Grand Challenge

Faculty Grant Spotlight: Renaissance Foundry Research Group & VentureWell Awarded Grant

VentureWell graphicCongratulations to the Renaissance Foundry Research Group (RFRG) for receiving a VentureWell faculty grant “BioFoundry Design: Leveraging Biomimicry to Advance Environmental and Social Sustainability Innovation in Prototypes Developed in Foundry-Guided Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Courses” (Dr. P. Arce, PI with Co-PIs: Drs. A. Arce-Trigatti, S. Jorgensen, and J.R. Sanders). The grant is a wonderful opportunity for the RFRG to continue with the implementation and assessment, across the Chemical Engineering Curriculum, of the Renaissance Foundry Model (RFM), which focuses on the development of the “holistic-style” engineering professional (Arce et al., 2015) in addition to positively impacting our surrounding rural environments. On the development of holistic-style engineers, Dr. Arce shares that “the traditional style of engineers focused on implementing or ‘conducting’ projects, usually identified by others, is no longer enough to address societal challenges. What we need, in addition, is a professional with robust critical thinking skills and an entrepreneur mindset to identify societal challenges (role of ‘composer’) and be able to connect this with new prototypes of innovative technology” (Arce, 2009). Dr. Sanders affirms that this philosophy is aligned with that of a T-shaped engineer considered to be one who possesses both deep technical content knowledge as well as skills that cut across disciplines such as the ability to work across disciplines, to be creative, to be both excellent problem finders and problem solvers, and to be entrepreneurial.  

The integration of biomimicry represents an expansion of the normal course-related efforts that for the last several years have leveraged the successful implementation of the RFM. Using this platform, a course sequence redesign was recently completed wherein experiences in three fundamental courses (heat transfer, fluid mechanics, and transport phenomena in biosystems) have been enhanced through the introduction of immersion experiences that serve to help student teams better identify societal challenges that form the basis for the design and development of prototypes of innovative technology (Jorgensen et al., 2019). In teaching these courses, Dr. Jorgensen shares that, “The course redesign sequence focuses on implementing immersion activities into the classroom and has shown that students can engage in a more relatable way than in a typical lecture-based classroom. Specifically, students are more able to develop lasting connections to course elements through rich experiences that engage them in innovation-driven learning strategies.”  

As part of the VentureWell faculty grant, students will have the chance to adopt and adapt elements of Biomimicry to develop prototypes of innovative technology that are friendlier to the environment and with technology more benign and sustainable which mimics nature. Dr. Arce-Trigatti indicates, “Biomimicry is a wonderful concept for intentional human-centered design that is reflective of our environment and respectful of the resources and processes that shape the planet which we inhabit. We are thrilled to introduce biomimicry as an essential design element to our students as they continue to develop prototypes of innovative technology as part of their academic experiences in chemical engineering.”  

Members of the team will participate in a week-long Infusing Sustainability into Curricula workshop and interact with other grantees as part of the communities of practice to enhance or maximize the impact of the program activities. One of the features of this faculty grant is the creation of entrepreneurial teams (E-teams), which involves mentoring and interactions with people from various disciplines to continue to advance their prototypes of innovative technology beyond the course. A previous VentureWell faculty grant recipient, Dr. Sanders says, “It is exciting to see student-centered innovations being initiated in a course and further developed through continued mentoring that occurs in E-teams.” Such efforts are expected to lead to the development of prototypes that are showcased at Eagle Works or other platforms that have emphasis in rural economic systems. We envision the integrative role of the “Rural Reimagined Initiative” from Tech to help catalyze student projects that align well with both institute and university missions and that offer students a unique immersion opportunity to tackle real-world-problems of an immediate social impact.  

VentureWell indicated that the proposal went through a very rigorous and extremely competitive process; being selected demonstrates that the proposal addressed all key points of the solicitation. Dr. Arce stated that, “this is a wonderful recognition for the collaborative RFRG efforts in implementing, assessing, and scaling the RFM as an effective platform to develop holistic-style engineers. We are excited to continue these efforts and thank VentureWell for the opportunity to grow a direction that will emphasize environmental and social sustainability efforts”.   

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