Preparing our students at Wichita State University (WSU) for the challenges that await them in the real world is our job as educators. As technology continues to shape the future of work and create demand for new skills, we’ve had to adapt as a university and teach the type of content they’ll need to be successful in a constantly evolving workplace.
So, within our College of Engineering, we decided to do something big: We created a unique course to inspire new ways of thinking and learning among our students, which led to the development of the Koch Innovation Challenge.
When we launched the Koch Innovation Challenge in 2016, the concept was to combine students from different engineering disciplines and majors across campus into random teams and challenge them to solve a problem in the community. The goal of this program has always been to prepare students the moment they join WSU to become real-world-ready graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Now in its second year, the competition has grown from 80 students in 19 teams to 130 students in 29 teams. We’ve even added faculty to help teach additional sections of the course and mentor students to accommodate program growth. Today, our students not only apply an entrepreneurial approach to the innovation process, but they also gain experience with hand tools, woodworking, basic circuitry, sewing and textiles, and 3D printing by the time they complete the course.
As our dean Royce Bowden says, “This program will be key to providing an environment for students that ignites curiosity, instills a desire for knowledge, awakens a passion for their chosen profession and inspires an enthusiasm to think big that will carry over into their career.”
Because this is still relatively new territory for our university, we’ve also been learning along the way. Perhaps the biggest change since our first year is that we’ve implemented a general education course called Introduction to Technology and Innovation, providing more students from different disciplines with an opportunity to learn through experiencing the innovation process for themselves.
Any student across campus can take this course and receive general education credit towards their degree. This has helped attract more students from a range of different backgrounds to our program. In fact, every college across campus is now represented.
The addition of Koch Innovation Challenge student mentors has also helped create a culture of peer-to-peer learning. The winning team members from our first year’s competition recently mentored our most recent class of competitors, giving them a chance to share their lessons learned from going through the process. And our students benefitted from having older, experienced mentors walk them through the process and offer advice.
Five years from now, we’d like to see even wider representation from our student body in our Introduction to Technology and Innovation course and competing in the Koch Innovation Challenge. I believe this will set them up for success not only in their future courses, but after they’ve earned their degrees, while keeping the spirit of innovation alive and thriving across our university, and out in the world.
Samantha Corcoran is an engineering educator and Koch Innovation Challenge program lead at Wichita State University.