This full paper describes a first-year engineering student design project that leverages algae as a system for building entrepreneurial mindset in students. In this project students represent engineers working for an algae biofuels company that is seeking to expand their operations globally. As such, each student team is assigned to a country within different geographic regions to explore the feasibility of this expansion. In their analysis, students must not only consider technical elements associated with algae growth and harvesting but must also examine how this type of operation would impact the local economy, government, environment, and society. The project consists of four phases where students learn about algae growth through experimentation and mathematical modeling with MATLAB, describe ethical implications associated with algae growth, develop a broader appreciation for the diverse types of applications within which algae may be used, and investigate the broader impacts that algae growth can have within a specific context.
This project leverages KEEN’s entrepreneurially minded learning (EML) framework which focuses on students developing curiosity about the project they are working on, having the ability to connect information from a variety of sources and disciplines to guide their analysis, and creating a final product that will provide value to the targeted customer population. In the algae project, students are encouraged to be curious about the benefits and drawbacks that are associated with this form of alternative energy. They are prompted to ask why algae biofuels may be beneficial for the region in question, what benefits they could provide to the region, what potential drawbacks may exist, and what conditions will be necessary to ensure success with their algae growth plans. Students then leveraged the information gained as part of their experiments and classwork to make connections to how this could impact their assigned country. For instance, students learned through the hands-on algae growth experiment what types of conditions are necessary to optimize algae growth. They combined this knowledge with the results from mathematical modeling using MATLAB to determine whether their assigned country has the resources necessary to grow algae at a large scale. Students then learned about the value this algae expansion could have in their country through an exploration of the global, societal, economical, environmental, and ethical impacts. The goal of the project is to help students think about creating value in society as engineers, which often involves more than solving problems. Rather, it involves learning how to discover, identify, and dig deeper into authentic problems in an experiential way.
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