Engineering Joins Prestigious Network


©WFU/Ken Bennett

Wake Forest students in Engineering 111 hold a Project Expo to display their work during the semester, including chairs made from cardboard, at Wake Downtown, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Garrett Odell (’21) talks about his project with Richard Eskridge from Duke Energy.

Jonathon Trattner

Within its first academic year, Wake Forest’s newly established Department of  Engineering reached an exciting and unprecedented achievement: an invitation to join the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). KEEN is a national partnership of 37 universities whose shared goal is graduating engineers with entrepreneurial mindsets so they can create personal, economic and societal value through a lifetime of meaningful work.

“The entrepreneurial mindset KEEN inspires aligns with our curricular emphasis on allowing students to create customized pathways that align with personal and professional interests,” President Nathan O. Hatch said to Wake Forest News.

As part of a liberal arts school, Wake Forest’s engineering program draws from a variety of disciplines, including the arts, humanities and social sciences, into the engineering practice.

“I think it’s great that Wake [Forest]’s program is really taking advantage of the whole liberal arts approach,” said sophomore Meredith Vaughn, one of the 52 students in the inaugural cohort.

Wake Forest’s Department of Engineering distinguishes itself from other top schools with several hands-on projects designed to encourage students to collaborate, interact with professionals throughout Winston-Salem and gain exposure to new fields.

Vaughn described one project that encouraged the students to explore their environment and to interact with their peers from different disciplines.

“[For one project], we had to program various sensors to monitor some aspect of the environment around Wake Downtown and present that information to local stakeholders,” Vaughn said. “We [also] had to design a poster and had art and marketing students come in and help us.”

The interactive projects are just one of many aspects engineering students look forward to.

“I am most excited about the several projects that the curriculum has in store for me … and the relationships that I will form with my professors and classmates,” said Ethan Harrison, a first-year engineering student.

Fellow first-year Zachary Goodie described his first few days in the program as unique and engaging. From entrepreneurship to neuroscience, Goodie — like many students in the Engineering Department — thrives on Wake Forest’s liberal arts educational offerings.

“I chose Wake Forest Engineering because it was one of the only programs that was flexible,” Goodie said. “It allows me to travel abroad and explore my other academic interests.”

Given the KEEN membership, Greg Pool, a professor in the Center for Entrepreneurship, said, “Our hope is that the marrying of the entrepreneurial mindset with the focused skills learned in engineering will make for an incredibly rich experience while in school, and [result in] a talented, value-creating pool of graduates that will be highly desired by employers.”

The entrepreneurial mindset Pool refers to is not simply about creating a startup. It’s about enabling students to understand the bigger picture, allowing them to recognize opportunities, evaluate markets and learn from their mistakes.

Launching soon, WakerSpace, an on-campus maker space, will promote this mindset.

“[It will provide students] the tools and resources to take ideas and bring them to life, as a prototype or sometimes even as [a] final product,” said Paul Whitener, a member of the organizing committee. “It will be a space that encourages growth through trial and error and experimentation…a place where one can collaborate, mentor and grow through hands-on experimental learning.”

Open to faculty, staff and students, this initiative will empower students such as Vaughn, Harrison and Goodie, to translate their classroom knowledge to practical application.

“Engineering is essentially the creation of new or improved ideas and implementing them comes with entrepreneurial skills,” said sophomore Regan O’Donell, a student in the Department of Engineering’s inaugural cohort.

Many entrepreneurship minors are excited about the opportunities they’ll have with WakerSpace and the KEEN membership and they are looking forward to combining engineering and entrepreneurial skills.

It’s clear that — especially with the KEEN affiliation — the future looks bright for the students in Wake Forest’s Department of Engineering. With their liberal arts and entrepreneurial background, students can look forward to possibly joining the ranks of esteemed entrepreneurial engineers such as Henry Ford and Elon Musk.