Stanford’s National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) recently selected 12 universities as the inaugural cohort of the center’s Pathways to Innovation program.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by Stanford University and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), Epicenter aims to improve engineering and computer science education for undergraduates around the nation.
“We specifically developed this program called Pathways to help faculty at other schools succeed,” said Tom Byers, entrepreneurship professor in the School of Engineering and Epicenter director.
Through the Pathways program, Stanford will work with the partner schools to develop local cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship over the next two years. According to Byers, students encompassed by the program make up five percent of undergraduates specializing in computer science and engineering across the nation.
“Pathways is a startup itself,” Byers said. “We have 12 schools selected to be in the charter group or the initial cohort, and we had them here at Stanford in January as a preliminary meeting.”
Around the nation
At their first meeting in January, participating schools were briefed on the overall process and goals of the program and encouraged to identify their own resources and objectives. A second meeting late last month produced strategic plans and identified necessary steps for implementation.
Yash Risbud, managing director of the C. V. Starr Research Foundation and leader of the Pathways to Innovation team at Cooper Union, emphasized the insights offered into Stanford’s engineering environment and the role played by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school).
“I’ve certainly gotten to meet some fascinating folks on [Stanford’s] campus,” Risbud said. “I think the key part of the presentation for us is that [in the future] we should strive to really incorporate these pieces into the formal part of the undergraduate engineering education.”
The Pathways program’s inaugural class spans a variety of colleges in terms of locations, sizes and specialties. Partner institutions’ plans range from improving an existing program to creating new resources for students.
According to Ilya Avdeev, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UW-M), UW-M wants to increase students’ awareness of the resources available to them. In the long term, the university hopes to both create new elective classes and encourage engineering students to look at innovation-cultivating courses outside their department.
“Engineering students don’t necessarily have time in their busy curriculum to take some business courses or other types of courses that would help their ventures or their innovative processes,” Avdeev said. “We plan to look at these gaps and see how we can create space in the programs in engineering so that students have an opportunity to take these courses.”
Stanford as a model
Both Risbud and Avdeev emphasized Stanford’s role as a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation education.
“Stanford has been a model for a lot of educational champs in the country and in the world, so it’s only natural for Stanford to lead this effort,” Avdeev said. “We can see what motivated people in Stanford to do things a certain way, and if it’s aligned with our motivation, we can find a different way of doing it.”
Byers noted the potential for partner institutions to learn from each other as well, with Stanford helping the colleges to analyze their needs and areas for growth.
“The short term goal is to assist that school or college in developing a strategic plan–a road map for how to improve the offerings and opportunities regarding entrepreneurship and innovation education,” Byers said. “The long term is that the institution changes and in fact offers a similar amount [of entrepreneurship opportunities] that you see at leading schools.”
Next year, according to Byers, Epicenter hopes to start a second Pathways cohort with double the number of universities.
“This is exciting because it’s hard to effect change at universities,” Byers said. “We really want eventually the majority, if not every, college in America to offer the kinds of opportunities about entrepreneurship and innovation as we’ve grown accustomed to at Stanford.”
Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.