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Calvin Gets $50k to Inspire Entrepreneurship
updated October 12, 2007

The Calvin College engineering department has landed a $50,000 Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) grant from the Kern Family Foundation to instill a sense of entrepreneurship in engineering students.

Brouwer"Entrepreneurship is about more than having an idea," said engineering professor Randall Brouwer, who wrote the KEEN grant proposal. "It's about knowing how to move that idea and make it work."

That's why the KEEN grant is not as much about making things, said Brouwer, as in making things known.

"I think Calvin students are sometimes very creative, and they know how to design a project that solves a puzzle," said Brouwer, "but they may not know how to begin to bring that idea to a wider audience. And sometimes you have to market something to get it out there."

The KEEN grant will allow Calvin engineering faculty to build the entrepreneurial idea into the current curriculum, both through modifying existing classes and devising new ones.

"Business Aspects for Engineers," a required course for engineering students in all concentrations, is one example of a course that would benefit from an injection of entrepreneurship, said Brouwer.

Engineering faculty are also pondering a new Interim that would teach principles of entrepreneurship to students to prepare them for the yearlong Senior Design Project course. That class, the capstone of the Calvin engineering program, culminates in a showcase of innovative senior projects from all concentrations.

Many of these senior projects, Brouwer said, could be useful to nonprofits and industries, but relatively few make it into production. One exception is the prototype of an amaranth popper from the May 2007 senior design open house, which was recently acquired by a foundation to be manufactured and distributed in developing countries. Another notable example is an automobile armrest created by three senior women engineers in 1997, which in 2000 won the college its first patent.

Through the KEEN grant, the engineering department will also sponsor seminars to bring speakers to campus who embody the entrepreneurial spirit -some of them Calvin alumni.

"We're hoping to bring in people who can talk about their personal experiences as entrepreneurs and encourage the students to follow in their footsteps," said Brouwer.

Some part of the KEEN grant will be used to sponsor the engineering department's business plan contest. The event, debuting this year, gives students with an idea to market the opportunity to submit business proposals for competition.

Another innovative idea that will be supported with KEEN funding is book club that draws together faculty and staff from across campus to read titles such as Good to Great, Leadership is an Art and Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

"A lot of what the KEEN grant is about is raising awareness of entrepreneurship, and we're hoping to raise awareness across this campus," said Brouwer.

The department is committed to teaching a well-rounded model of entrepreneurship, he added, one that includes both CEO-types and those who work at other tiers of an organization.

"You don't have to be starting your own company or inventing products to be an entrepreneur," said Brouwer. "An entrepreneur is a person who knows how to make the case and make things happen to make things better. An entrepreneur can work in a major corporation improving products created by others."

The engineering department also hopes to foster some collaboration with one or more of the other colleges in the KEEN network, a group that includes, among other schools, Bradley University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Detroit Mercy, Illinois Institute of Technology, Kettering University, Lawrence Technological University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Ohio Northern University and Valparaiso University.

Brouwer is enthusiastic about lighting the entrepreneurial flame in Calvin engineers.

"I hope that the student gain a sense of calling to take risks that will impact their communities," he said. "We want them to get the sense that their ideas are given to them so that they can make a difference in the world."

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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