KEEN grant to bring innovation to engineering classes

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Lehigh’s department of engineering was awarded the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Networking grant Nov. 16 at the Baker Institute’s event Creativate, which celebrated Lehigh’s entrepreneurial successes.

Lehigh is the 20th university to be invited to partner with the network. The grant is $200,000 and will allow Lehigh to implement entrepreneurial elements into its engineering curriculum. It is to be used on grant-funded items in the fall semester of 2016.

The Kern Family Foundation officially gave Lehigh the KEEN grant in June. Throughout the summer, Lehigh put together the “KEEN champion” team, consisting of engineering professors, engineering graduates, entrepreneurship staff and entrepreneurship graduates. The team will determine how the grant will be disbursed over 15 months.

John B. Ochs, grant lead principal investigator, was one of the key engineering faculty members involved in the KEEN champion team. He expects the grant to go towards adding hands-on activities in engineering classes.

“The goal is to have less lecturing and more active learning, because this generation of students is more visually oriented,” Ochs said. “When you hear, you forget. When you see, you might remember but when you do, you understand.”

Ochs explained that the KEEN champion team plans to accomplish this goal within two phases. The first phase involves identifying a specific course, in which active learning can be applied to a module within the course. If this proves successful, the department’s objective for the second phase is to have all engineering classes apply active learning to their curricula.

At Creativate, Ochs represented KEEN with Gerard Lennon, a civil and environmental engineering instructor who has already started implementing real-life problem solving to his teaching.

At the event, Lennon demonstrated an example of an engaging classroom activity. Using a 3-D printer, Lennon printed out replicas of soda cans and poured liquid inside them to exhibit the concept of the center of gravity. He strongly supports the notion of students working in a realistic engineering setting.

“Engineering is about failing a few times before getting it right,” Lennon said.

Richard N. Weisman, instructor of Water Resources Engineering, was also present at Creativate to support Kelpy, one of his past students’ projects.

Kelpy is a sustainable food product that was developed over the summer solely by Lehigh undergraduate students as a Mountaintop project. The product is engineered to reduce nitrates in American waters, as well as provide consumers with a kelp snack. Many of Weisman’s students who were involved in Kelpy said they were inspired by the engaging demonstrations Weisman gave in his hydrolics course.

“Lehigh has always been effective in combining innovation with engineering,” Weisman said.

Ochs attributes the success of KEEN to Robert D. Kern. Before receiving the grant, the two had met on Kern’s farm and talked about how KEEN came to be and the network’s goals.

The Kerns sold a division of their innovative engineering company, Generac Power Systems, in order to create the grant-providing organization known as KEEN today. Kern has a vision to enrich engineering education by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate students.

To ensure his vision, the KEEN champion team also includes faculty members and graduates of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.

Amy White, communications specialist for the Baker Institute, is one of these team members.

“Lehigh has long had a distinction for its engineering education, including providing research opportunities for undergraduates,” White said. “With KEEN grant efforts, faculty can bring more active learning models and personal engagement to the classroom.”

Some proposed examples of an active learning model that students can look forward to are gamification of a search for contaminated groundwater, acting out ethical and professional dilemmas and mobile app development.

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