22 Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset Students plumb the depths of engineering failure – and find success T he idea of modifying an entire course to incorporate entrepreneurially minded learning can seem overwhelming. But Dr. Erin Jablonski, associate professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University, discovered that presenting traditional content using KEEN student outcomes (see page 13) can produce game- changing results. And, in one course, she starts the lesson with a toilet. The KEEN program aims to develop in engineering students an entrepreneurial mindset that broadens their horizons and, combined with solid technical knowledge, serves as a powerful catalyst for future success. Even on the road to engineering greatness, however, students are likely to encounter a few wrong turns or dead ends. One of the Kern student outcomes addresses this by encouraging students to “persist through and learn from failure.” By making KEEN principles an integral part of her coursework, Jablonski helps students embrace this reality and learn to “fail forward” in beneficial ways. “What we value in professional engineers is curiosity, the capacity to envision alternative solutions, and the knack for defining problems in the absence of information,” Jablonski explains. “However, traditional instructional and evaluation methods may make students overly risk averse, impacting their willingness to innovate to the extent necessary to make disruptive changes to technology. Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in engineering undergraduates allows them to be more creative and less risk averse in their approach to solving multi-faceted, ill-defined problems – which they’ll certainly encounter in the future.” Jablonski found the pedagogical aspects of KEEN to be a natural fit for both upper level design courses and traditional technical courses such as Fluid Mechanics, a required course for chemical engineering sophomores. By using methods of problem- and project-based learning, her students did not lose any of the content, but were deeply engaged and developed skills that will serve them well in upper-level courses and in their careers. Jablonski begins the course by engaging students with the following question: “Why do we flush toilets with potable water?” Their challenge is to evaluate that question with little prior knowledge of the field, and to design a complete plumbing and grey-water recovery system for a campus residence hall. The design should take into account building codes, plumbing standards, and physical plant limitations. Working within a hypothetical budget, students consider the technical feasibility of pipes, fittings, pumps, filters, and delivery points, as well as the economic feasibility of capital expenditures, consulting fees, labor, operating costs, and time to payback. All of these elements promote the importance of discovery before design – and even then success is by no means assured. “Students work in groups of three and typically assign each member a number of specific responsibilities,” Jablonski says. “During their solution development, they experience small, localized failures that often make them doubt their abilities. For example, one group selected copper piping for their drains, which led to exorbitant costs that made their project economically unfeasible. In another instance,