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Florida Tech Selected for National Innovation Program

NSF-Funded Center Chose 25 Universities to Participate

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Institute of Technology is one of just 25 U.S. institutions selected to join the prestigious Pathways to Innovation Program based at Stanford University, the program recently announced.

The National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, known as Epicenter, announced its new cohort, which in addition to Florida Tech includes such institutions as James Madison University, Clemson University and Case Western Reserve University.

The Pathways to Innovation Program is designed to help universities fully incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education. The program is run by Epicenter, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA).

That focus aligns perfectly with the education goals of Florida Tech’s Daniel Kirk and Beshoy Morkos, co-leaders of the university’s Pathway team, who were interested in reframing how they teach technology innovation entrepreneurship to their engineering students and helping them strengthen an area that traditionally doesn’t receive much attention.

“Engineers set themselves apart from scientists because they build and bring to reality the models and analysis.  However, the ability of an engineer to sell their artifact to the market is affected by their innovative and entrepreneurial thinking,” said Morkos, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“Unfortunately, engineers do not experience formal training or education in entrepreneurship or innovation. Though they possess the knowledge to develop transformative products, they don’t understand the business and commercial elements needed to make it successful.”

Ongoing innovation is required to maintain America’s global competitiveness and address pressing problems, program organizers said. Engineering is the foundation of much of that innovation. Faculty and administrators participating in Epicenter’s Pathways program are taking on this challenge and leading their universities into a new era of engineering education that prepares students to tackle big problems and thrive in this ever-changing economy.

“There are 500,000 students in the U.S. majoring in engineering and computer science fields,” said Tom Byers, director and co-principal investigator of Epicenter and professor at Stanford University. “These students are expected to enter industry with technical knowledge as well as a diverse set of skills and attitudes that help them to innovate, collaborate and create value. As educators, we need to better prepare this generation of students for the workforce and position them for success in their careers.”

Participating schools assemble a team of faculty and academic leaders to assess their institution’s current offerings, design a unique strategy for change, and lead their peers in a two-year transformation process.

Program teams receive access to models for integrating entrepreneurship into engineering curriculum, custom online resources, guidance from a community of engineering and entrepreneurship faculty, and membership in a national network of schools with similar goals.

Morkos and Kirk, who is associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, and a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said Florida Tech’s participation in Pathways will benefit both students and the university.

“Participation in the NSF Pathways program will allow Florida Tech to develop rich relationships with innovation and entrepreneurial education leaders throughout the United States,” Kirk said.  “And from a research standpoint, Pathways allows Florida Tech to leverage its membership to secure education related funding opportunities to continue to enhance undergraduate engineering education well beyond the duration of its participation.”

The schools announced in January join an inaugural group of 12 institutions that have participated in the program since January 2014. Their projects include innovation certificates and majors, maker and flexible learning spaces, first-year and capstone courses, faculty fellows programs, and innovation centers.  Additionally, several cross-institutional collaborations have resulted from the first group of schools.

“Our first group of Pathways schools has already made an enormous impact on the undergraduate engineering students at those institutions,” said Liz Nilsen, a Pathways program manager and senior program officer at VentureWell. “These new schools joining Pathways have equally ambitious aspirations. Having the experience of the first group to help guide them will accelerate the impact of their efforts.”

Learn more about the Pathways to Innovation Program at http://epicenter.stanford.edu/page/pathways-to-innovation

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