Innovation 101

Jun 18, 2012

At Kettering University, innovation is so much a part of the culture it is part of the curriculum from freshman year to the senior design capstone project.

When it comes to the Business of Innovation, Kettering University is aimed at redefining the paradigm of incorporating entrepreneurship into higher education.

Dr. Doug MeltonFrom beginning to end, Kettering students are encouraged to explore and reshape their notion of Innovation in a multitude of ways, said Dr. Doug Melton, Program Director for Kettering’s Entrepreneurship Across the University (EAU) Initiative and an associate professor of Electrical Engineering.

“The University is passionate about changing the institution on this topic,” Dr. Melton said of Kettering.  “There are many ways to accomplish it and the list just keeps getting longer and longer.”

(Melton will leave Kettering to join KEEN as Program Director July 1. KEEN (Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network) is a program of the Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation focused on instilling the entrepreneurial mindset in 100 percent of their engineering students.)

Two of the newest innovations are additions to the curriculum:  Innovation 101 and a new entrepreneurially minded option for the Kettering Senior Thesis.  The thesis project is made possible through a Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) program grant of the Kern Family Foundation.

Dr. Melton said Innovation 101 is designed to frame the student’s academic career in terms of solving important engineering and societal problems.  “I believe this piece of the EAU Initiative will have the largest impact of anything we do,” he said.

Innovation 101 is a course for the Freshman-2 term that compliments Freshman-1 Orientation and features a problem-based approach to science and engineering needs. The course has an emphasis on significant engineering challenges with business and commercialization opportunities, including co-curricular activities outside the classroom. To be successful, the scope of the Innovation 101 course requires coordination across all nine academic departments at Kettering, Dr. Melton said.

The pilot course that began Jan. 9, 2012, is implemented by a multi-disciplinary team appointed by the Provost that includes a Kettering corporate partner. The focus of the engineering challenge for the first course is “Economical Solar Energy,” and the corporate partner is United Solar.
The course gives students the necessary skills to analyze, develop and install solar systems for homes and small businesses. Through experiential learning exercises they will learn to use a systematic approach to designing, installing and testing energy systems, in addition to gaining practical understanding of developing a business model, commercializing a product or service and the challenges faced by green technology companies.

Students prepare to race their solar cars.As a complement to the Innovation 101 course, Dr. Melton coordinates weekly “Innovation Thursdays” events that pit teams of two to three students against one another in a 30-minute engineering challenge.  The fun, weekly noon-hour contest offers the winning team a $100 cash prize. Challenges involve applying an understanding of basic engineering principles and on-the-spot-teamwork to complete the task both well and on time.

The other new addition to the curriculum is the entrepreneurially minded Senior Thesis option, which continues to foster the entrepreneurial spirit in Kettering students through their final year by going beyond the traditional undergraduate thesis. Instead of a co-op employer-based thesis, students can choose to focus their thesis project on a business innovation project of their own.

At Kettering, seniors must complete a thesis project. Traditionally, this project utilizes their education to design and implement a project for their co-op employer. Upon completion of the project, the student submits a written report or thesis, which is evaluated by both the student’s employer adviser and the faculty adviser.

The entrepreneurially minded thesis is an alternative to an employer-based thesis. It will bring new experiences to each degree program and serve to encourage students with an interest in business innovation to develop their ideas into marketable products or start-up companies, Dr. Melton explained.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Minor
Kettering’s minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship gives students the skills and knowledge needed to start new business ventures and to create innovative new products and services in existing firms. The minor comes in response to a growing interest among students in technology focused universities to turn new technology into for-profit and non-profit enterprises. This minor also complements extracurricular activities on campus and the University's efforts to support new business creation in mid-Michigan.

The Business of Innovation at Kettering has gone far beyond the classroom over the past six years. What began as a project to engage students in a few classes in entrepreneurial thinking has grown to encompass the entire institution, including formal training for almost all of the University’s 125 faculty members and half of all staff members. Today, EAU is an evolving all-campus program that reinforces an entrepreneurial mindset across the Kettering community.

Other Business of Innovation approaches at Kettering include:

Kettering Entrepreneur Society
This mindset includes student groups and collaborations around the city, state and world. Student groups include the Kettering Entrepreneur Society (KES), an organization that offers its membership networking, mentoring and other opportunities that strengthen fledgling business plans or even new businesses.  Successful start-ups launched through KES, including PRIME LLC, AlfaJango and Youth for Tomorrow.

An auctioneer sells of the class projects to benefit Goodwill.Class projects
To help move innovation out of the classroom and into the community, Dr. Melton developed the “Audio Tourister” project for his Electrical Engineering Senior Design class. Students “re-purposed” vintage luggage by adding sound systems that are compatible with modern electronics including MP3 players, iPods and laptop computers.  The colorful “Audio Touristers” were then auctioned off, raising $1,600 for Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan in December.

Award-winning Innovation Center
Kettering’s Innovation Center is a 9,000-square-foot building that provides businesses with dedicated wet and/or dry laboratory capabilities in a business-incubator setting.  The $3.2 million project is the first building in Kettering’s Technology Park and is located in close proximity to the significant science and engineering assets at Kettering.  Its grand opening was hosted in August 2010.
The Innovation Center was designed by SHW Group and just won a Design Excellence Award from the American Institute of Architects, which praised its design by noting “the design team demonstrated restraint and achieved richness and interest …   lab spaces are well designed before fitting out as well as after—a good indication of thoughtfulness and through design execution.” 
Amenities in the public space include a business center, furnished executive and administrative offices, a conference room with high-tech audio/video systems, a café dining and seating area and a reception area.  Private spaces offer six state-of-the-art wet and dry research laboratories.  See videos on The Innovation Center at

The Kettering University Innovation Center.National differences
Kettering’s cutting-edge approach for teaching students how to become innovators received the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) national Best in Class Award in 2010.  Dr. Melton said the national recognition helps set Kettering’s Business of Innovation efforts apart from other institutions.

Other fresh ideas are generated through Kettering’s McDonald Professor of Entrepreneurship, currently held by Art DeMonte.  DeMonte often team teaches Business 372: Innovation and New Ventures to encourage his creative, pro-active students.  “It’s a key activity that complements our Entrepreneurship Across the University program, the Kettering Entrepreneurship Society, and the commercialization efforts of our TechWorks incubator and Innovation Center,” DeMonte added.

To read more on Kettering University, visit

Contact: Dawn Hibbard