Duke Engineering Joins KEEN Network

February 5, 2019

National network promotes 'entrepreneurial mindset' in engineering education

Duke Engineering students and Prof. Ann Saterbak working in the Duke Engineering Design Pod.

Duke Engineering first-year students work with Ann Saterbak, director of the First-Year Experience, in the Duke Engineering Design Pod.

Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering has become the newest member of KEEN, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network—a national partnership of engineering faculty focused on developing and promoting innovation in engineering education for the good of society.

KEEN is an expanding network of more than three dozen partner institutions across the United States with a shared vision of equipping engineering students with not only technical skills but an “entrepreneurial mindset.”

“At Duke Engineering, we encourage students to envision a better state, a better way, a better future—and then help them develop the confidence and skills to bring that vision to fruition,” said Ravi V. Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of Engineering. “That’s what the entrepreneurial mindset is all about, and it’s why we see Duke Engineering and KEEN as natural partners.”

"At Duke, we encourage students to envision a better future—and then help them develop the confidence and skills to bring that vision to fruition. That’s what the entrepreneurial mindset is all about."

Ravi V. Bellamkonda
Vinik Dean of Engineering

The mindset isn’t focused on founding companies—as KEEN defines it, the goal is fostering curiosity and creativity, and teaching engineers to “understand the bigger picture, recognize opportunities, evaluate markets, and learn from mistakes to create value for themselves and others.”

By providing a national platform for engineering faculty to share relevant best practices, course content modules and pedagogical innovations, the network seeks to prepare young engineers to make significant impacts in the world.

“We’re excited about Duke joining the national network of KEEN partners,” said Doug Melton, director of the Entrepreneurial Engineering Program at the Kern Family Foundation, which sponsors KEEN. “Through their co-creative work in KEEN, Duke is preparing the next generation of engineers, better than ever, to identify opportunities that create significant, positive, scalable impact.”

As part of the network, Duke will benefit from the knowledge of network partners and share  lessons learned from its own innovations.

Recently, for example, Duke Engineering has transformed its undergraduate curriculum, “flipping” the typical model. Students are immersed in hands-on design, data science, computing, research and entrepreneurship from the very beginning. Traditionally, engineering students took three or more semesters of mostly science and mathematics courses before studying engineering topics.

"Through their co-creative work in KEEN, Duke is preparing the next generation of engineers, better than ever, to identify opportunities that create significant, positive, scalable impact."

Doug Melton
Kern Family Foundation

In just one part of the experience, all Duke Engineering first-year students take a design course where they prototype their own solutions to authentic engineering problems.

The design challenges come from campus and community partners. One recent example is a cart fitted with shock absorbers that safely transports fragile texts within Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Experiencing firsthand how engineers can make a difference in the world sparks inspiration and excitement in new students, and more. Research suggests introducing design courses in the first year can enhance student self-efficacy—a confidence in one’s abilities. Self-efficacy can be crucial to a student staying with an engineering major in later years when the material becomes more complex and challenges mount.

“Our faculty has much to share, from our client-based first-year projects to our innovations in teaching computer programming,” said Ann Saterbak, director of Duke Engineering’s First-Year Experience and a nationally recognized leader in engineering education. “KEEN will also be an amazing resource to learn from our peers all across the country.”

Saterbak and fellow engineering faculty members Martin Brooke (ECE) and Mark Palmeri (BME) will co-lead the KEEN initiative at Duke. Next steps include introducing faculty to the array of KEEN resources and developing a plan to integrate the entrepreneurial mindset into student experiences across all four years of the engineering curriculum.