Leonhard Center receives grant to lead faculty development program


By Tessa M. Woodring

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education recently received a grant from the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) to develop a new workshop series for engineering faculty. The proposed series, titled, “Entrepreneurial Mindset for Innovative Teaching (EMIT),” will use the metaphor of “teaching as entrepreneurship” to encourage professional development for faculty members.

“This grant is a fantastic opportunity for the Leonhard Center to utilize our various expertise, including faculty development and entrepreneurship education, to further support College of Engineering faculty,” said Sarah Zappe, research professor and director of assessment and instructional support in the Leonhard Center. She is also the principal investigator (PI) for the EMIT project. “We are always trying to think of new and innovative ways to help faculty with their teaching. This grant allows us to think about teaching and bring this message in a unique way.”

Stephanie Cutler, assistant research professor and assessment and instructional support specialist in the Leonhard Center; and Thomas Litzinger, assistant dean for educational innovation and accreditation, professor of mechanical engineering, and executive director of the Leonhard Center; are co-PIs for the project, assisting in the development of the new workshop series.

The grant is part of KEEN’s Engineering Faculty Impact Collaborative (EFIC) project funded by The Kern Family Foundation and subcontracted with Arizona State University. The EFIC project aims to “build a community of practice among institutions and faculty that values impactful research, quality teaching, a collaborative mindset and personal development.” The EFIC call for project proposals stressed the importance of advancing faculty mentorship related to entrepreneurial mindset (EM), connecting to build and share professional development opportunities in support of faculty EM and growing the knowledge base of effective faculty mentorship related to EM.

According to Zappe, the Leonhard Center’s EMIT project aims to directly align with each of these themes by contributing the impact of the series as a whole to the knowledge of mentorship and faculty development, connecting faculty with the Leonhard Center and other faculty and instigating action by using the entrepreneur mindset to influence educational innovation.

“The EMIT project can potentially bring a new perspective to experienced teachers about how to approach their course,” Zappe said. “Using the tenets of entrepreneurship, we hope faculty will begin to think about their teaching in a new way that will help them to be more innovative in their courses.”

The EMIT project will consist of monthly college-wide workshops that will be open to all College of Engineering faculty members. In the workshops, topics of discussion will focus on the “teaching as entrepreneurship” metaphor concept. The first monthly workshop will take place on Feb. 13, 2020.

College of Engineering faculty members who are interested in a more hands-on, curriculum-based workshop can apply to become members of the EMIT Academy. The EMIT Academy will be a series of workshops that will specifically focus on applying entrepreneurship principles and processes to teaching innovation and evaluation. The first EMIT Academy will take place in early summer of 2020, with the application process starting in January 2020.

The third initiative, the EM Learning Community, is a series of discussions that will immediately follow the monthly college-wide workshops. These discussions are for EMIT Academy members only, allowing them the opportunity to collaborate on the topics discussed in the workshops in hopes of creating lateral mentorships within the group of academy members.

“We are taking a multi-pronged approach to bring this analogy of entrepreneurship and teaching to the college at different levels,” Cutler said. “We wanted to have some events that are open to everyone and to have an approach that will enable a smaller group of interested faculty members to dig deeper into the entrepreneurship concepts and develop specific plans for how they would bring these ideas into their classroom.”

By digging deeper into the concept of using entrepreneurship as a teaching mechanism, Zappe, Cutler and Litzinger hope to create a positive impact on engineering students as well.

“Ultimately, our students are our customers,” Zappe said. “We need to be effective teachers in order to meet students’ needs and to prepare them for their future careers. By using some of the strategies that entrepreneurs use, like customer discovery, we might better find out what our students need to be successful in our courses.”


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Megan Lakatos