WCU Stories January 12, 2022
By Geoff Cantrell
A program to foster the development of future technology entrepreneurs, housed in the School of Engineering and Technology at Western Carolina University, has gained monumental support through an almost $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Over the next six academic years, WCU will use the money for scholarships to recruit 30 students for instruction and support in an educational combination of traditional engineering skills and innovative entrepreneurial and business acumen.
The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency promoting science for advancement of health, prosperity and welfare through research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.
“We are calling our program ‘Fostering Leaders in Technology Entrepreneurship’ to reflect both the nature of instruction and the overall goals,” said Paul Yanik, an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Technology, which houses the School of Engineering and Technology. “Students will work in teams as they vet ideas, develop prototypes and produce original technology innovations. The program will provide intensive mentoring by peers, program faculty, university career placement and other resources, as well as industry experts.”
As an interdisciplinary program, the students will use the advanced prototyping capabilities of WCU’s Rapid Center, a university-based high-tech facility that partners with regional industry and businesses to develop new products and processes. Students will be able to take advantage of the industrial experience of WCU faculty, who will serve as program mentors.
“As students grow in their traditional engineering knowledge and skills base, they will also cultivate habits of creativity outside that field,” said Chip Ferguson, interim dean and a professor in the College of Engineering and Technology. “They will build entrepreneurial self-efficacy and business acumen through curriculum-integrated projects of their own conception, engage in a process of constructive criticism and refinement that weeds out less viable ideas, while advancing promising ones.”
As the westernmost public university in North Carolina, WCU provides leadership and partnership opportunities for a largely rural mountain community. A program such as this is expected to enhance regional economic development through the creation of engineered products and technology-based employment opportunities, a generation of a qualified technical workforce, and encouragement of venture capital needed to foster the growth of local industry. It also actively seeks to involve underrepresented groups, expanding their involvement in the engineering field.
For more information on WCU’s School of Engineering and Technology, call 828-227-2775.
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