ECEi: Infusing engineering education with business acumen

Posted on February 18, 2016

How students learn to market themselves and their skills

Alex, Mitch and Cory

FIRST COHORT: Alex Everitt, Mitch Noble and Cory Crowley are among the first ECEi students. “I like the idea that I’m in a program that’s brand new,” says Noble. “We’re the original class.”

“A lot of people seem to think entrepreneurship is all about genetics, that some are born entrepreneurs and some are not,” says acting head of Queen’s department of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), Professor Shahram Yousefi. “That view is incorrect. The data clearly show you can teach entrepreneurship.”

That’s just one misconception Yousefi hopes to overcome with the ECE innovation (ECEi) program. Although not unprecedented, ECEi is a departure from the traditional approach to engineering education at Queen’s. Usually students study general engineering in first year before choosing a discipline for second year. It’s a well-tested approach that exposes students to engineering overall and provides a common foundation of general theory before they choose a path that best fits their interests and aptitudes.

First-year ECEi students, by contrast, enter directly into electrical or computer engineering. They learn the same foundational theory as do all Queen’s engineers but by graduation their skills will be enriched with an array of commerce capabilities designed to give them a leg-up as they start their careers. It’s an engineering/entrepreneurship program for students who already see a path for themselves in ECE. But it’s not only for those who want to start or lead new ventures. It’s suited also to students who may feel the pull of social entrepreneurship or intrepreneurship; who want to add abilities for managing and communicating their newly minted engineering skills and ideas across communities or as employees within established companies.

“ECEi students come to understand that three personalities are needed for a successful venture: the engineer, the manager and the entrepreneur,” says Yousefi. “Sometimes one individual needs to wear all three hats. We’re showing them how these three components can be embedded into a four-year program with absolutely no sacrifice of the technical content. All the technical courses and streams are available to them. ECEi students take courses from Queen’s Smith School of Business to cover management and business aspects while also getting hands-on entrepreneurial experience via MakerSpaces, hackathons, and Dragon's Den-style competitions.”

ECE competition winners

TOP MARKS: ECEi students Cory Crowley, Michael Lang, Anshul Gupta, Robert James and Tedd Kourkounakis were awarded prizes in the fall Introduction to Computer Programming for Engineers (APSC 142) Innovation Competition by acting ECE head Professor Shahram Yousefi, Feb 1.

The first cohort of about 70 ECEi students began studies in September. It takes some courage to be among the first to take the plunge but it’s a stream suited to early adopters. So far the reviews are positive and students seem enthusiastic.

“We’re actually finding out more about how the program works as we go along,” says ECEi student Cory Crowley. “We’re really finding out now what we’re going to be doing for the next four years. It sounds awesome. It sounds like the coolest program.”

“I chose ECEi because I was really torn between computer science and engineering,” adds ECEi student Alex Everitt. “The program seems like the perfect marriage of the two. I was also interested in business before I came here. ECEi seems like the perfect combination and there will be more options for me down the road after I graduate.”

Tom Dean and Students

ENGINEERING SKILLS: Professor Tom Dean works with first-year ECEi students Jayson and Ayaz on programming their Lego EV3 robots in an APSC142 lab at the ILC, Sep 23.

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