College of Engineering to launch new undergraduate certificate in Engineering Entrepreneurship

Beginning this 2010 Fall semester, undergraduate students have the opportunity to study ventures engineering, thanks to the approval August 4 by the WSU Board of Governors of a certificate in Engineering Entrepreneurship.

The new program takes advantage of three course offerings in the WSU School of Business as well as two new Engineering courses, including a capstone design class, to help prepare students to start their own businesses or work for start-up companies, says Nancy Philippart, executive-in-residence of the College of Engineering’s Ventures Program.

Engineering students working toward a bachelor’s degree in any one of the college’s six departments – biomedical, chemical, electrical and computer, industrial systems, civil and environmental, and mechanical engineering – can earn a certificate in Engineering Entrepreneurship by taking an additional 5 classes (15 credits) required by the new program.

With an economy in transition, particularly in Michigan, traditional engineering career tracks are loosening and opening to greater and more diverse career opportunities. The new landscape gives students firmer control over their own destinies. Not so possible 15 years ago, today’s newly degreed engineering undergraduates prepared in engineering and business can be confident in pursuing careers in business where their passions lie.

Philippart said the new program is designed to help students understand the structure of a company and the differences between them. They will learn marketing fundamentals and the basic set of financial tools to run a company. In one course, “Entrepreneurial Management,” students will write their own business plan, and the final design course will require students to implement their business plans.

In the weeks leading up to its launch, Philippart, who is the former executive director of GM Accessories, a start-up operation within General Motors, was busy marketing the new program within the College of Engineering. She was holding focus group discussions with administrators and staff, including academic advisers, who she described as the “touchstone points” with students.

The introduction of entrepreneurialism into the engineering curriculum requires an understanding and a new mindset, Philippart explained. “The big challenge is to position it to students to demonstrate its real value. Do they really see entrepreneurship as a career path? Students should not be discouraged from pursuing their passion by either the home front and the educating institution.”

Philippart expects the majority of students entering the program to come from the freshman engineering class. At the same time, “While the program is aimed for undergraduates, there’s no reason why an engineering graduate student can’t do this as well,” she said.