Incorporating the Entrepreneurial Mindset into a System Dynamics Course

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Conference Proceeding

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While entrepreneurial-minded learning (EML) techniques may be more easily incorporated into design-focused courses, methods of integrating it into non-design courses are sometimes less obvious. This work develops a framework to turn a course project into an EML opportunity in courses not traditionally design related, specifically system dynamics for the work herein. The effectiveness of this framework is evaluated in terms of how the project changes students’ opinions of the applicability of the entrepreneurial mindset in a non-design course, and improvements in students’ attitudes and self-awareness of the entrepreneurial mindset. This study is implemented in a system dynamics course for the entire cohort of junior mechanical engineering students at Ohio Northern University, a small, private, undergraduate institution. Traditionally, students would complete a project encompassing the simulation and analysis of an electromechanical system such as a conveyor system or hybrid-electric vehicle. This would allow students the ability to apply what they’ve learned throughout the course, and perhaps even perform a cost optimization. However, students were generally given all of the required information, and simply needed to learn how to solve the problem. The project was reworked for this study to include a more real-world customer who provides initially vague, incomplete, and sometimes incorrect information and design requirements. This project is used as a driver for incorporating EML into modeling- and analysis-based courses that lack a traditional design element. The ability of this project to do so is assessed by adapting well-established tools to measure students’ attitudes and self-awareness of the entrepreneurial mindset, as well as their opinions of the applicability of the entrepreneurial mindset in this course. Specifically, the following entrepreneurial-minded learning outcomes are evaluated: be able to formulate salient questions, identify unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value, identify the needs and motivations of various stakeholders, create solutions that meet customer needs, integrate non-monetary and monetary factors into a triple bottom line assessment, present technical information effectively, and produce effective written reports. This course project was first developed and implemented in Fall 2016, without a formal assessment, and included again in Fall of 2017, with ongoing formal assessment. A full study including pre- and post-project surveys is used to make the assessments described above. Anecdotally, the first implementation of this project was met with heavy resistance by the students because it was unlike the projects they were used to, and they were not “spoon fed” all the necessary information to solve the problem. Preliminary results, though, indicate that students begin to realize the importance of customer interaction, and fully examining the problem to make sure they are asking the right questions, leading to an increased understanding and awareness of the entrepreneurial mindset.