PROJECT-BASED LEARNING AS A MEANS TO STIMULATE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION
Today, both the industry and the government are stressing the need for entrepreneurial competence amongst graduated engineers. This paper presents a model with purpose to establish an environment for stimulating entrepreneurial knowledge and competence from the beginning of the study program.
In an engineering education, it is natural for many professors to focus more in the direction of creating the academically strong engineer, than creating the innovative developer and problem solver. Many projects are used more to exemplify and learn technology, than to stimulate the creative part of the developing process viewed from a marked perspective. By combining these elements, one can educate engineers better adapted to the fast changes taking place in society.
The engineering education at USN (University College of Southeast Norway), campus Porsgrunn, has been project-based for more than 30 years. To educate the entrepreneurial engineer, project pedagogy is utilized as a means to establish an innovative environment early in the study process.
Various actions are taken during the first semester to stimulate the students’ creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. One initiative is to ensure that the students are working on real-world projects where they have to consider the subjects from both a society and a technological perspective.
Another entrepreneurial element is an innovation camp arranged by an external partner. For two days, the established project teams are reorganized into new interdisciplinary teams. These teams work on real-world issues selected from a portfolio presented by the external partner. The innovation camp is organized as a competition where the teams have to present their ideas in a plenary session and a professional jury honor the best solutions.
Later in the study process, the students are offered an elective entrepreneurship course to further strengthen their innovative skills. In accordance with the project-based pedagogy, the students then establish student enterprises based on their own business ideas, with mission to develop, market and possibly sell technological services and/or products.
Finally, the students are given the opportunity to continue their student enterprises as part of their bachelor thesis work. Then they are professionalizing the enterprises further and have to participate in competitions both on local and national level.
As a result of the entrepreneurial initiative, 20-40 of the engineering students follow the entrepreneurial study track each year. Surveys confirm that these students are very pleased with the opportunities they are given. Many former students have told that employers have emphasized their student enterprise experience as decisive for employment. The student enterprises have achieved at a high level in national and international competitions. A valuable network of national and international partners has been established. During the last three years, five of the student enterprises have been reestablished as commercial enterprises after graduation.