Contributed by Leslie Dodson, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. This article originally appeared in KEEN Annual Report, 2019-2020. Reprinted with permission.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is recognized for its project-based, experiential curriculum. Since joining KEEN, many WPI faculty members have integrated Entrepreneurially Minded Learning (EML) into the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) experience.
Nearly 1,000 students/year participate in the IQP. For most, this graduation requirement in global engagement occurs during a seven-week, full-time, off-campus research project where interdisciplinary teams work with a sponsor organization on an open-ended socio-technical issue. During the project, students come to better understand the human condition in context.
As the Co-Director of WPI’s Global Lab, Dr. Leslie Dodson is involved in the design and implementation of training modules for the program. Dodson, who has been an on-site IQP advisor in Albania and New Zealand, says “IQP project work focuses on the big problems confronting everyone, regardless of where they are in the world, including education, healthcare, climate change, and equality. These are cross-boundary challenges.”
Dodson explains, “WPI’s Major Qualifying Project is similar to the senior capstone project at most engineering schools, but with the IQP program, student teams go to one of our 45 project centers around the world. I’ve brought the KEEN entrepreneurial mindset into project advising by integrating curiosity, connections, and creating value (3C’s) into fieldwork and community engagement. I help students understand that the 3C’s are not just organizing principles or bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. Curiosity is important to understanding stakeholders and advancing the project, and making connections, taking initiative, and creating value are vital. Technical skills plus an entrepreneurial mindset is a very strong combination.”
Dodson suggests adding an important fourth “C” to engineering education - context. “Think of context as ‘the messy human condition.’ Context includes politics, financial pressures, social stratification, gender and identity issues, and so on. Helping engineering students increase their social awareness enhances their ability to be empathetic and to make smart decisions.”
WPI conducted a survey of 2500 alums that indicated employers strongly believe the IQP experience translates into significant value for their companies. Employers believe the IQP helps shape world views, a sense of personal responsibility, and the professional character that allows WPI graduates to contribute to any team on the job.
Dodson concludes, “Employers know that all engineering graduates have technical knowledge, but WPI graduates also have cultural knowledge, experience working on interdisciplinary teams, and an understanding of the arc of projects – including what can go wrong. Perhaps most significantly, graduates gain an appreciation of the importance of incorporating human experiences and perspectives into the work we do as engineers.”
Discover more ideas, opportunities, and actionable take-aways!