Years ago, Renjeng Su, dean of PSU's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, realized that American engineering programs would have to innovate and evolve to stay ahead of overseas competitors.
Today, the fundamentals of an engineering degree can be exported as easily as a textbook, and to a growing and eager audience. With a combined population of 2.5 billion (eight times that of the U.S.), China and India can compete on volume—and increasingly on quality—of students.
Universities should look to what distinguishes American culture—freedom, collaboration, creativity, and entrepreneurship—for the building blocks of innovation.
That, says Dean Su, is the underlying motivation of the new Innovation Program at the Maseeh College: to infuse engineering and computer science curricula with a culture of ingenuity.
In January 2011, 41 teams responded to the Innovation Program's initial request for proposals incorporating an idea into a hands-on project.
Of those, 24 were invited to a "pitch session" with College faculty and the dean. Teams were given five minutes to present, and another five minutes to respond to questions from the panel.
Ideas ranged from building a better bike pump to improving a rocket design. Several addressed ways to improve implementation of existing technologies or to solve pressing societal concerns.
Ultimately, nearly two dozen proposals received the go-ahead—and $1,000 in funding. Teams will work to build out their projects over the course of winter, spring and summer terms 2011.
In addition to cash, students get space to work (facilitating the open exchange of ideas), and additional access to faculty members. Students are also connected to industry mentors.
Support for the Innovation Project has come from Hoffman Construction, Hank Schuette, Tektronix, TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc., Jeannine Cowles and more than 150 alums and friends of the Maseeh College who contributed during the annual fund campaign. To date, $85,000 has been raised, with an eventual annual goal of $250,000 to fund future projects and build infrastructure for the program.