LTU expands entrepreneurial education for engineers

Release Date: December 1, 2014
Thomas DeAgostino

                 Thomas DeAgostino

The College of Engineering is taking its entrepreneurial education program for engineers to the next level with the opening of the Entrepreneurial Engineering Design Studio and the introduction of a new curricular experience that will eventually cover all four undergraduate years.

As the director of the new studio, Thomas DeAgostino will play a key role in both. With 25 years of experience as an engineer at both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, he brings extensive experience in both engineering and business.

Both new initiatives are funded through LTU’s three-year $697,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation to support further expansion of entrepreneurial-minded learning. The foundation has been supporting educational programming at LTU since 2002.

“We believe that this phase of support will result in a comprehensive entrepreneurial education experience for our engineering undergraduates,” LTU Provost Maria Vaz said.

This semester DeAgostino is teaching two sections of Fundamentals of Engineering Design Projects, the first studio course in the College of Engineering. A pilot project will help develop a similar academic experience for sophomores in time for the 2016-17 academic year.

Two new engineering studios for freshmen and sophomores will be part of the Taubman Complex, which is scheduled to open in time for the 2016-17 academic year.

A junior-year, discipline-specific entrepreneurial experience – which already exists in some departments and programs – will be developed for the different engineering disciplines as a bridge to senior projects. “The plan is to develop entrepreneurial experiences for all four years,” DeAgostino said.

These entrepreneurial experiences will help undergraduates develop the skills that companies are looking for – good interpersonal and professional skills, as well as the ability to communicate ideas, understand what the customer wants, and create value, according to DeAgostino.

“We have an obligation to deliver to all our engineering students the skill sets that they will need to be successful,” DeAgostino said.

The Entrepreneurial Engineering Design Studio has been established to serve as an incubator where students, faculty, community members, and corporate partners can develop new products and manufacturing processes. DeAgostino envisions a studio with equipment that will give students the opportunity to try out new ideas outside of the classroom.

The Entrepreneurial Engineering Design Studio will be a conduit for faculty-led research projects with corporate partners that can also provide research experience to students.

DeAgostino foresees opportunities developing with small and medium-sized companies that don’t have their own research and development departments. “We need to reach out to industry and figure out their needs,” he said. “We want to match our strengths with what’s needed. You have to listen to your customers.”

DeAgostino was recently the founder and director of Innovation One, a technology and business incubator that opened in 2012 at Trine University in Angola, Indiana. He wrote or collaborated on grants totaling $1.55 million and developed around 40 research projects for customers.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1984 and a master’s degree in engineering science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1995. He has been teaching at the college level since leaving General Motors in 2009.

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