Lead Institution: Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI
Category: Capstone, Course/Curricular
Date Implemented: September 2000
Program Description: The multidisciplinary Enterprise Program resulted directly from industrial assessment of engineering degree programs across the nation and our belief that all students should have the opportunity to graduate with the confidence, skills, and abilities to start their own company and that topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, communications, ethics, innovation, and globalization should not be limited to a few courses but integrated throughout the curriculum. Second through senior year students from engineering and non-engineering disciplines participate in teams of 15 to 70 or more that operate like real companies. Team members define problems, develop and design solutions, perform testing and analyses, make recommendations, manufacture parts, stay within budgets and schedules, and manage multiple projects. As students advance through the program, they assume increasing levels of responsibility ranging from project leader to President and CEO of an entire Enterprise team. Real-time interaction with faculty advisors, industrial clients, and peers provides the students with valuable, immediate, and first-hand feedback about the effectiveness of their leadership skills. Enterprise teams are perpetual, and student experiences are long term, typically 2-3 years, with each student having the opportunity to participate in multiple projects. Enterprise has a Governing Board with representatives from five colleges whose charter is to set policy and direction for the program. Several departments have defined a concentration path for each of their majors which allowed for students to fulfill their capstone requirement through participation, and an interdisciplinary Enterprise Minor was created to further facilitate participation across all majors. The primary objectives are to: create an environment for students to facilitate the transition from their undergraduate program to the professional work force, provide opportunities for students and faculty to develop leadership and entrepreneurial skills in a learning setting that closely resembles an industrial or professional environment, give the students ownership of a portion of their academic program that connects strongly to career goals, develop the skills and desire for life-long learning, give the students a taste of the rewards and accountability associated with creating new products and working with paying clients, and utilize the students’ fundamental background in science and engineering in the context of a problem when non-technical issues, such as cost or societal impacts, are of equal importance.
Anticipated and Actual Outcomes: Anticipated outcomes included increased retention in the major, improved communication and teamwork skills, participation on projects that facilitate exposure to ABET criteria (a) through (k), as well as increased leadership and entrepreneurship development opportunities. Enterprise has yielded measurable impacts on retention and graduation, with 3-year retention rates of 93-100% for Enterprise students versus 65-85% for non-Enterprise students. Graduation rates are similarly improved. The program has successfully completed two ABET reviews with a documented assessment system incorporating peer-to-peer, faculty advisor and project sponsor feedback on students’ teamwork, communication and design skills.
Assessment Information: The program undergoes a rigorous annual assessment of graduating seniors’ teamwork, communication, and design skills utilizing feedback from peers and faculty advisors. In addition, each completed project is assessed by the external project sponsor who provides feedback on the team’s skills. In 2008, Michigan Tech received an NSF IEECI award to assess the impact of Enterprise advising, teaching and mentoring on student outcomes. Results suggest significant positive differences between senior-standing Enterprise students and Senior Design students in terms of the perceived value of the faculty advisor/mentor on a student’s career skills, entrepreneurial intentions, time management, and communication ability, and that these differences are attributable to the Enterprise program and the advising students receive. This may be due to the length of time that students participate in Enterprise with a longer and perhaps stronger relationship with the Enterprise advisor. The results also indicate that Enterprise students perceive they have developed stronger teamwork, leadership, communication, innovation, business, and cross-disciplinary skills than their non-Enterprise counterparts. These results may have important implications for the value of long-term, regular, and more focused faculty advising/mentoring, especially in project-based learning, but with potential applicability for all students.
Funding/Sustainability: Since implementation, Enterprise has relied on over 100 industry, community and government partners for financial, project and mentoring support. An initial NSF grant of $750,000 was matched with financial and in-kind support from industry partners as well as from Michigan Tech and additional NSF funding has supported development and implementation of a High School Enterprise Program. The program has been self-sustaining since its second year of operation, with a target funding level for each team of $20,000 to $40,000, depending on the scope of the various projects in a given year. Of this, 30% goes toward the administrative expenses of the overall Enterprise program; 10% goes to the faculty advisors for their own professional development; and the remaining 60% goes directly to the Enterprise team for project expenses. Teams may be funded by one or more sponsors each year, depending on the nature of the team project or the number of projects taken on by a team. Enterprise has over 40 industry sponsors each year, many of whom support teams for multiple years and now contribute over $700,000 each year to sustain and expand the program.