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Breeding engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset

FILE PHOTO/KEN WHITE/ZOVKO PHOTOGRAPHIC LLC At Lafayette College’s Acopian Engineering Center, student Ralph Blumberg smooths portions of the frame as he and other students work on a race car as part of a competition by SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Ask engineers what they do and they probably wouldn’t say, “We help people.”

Ask engineers what they do and they probably wouldn’t say, “We help people.”

But that’s exactly the spirit of the new breed of engineer that will come out of Lafayette College. It’s thanks to a $222,500 grant from the Kern Family Foundation that will help embed an entrepreneurial way of thinking in students who go through Lafayette’s engineering program. The school is now part of the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network, a collaborative of colleges and professors dedicated to cultivating the core principles of the entrepreneurial mindset in their students.

“In the past, if you had an engineering degree you could pretty much write your ticket to financial success for a lifetime, but the 21st century requires more,” said Scott Hummel, Jeffers Director of Lafayette’s Engineering Division. Hummel noted global competition and that the classes taught in Easton, Pa., are the same ones being taught in Beijing and Mumbai.

Another phenomenon that has altered the playing field is the availability of massive online open courses, which offer free, unlimited access on the Web to technical information.

Hummel cited the example of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology circuit class that was offered for free online and 250,000 people registered. Even with the 50 percent dropout rate, participation was at 125,000.

“[The information] has become so readily available that students need to get better at what they’re doing,” he said. Simply adding more STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] is not educating the next leader. “You can’t out-teach somebody.”

The Kern grant will enable Lafayette faculty to introduce engineering students to the knowledge, perspectives, skills, values and mental agility that contribute to an entrepreneurial mindset fueled by innovation, creativity and a burning desire to bring value to people’s lives.

“Engineering is about people,” Hummel said, “the pursuit of making the world a better place and helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives.

“When we’re at our best, that’s what we’re doing. And that’s what we need to teach our students.”

Hummel said he also believes that this message of contributing to the world may attract and keep a lot more people in STEM — particularly women and minorities.

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