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New program brings together engineering, entrepreneurship

HeadShotPULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University has been selected to participate in an innovative program to build entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education.

WSU is one of 25 U.S. institutions and one of only two schools in the Northwest selected by the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) to join the Pathways to Innovation Program. The program helps institutions incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education.

Managed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly NCIIA), the program offers entrepreneurship and innovation programs for engineering faculty and students, partners with leaders in academia and government to build a national entrepreneurship agenda in engineering, conducts research on higher education models, hosts online classes and resources, and forms communities around entrepreneurship in engineering, according to their website.

Frank Fellows - 13-14 at Tesla + Ray Combs + Velle Kolde + Gino Valente“Participating as a Pathways School will allow us to join forces with other institutions that share our desire to enrich the ’traditional’ engineering curriculum for undergraduates,’’ said WSU President Elson Floyd. “We want to inspire, excite, and challenge students with the host of unique resources we have within the Voiland College and around the University that relate to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

As part of the program, a team of WSU faculty and academic leaders will participate in a two-year process to assess current offerings and develop new strategies for building entrepreneurship efforts. 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.

“If you want to transform the world, an idea isn’t enough,’’ says Howard Davis, director of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute who will lead WSU’s efforts. “You need to be able to implement your idea, and that’s where entrepreneurship comes into play.’’

With support of the Pathways program, the WSU team aims to align and coordinate efforts across the university to allow more students to gain entrepreneurial experience.

In the past year, the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture has established the Frank Innovation Zone (FIZ) to foster the development of entrepreneurial skills in more students and provide them with access to a wide range of hands-on learning experiences. The program came about with support from the Raintree Foundation established in 1993 by Harold R.Frank. The Frank Innovation Zone provides a centrally located, multidisciplinary, collaborative space and tools where students can translate their ideas into working designs, build class projects, or pursue club activities.

WSU is also working to initiate a minor in entrepreneurship that removes the prerequisites and allows a broader range of students to be included.

WSU also has several other entrepreneurship efforts, including the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. Operated cooperatively between WSU’s Carson College of Business and the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture since 2004, the institute, which has seen more than 100 graduates, allows students to pursue an entrepreneurship-focused curriculum. During their junior year, students take a 3-credit class in technology ventures and participate in a summer internship. They also participate in an intensive immersion learning program in Silicon Valley in which they are able to meet with many successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and start-ups. Their year-long senior capstone design class then culminates with entry into WSU’s Business Plan Competition.

The Carson College of Business also directs the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES), which promotes entrepreneurial learning, innovative skill building, and venture creation. CES faculty members administer many of the entrepreneurship courses within the Carson College of Business.

The new cohort of schools in the Pathways to Innovation Program 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 been developed by the first group of schools.

“Our first group of Pathways schools have 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.”

Leaders from each Pathways team met at Stanford University on January 14. A second meeting will bring together teams of faculty and administrators from each school in Phoenix, AZ, February 16-18, to analyze the opportunities at their schools and develop plans for transforming the undergraduate engineering experience.

Learn more about the Pathways to Innovation Program at

Howard Davis, director, Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute,

Tina Hilding, communications coordinator, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, (509) 335-5095,

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