Redesigning Engineering

Fellows collaborate with faculty and administrators to redesign and create courses at their schools. This story is an excerpt from Designing for Change.

Kathryn Christopher found herself in a unique position at Grand Valley State University. She had completed a bachelor’s degree in product design and manufacturing engineering and was one year into her master’s degree when she was offered a full-time Visiting Faculty position. She received the offer for the position, which included teaching freshman engineering courses, two weeks before the semester started. 

“It took me less than a minute to say yes,” she said.

As a Fellow, one of the projects had Kathryn focused on was incorporating the design thinking process into freshmen engineering curriculum. She spent several years on this but was unable to change the curriculum, which she had come to realize was a slow and challenging process.

Now a faculty member, Kathryn finally found herself in a position to start making that change. In her first semester, she was scheduled to teach a freshman course that she felt would be a good fit for the design thinking process: a project-based course in which students would create a robot. The project was a good one for their level of knowledge, she said, but the class structure didn’t provide a design process to help them. 

“I wanted to help make them better teammates, students, and engineers by exposing them to a design process used in the real world in a context that was as close to a real-world design project as possible,” she said.

This also happened to be the year the course was up for review. Kathryn began discussing changes that she wanted to make. In contrast to her attempts as a student, Katheryn was surprised that the committee agreed to let her to design a new set of modules and lectures to incorporate a design process into the course. 

“I did so, and the changes and additions were incorporated the next semester,” she said. “By the next year, every single engineering student in GVSU’s engineering program would be exposed to the design thinking process in their first year as an engineering student.”

Since her first class redesign, Kathryn has been able to incorporate other student-generated projects into the curriculum, which she said the students have enjoyed. 

She has found that, through this work, students are being exposed to different parts of engineering sooner, and that they are gaining independent critical thinking and problem solving skills sooner than they previously would have.

“The design thinking process shows engineering students that being an engineer is much more than simply doing CAD, crunching numbers, or sitting alone and coding,” she said. “It is about collaboration, problem solving, learning and growing, and figuring out what to do next. Students don’t often understand that empathy, compassion and relating to humans are such important parts of engineering design, and as they discover this, it helps show them that there are many more aspects to engineering and design than the perceptions people have.”

Opening Minds

Quite a few Fellows have found or created positions to do their innovation work in their university. This story is an excerpt from Designing for Change.

When La Salle Fellow Onesimus Morrison was a sophomore, he attended a seminar on innovation and entrepreneurship taught by Professor Steve Melick, director of the La Salle Center for Entrepreneurship. 

The idea of entrepreneurship attracted Onesimus immediately. He connected with Professor Melick and worked with him on a student-run thrift store program. 

At the end of Onesimus’s sophomore year, Professor Melick asked him if he wanted to work part time on a project. He wanted a student’s input on something that would help students learn creativity and innovation.  

That project became La Salle’s first Open Minds Challenge, held in February 2015 and focused on promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and sustainable solutions. When he graduated in Spring 2016, Onesimus became a full-time program coordinator for the Center for Entrepreneurship.

In addition to co-organizing what is now the annual Open Minds competition, Onesimus also manages a team of La Salle students from different majors. These students help local companies with marketing, branding, finance and other business-related topics. 

This, Onesimus says, is beneficial to both parties; the work allows the students understand how start and run a business. 

Onesimus said that his position as a recent student helps him considerably in his work. “When you can see things from a younger generations’ viewpoint, it’s easier to have the right type of empathy or understanding of students’ needs,” he said. 

Another vital part of Onesimus’s job is designing new ways to benefit students, and seeing new opportunities for impact. As a Fellow, Onesimus worked with other La Salle Fellows including RJ Lualhati and Kenneth Brewer to turn an underutilized space in the basement of the library into a makerspace called the Innovation Factory.

“A lot of students think that innovation and entrepreneurship are these big scary business terms,” he said.

“It’s really important, and enlightening to me, that you can apply those terms to anything. I enjoy showing students that you can take whatever you’re passionate about, and turn it into something that will benefit you and others.”

Connecting Students and Companies

Fellows often use start-ups as a way to involve other students in innovation and entrepreneurship. This story is an excerpt from Designing for Change.

When Fellow David Shull arrived at Michigan Tech in 2010 as a computer software engineering major, he dreamed of working for Apple. However, he discovered that his school’s connection to Apple was slim.

