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TTU News

NSF-funded Pathways to Innovation encourages entrepreneurs in engineering 

Tennessee Tech University has gained momentum on its aggressive plans to link engineering education and entrepreneurship by being selected as one of 12 universities across the U.S. to take part in the new Pathways to Innovation program.

The Pathways program will lead TTU through a process to design and implement unique plans to use entrepreneurship and innovation to transform undergraduate engineering education. This program was created by the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, known as the Epicenter.

TTU boasts the largest number of undergraduate engineering majors in the state and produces 30 percent of engineering graduates in Tennessee. At Tennessee Tech, the Pathways team leaders are Stephen Canfield, mechanical engineering professor, and Vahid Motevalli, associate dean for Research and Innovation in TTU’s College of Engineering.

“We have to prepare students to create jobs, not just find jobs,” said TTU President Phil Oldham. “The mission of our College of Engineering to create Renaissance engineers capable of bold innovations and contributions to economic and societal prosperity is well aligned with Epicenter’s mission. Participating in the Pathways to Innovation program will ensure our success in developing a community of creative and innovative engineers and entrepreneurs in Tennessee.”

The Pathways to Innovation program will equip the selected universities in their critical role strengthening regional and global competitiveness through a two-year process. According to a recent report published by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the majority of job creation in our country during the last two decades has occurred in young, startup companies.

Tennessee Tech engineering students will benefit from a distinctive experience honing technical skills, their ability to develop innovative technologies that solve important problems, and an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set.  

“The PIP program will allow us to transform our engineering programs to address Tennessee workforce needs and to strengthen our entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem,” said TTU College of Engineering Dean Joseph J. Rencis. 

The inaugural cohort group includes Texas A&M University, Michigan Technological University, New Mexico State, University of Pittsburgh and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. The 12 universities selected for the first cohort of the Pathways program serve more than 25,000 undergraduate engineers in the United States.

“As the program launches, we're excited to see how each school borrows and adapts from the best models and practices in entrepreneurship and innovation education from around the country,” said Liz Nilsen, manager of the Pathways program for Epicenter and senior program officer at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.

TTU will be a part of a national network of engineering and entrepreneurship faculty, and membership in a peer network of schools with similar goals. Team leads Canfield and Motevalli and the TTU team, consisting of Professors Joe Biernacki, Mohan Rao and Holly Stretz, will be joining teams of four to five faculty and administrators from each school in late February in Phoenix to analyze the needs and opportunities at their schools and develop action plans for transforming the undergraduate engineering experience.