Olin College and the Kern Family Foundation Form Partnership to Accelerate the Transformation of Undergraduate Engineering Education

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Partnership to spark movement to developdesign thinking and entrepreneurial mindset in engineering students

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Engineering education is at a tipping point.

Olin College of Engineering and the Kern Family Foundation today announced a partnership to transform and broaden undergraduate engineering education by emphasizing abilities and perspectives often overlooked in traditional curricula, particularly design thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset.

The initiative will be funded by a $6 million grant from the Foundation to expand the capacity of Olin’s Collaboratory—primarily by adding faculty—to support its transformational work with engineering and other educators, hundreds of whom have visited Olin over the last few years to pursue fundamental curricular change.

“The work that this grant supports will increase by three to four times the impact of our efforts to transform engineering education,” said Richard K. Miller, president of Olin College. “It will amplify our ability to catalyze broad and lasting change in the way engineers are taught—change that is vitally necessary if engineers are to grapple with the complex challenges we face in the world today.”

The work of the Collaboratory stems from Olin’s distinctive dual mission to advance curricular innovation on its own campus and support the transformation of engineering education more broadly. Spurred by widespread calls to reform engineering curricula, which are seen as out of step with today’s globalized and entrepreneurial economy, Olin has become a laboratory for trying out new ideas in undergraduate engineering education, with the Collaboratory as its outward-facing resource.

Olin’s educational experiments have made it a globally recognized leader in developing impactful engineering curricula. More than 1,500 educators from 540 institutions around the world have visited Olin in the last five years through the Collaboratory, attending workshops, seeking advice on curricular innovation and, in some cases, forging deeper institutional partnerships. This work is carried on primarily through faculty who engage directly with other educational institutions.

In addition, Olin College is a partner in KEEN, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, which is a network of 24 colleges and universities engaging in peer collaboration on pedagogical approaches and institutional culture to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in undergraduate engineering students. Through a decade of work together and investments by the Foundation, KEEN partners are having a significant impact on six percent of current engineering students in the U.S.

“Olin’s track record of curricular innovation and its mission to foster fundamental change at other institutions make it a unique and exciting partner for attaining our shared vision of graduating more engineers with a broader skill set and mindset,” said James Rahn, president of The Kern Family Foundation. “Through our work with KEEN, we continue to be inspired by faculty who recognize the magnitude of effort it takes to change pedagogies and curriculum in engineering. The partnership with Olin will be another channel to catalyze and grow relationships with faculty and universities across the country.”

Established in 1998 and based in Waukesha, Wis., The Kern Family Foundation’s goal is to empower the rising generation of Americans to lead flourishing lives. Central to this goal are the ideas of forming good character, educational achievement, the value of work and demonstrating an entrepreneurial mindset. The Foundation has initiated programs and Networks to foster systemic change toward this goal.

The Foundation, in collaboration with KEEN, defines entrepreneurial mindset as nurturing curiosity about our changing world, making connections to gain insight, and creating societal, economic and personal value. This aligns with Olin’s vision for changing the attitudes, behaviors and motivations of undergraduate engineering students to equip them to make a major impact in the world.

Under the partnership with the Foundation, Olin plans to add five faculty members, plus program development and support staff, without expanding its enrollment. This will support curricular innovation on campus and enable the Collaboratory to accelerate its co-creation activities with other institutions.

Olin will also explore the creation of a “network of networks,” convening strategic leadership in pursuit of accelerating national efforts to transform engineering education and graduate engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset.

“The grant couldn’t come at a better time for the future of engineering education,” said President Miller. “Engineering education is at a tipping point. More and more institutions are recognizing the need for fundamental change and are looking for models to transform teaching and learning on their campuses. We expect this grant will encourage others to join this movement, which is so important for our collective future.”

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