During his time in school, David connected with fellow student Garrett Lord. In 2014, Garrett offered him an opportunity to be the first employee at a startup he and other Michigan Tech students had founded called Handshake. 

This career network and recruiting platform connects universities, students, alumni and companies. The founders created Handshake to address their shared frustrations as students when they tried to find meaningful career opportunities at a remote campus.

“Garrett told me I could go work with a big company in Silicon Valley, or I could join Handshake and level the playing field for students so that everyone had a fair shot at their dream job, regardless of their socioeconomic background or where they happened to go to school,” David said. He took the job, and leads the company’s university growth efforts.

David also brought another Michigan Tech Fellow to Handshake. Brad Turner worked with David on UIF projects while in school, and he is now a leader on the company’s student product team.

Today, David said Apple and thousands of other companies are connecting with Michigan Tech and with the hundreds of universities using Handshake: “We’ve completely changed how college recruiting works at these campuses.”

Collegiate Entrepreneurship – Learning through sharing and collaboration



by Brandon Nolte
University Innovation Fellow at SIU Carbondale
Originally posted on his Linkedin


I’ve been wanting to write this article since I presented at the University Economic Development Associations Annual Summit with 4 other University Innovation Fellows.  This trip was one of the most eye-opening experiences since I decided to join the Fellows program and became dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation. Recently I attended the Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization National Conference where I gained some amazing connections and learned from inspiring speakers.  From both the students and the speakers, I gained new insight into this discussion of Collegiate Entrepreneurship.

Why Entrepreneurship?

Every time I meet new entrepreneurs, I always ask them, why entrepreneurship?  Do you know why I ask them?  Because almost every time, they will tell you story about how they were introduced into entrepreneurship and how they are inspired to work harder.  It inspires me every time I hear a new story about why they want to create change, be innovative, and be forward-thinking.

What does entrepreneurship mean thou?  Everyone has their own definition. My definition does not define entrepreneurship as someone who owns a business, but someone who creates a solution to a problem in a different way than their competitors.  Entrepreneurship is a mindset and isn’t defined by a single individual but by how well a team chooses to diversify its skill sets.

Sharing and Collaboration is Entrepreneurship

When you think about what entrepreneurship is in my definition, it speaks in two different areas focused on skills.  You have the sharing of skills and you have the collaboration of skills.  Both of these complement each other in several areas but what is important is that they are different and once they come together, that is when great things happen!


When you are launching your next startup or looking at developing that idea from the dorm, you should be looking at how someone can share their expertise with you.  If you are an engineer and can build a product, most of the time I bet you have not a clue on who is going to buy it.  If you are a businessman and you understand how to sell a product, find your target audience, and generate revenue, most of the time your ability to develop a product is going to be below par.

What is important is to note that each individual brings a different expertise to the team, and each person will boost the odds of having a successful entrepreneurial team.


Sharing is only successful if those resources can collaborate on a productive level.  There are a lot of factors for if a team will work well.   I framed in the beginning the skill sets of an engineer and a businessman.  These individual must have the same vision for the company, they might have different skill sets but both individuals are required for the companies success.  They must be driven and they must know how to be leaders when leadership is required and know how to be followers when needed.

How does this tie into Collegiate Entrepreneurship?

Collegiate entrepreneurship is on the rise all across the United States. Never before have universities been more pressured to giving attention to this discipline than ever before.

Entrepreneurship creates solutions to problems in a unique perspective through creative design, their mindset and their teams diversity.

We students have started a movement and there are a lot of parts to this forward-thinking movement. Students who have an entrepreneurial mindset are actively and publicly challenging their schools’ current teaching methodologies in teaching.  As education shifts, so does students’ preferences on how they want to gain experience and learn entrepreneurship.  If you ask student entrepreneurs, they will tell you that they would much rather work on their business than attend class, and here is why.

The experience a student obtains through experiential learning and learning through failures can be much more influential than any classroom setting.  When universities teach entrepreneurship, it should be taught around principles that show sharing of resources and collaboration of disciplines. By building a teaching curriculum around the foundation of start-ups, you create a center for students to live and act entrepreneurial every time they step in the door.

As any university begins to establish or evaluate its entrepreneurship program, remember to create an environment that is designed for students and if possible by the students themselves.  When students come together to create a shared collaborative space, they will feel home.

To all you student entrepreneurs, remember you matter!  You are designing your future, don’t be held back, what makes your an entrepreneur is your ability to overcome any obstacle and learn from your failures.