference on these tools as a result. Also, I am using these tools in a circuits book I am co-authoring with Khalid Al-Olimat that will be the first engineering science (not engineering design) textbook that I am aware of that aims to integrate a core engineering topic with the EM.

A Look Back

Heath LeBlanc, KEEN National Conference

As of 2017, I’ve attended two KEEN winter conferences, two KEEN Fall meetings, a subnet leaders meeting, seven KEEN-related workshops, and two KEEN seminars. I’ve modified five different courses with EM modifications. I’ve published six ASEE and IEEE educational papers related to my work with KEEN and have two more under review. These papers have been co-authored with seven other faculty members and seven students across four different academic institutions. 

I’ve executed two KEEN small group grants, participated in a third small group grant, co-authored a KEEN blog, and have submitted one subnet topical grant proposal. I’m co-authoring a KEEN-related textbook and preparing a “Tools for the 3C’s” workshop proposal for the 2018 annual conference. Finally, I’ll be stepping into the Co-PI role as JD moves to the Dean’s office. 

Overall, KEEN has been a huge factor in my development as a faculty member and a great medium through which to share ideas and build relationships.

Associated Content

Electric Circuits spark an entrepreneurial mindset

How Can an Electric Circuits Course Spark the Entrepreneurial Mindset?

A few key enhancements to a traditional electric circuits can set off a chain reaction! Apply the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), circuit analogies related to real life experiences, and entrepreneurially minded learning.

How Analogies Support the Entrepreneurial Mindset

A few key modifications that are reinforced continuously can transform your electric circuits course to support the 3C's of Curiosity, Connections, and Creating Value.

Ohio Northern University: EM Expanded KEEN Student Outcomes (eKSOs)

Enable more intentional scaffolding of the entrepreneurial mindset through the curriculum and inspire new assignments, inform assignment revision and aid assessment of the entrepreneurial mindset.


Meet the Author

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.

Search All Stories

Search Stories

Discover more ideas, opportunities, and actionable take-aways!