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OSU, VentureWell Build Flexible, Innovative Partnership for Creative, Sustainability-Minded Students

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An important new OSU multidisciplinary engineering and design initiative receives funding from national innovation nonprofit, VentureWell.

October 25, 2021

Thanks to a grant from VentureWell, entrepreneurship is taking an important role in a new OSU multidisciplinary initiative: Engineering and Design for Society (EDS). VentureWell, a nonprofit that funds student and faculty innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses, contributed $30,000 marked for adding a few key pieces to the future EDS undergraduate certificate program, already in its pilot stage through support from the Office of the Provost’s Impact Studio and the deans of the Honors College, and Colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts and Business.

The grant supports two new opportunities for students to learn design-centered skills: a series of micro-credit (one to two credits each) courses and the development of a new upper-division Sustainable Design Engineering course. Both options introduce students to entrepreneurship skills and to the robust entrepreneurial ecosystem at OSU.

Led by Dr. Nordica MacCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Richard & Gretchen Evans Scholar of Humanitarian Engineering, the future educational offerings aspire to build a robust, diverse community of creative, sustainability-minded students who are committed to the betterment of society. 

“I am most excited that we can provide just-in-time opportunities for students to learn about important and exciting concepts around sustainability in collaboration with peers and faculty from other disciplines,” MacCarty said. “Often these timely concepts are locked away in courses that are specific to certain disciplines or not available at all. Our goal is to make this content broadly available and inclusive to all students who may be interested in sustainability for their careers and/or personal development.”

VentureWell supports the cost of the experiential opportunities involved with the new design-centered courses, covering personnel, materials, supplies and travel costs. For VentureWell, the initiative also aims to expand participation in their national innovation program, E-teams, an annual collective of business teams that compete for seed funding from the organization. OSU Launch Academy — the InnovationX student innovation incubator — pipelines teams into this national competition, and the new coursework is expected to inspire broader participation.

“This project is a perfect example of how InnovationX is promoting a cultural shift at OSU,” said Dr. Michelle Marie, InnovationX program manager. “We want students to discover their entrepreneurial potential along the path of pursuing their interests — in this case, their interest in sustainable design will directly connect them with the other entrepreneurship opportunities we offer.”

The micro-credit course offerings from the College of Business are numerous. 

Marie is contributing three titles — Sustainable Business Practices, Sustainability in Sewn Product Design and Everybody Entrepreneurs: Introduction to Sustainable Entrepreneurship. 

Andrea Marks, professor of design, has developed Exploring Design Thinking, which gives students the opportunity to identify, generate and evaluate design problems and possible solutions through learning and applying the human-centered approach of design thinking. 

Instructor Shanna Ruyle contributes Regenerative Design: Making it Better through a hack-a-thon weekend, and Circular Design Approaches — from C2C to Circular Economy via Ecampus, and the Nature of Design and the Design of Nature — an outdoor adventure, which combines outdoor exploration with learning

We expect students will have the chance to see first-hand the momentum that cross-disciplined collaboration brings,” Ruyle said. “They’ll be able to gain confidence and see the value in their own individual and industry contributions along with seeing what others from different majors and perspectives can bring — to ultimately solve a challenge that might be eluding us all without that synergy.

In addition to reaching across campus, the Engineering and Design for Society certificate program looks to the community and includes audiences in the K-12 educational system. Professor Cory Buxton from the College of Education has developed Expanding the Sustainable Design Network, which teaches skills in communicating and disseminating ideas about sustainability and design specifically to broader community audiences. Buxton, whose work in this area includes extensive reach to the K-12 system, describes the initiative as one of listening to a broad range of OSU students about their wants and needs regarding multidisciplinary design experiences and programs.

“Some of the most consistent messages we heard from students were: 1) we want skills more than courses or programs; 2) we want to learn sustainable ways to pursue our passions; and 3) we want to learn and work with others who bring different skills and perspectives,” Buxton said. 

“Guided by these requests from our students, we are using the VentureWell grant to push ahead that development. We’re excited to bring together students from the Colleges of Business, Engineering and Liberal Arts to explore cutting edge multidisciplinary design work in novel formats,” he said.

Marie points to another important aspect of the grant that aligns with InnovationX and Launch Academy — the desire to create a more inclusive impression of entrepreneurship, one that is not heavily influenced by a persona that is high-risk, tech-heavy, masculine and wealthy but is reflective of the diversity of the OSU student community. “We’re recruiting based on inclusive design practices,” Marie said. “By designing programming to meet the needs of historically excluded students, we will meet the needs of all students.”

Photo caption: Dr. Michelle Marie, InnovationX program manager, works with students in the DAMLab makerspace.

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