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UC Merced Chosen as Pioneer for Entrepreneurial Program

February 19, 2014

UC Merced was chosen as one of a dozen campuses across the nation to bring to life a new program designed to inculcate innovation and entrepreneurship in undergraduate engineering students.

The National Science Foundation supports the campuses’ participation in the new Pathways to Innovation program.

Pathways is part of Epicenter, managed by Stanford University and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance to empower engineering students.

“Engineering graduates have the greatest impact on their communities when they effectively blend the theories learned in the classroom, the practical experiences learned in the laboratory and in partnership with industry, and the ability to communicate complex technology to society as a whole,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Tom Peterson, who, along with School of Engineering Dean Daniel Hirleman, is leading the campus effort. “That philosophy is a hallmark of the UC Merced School of Engineering. Pathways to Innovation is a new and exciting way to help us meet that challenge.”

Pathways to Innovation will help faculty members incorporate entrepreneurship and innovation into a range of courses as well as strengthen co- and extra-curricular offerings. Teams of faculty members and administrators will take part in a two-year program to design and implement a customized plan for each institution.

During the process, participants develop models for integrating entrepreneurship into their curricula, build a national network of engineering and entrepreneurship faculty, and join a peer network of schools with similar goals.

 “I joined UC Merced three years ago for the unique opportunity to facilitate rapid change in a start-up university that had already embraced a unique symbiotic relationship with its regional economic setting,” wrote Hirleman in the application letter. “Both the academic and local communities understand that diversification and economic development via technology-enhanced new businesses are the primary hope.”

Hirleman focuses much of his creative effort on finding ways the school can interact with and enhance the developing economy of the San Joaquin Valley, from Engineering Service Learning courses to his new Water, Energy, Food Challenge, which is in development. 

“The chance to leverage the resources of Epicenter and work with faculty members from other universities who want to go further in changing the academic culture to embrace innovation and entrepreneurship is quite appealing,” Hirleman said.

According to a recent report published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the majority of job creation in our country during the last two decades has occurred in young, startup companies. The Pathways to Innovation program will help the participating universities equip students with critical skills to contribute to regional and global competitiveness.

While the United States remains the global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, there is constant competition from around the world to maintain that leadership. And as global competition continues to grow, institutions driving innovation must improve their ability to develop products and services with market relevance and economic value.

Individual students will also benefit from the program.

“Today’s engineering students need to graduate with more than just technical skills,” said Tom Byers, Director of Epicenter and Professor at Stanford University. “Engineers need the tools and attitudes to help them identify opportunities and bring their ideas to life.”

Besides UC Merced, the other schools chosen to participate in this first group are:

  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
  • Howard University
  • Michigan Technological University
  • New Mexico State University
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Together, they serve more than 25,000 undergraduate engineers in the U.S.

Leaders from each Pathways team met for the first time at Stanford University in January. A second meeting, in Phoenix, is set for Feb. 26-28, and will bring together teams of four to five faculty members and administrators from each school to analyze the needs and opportunities at their schools and begin developing their action plans.

“As the program launches, we're excited to see how each school borrows and adapts from the best models and practices in entrepreneurship and innovation education from around the country,” said Liz Nilsen, manager of the Pathways program for Epicenter, and senior program officer at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. “Ultimately, these changes will lead to students graduating with the key skills and experiences to help them solve the really difficult challenges facing our nation and the world.”