A vision for the first product innovation sequence for chemical engineers

Cheryl A. Bodnar, Eric J. Beckman, Joseph J. McCarthy, Steven R. Little

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Chemical engineers who enter the marketplace today are facing a vastly different reality than those who started their careers even five years ago. Keith Watson, (Senior Director, Strategic Marketing, Dow Chemical Company) noted in 2011, "The attributes needed to compete for employment in the modern chemical industry have changed. However, the curriculum at most traditional Western universities does not necessarily reflect these new dynamics." The majority of chemical engineering programs today do not leave room within their curriculum for students to be able to adequately explore the concept of chemical product design and how novel ideas can become the basis for new businesses. In fact, out of the 158 ABET accredited chemical engineering programs in the US, only 25 offer chemical product design classes. This state of affairs presents a stark contrast with mechanical, industrial, and even bioengineering programs, where product design has been a routine part of the curriculum for decades. In response to this need, the chemical engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh has taken the initiative to re-design its chemical product design senior level course and expand upon it to create a three-year, chemical "Product Innovation Sequence". This course sequence will start with required courses in both the sophomore and junior year followed by a senior year elective for those students who are particularly interested in this field of study. The novel nature of this curriculum is found in its coupling of scaffolding techniques to encourage students to build and develop their chemical product design skills progressively as they go through the course sequence, the experiential nature of the final senior level prototyping course and the effort to provide mentorship opportunities between students in different years of the course sequence. One of the key features of this new experiential product innovation sequence for chemical engineers is the showcasing of the role of the customer within the design process which can often be an afterthought in engineering design. In contrast, it is the beginning of thought in this new product design sequence. Specifically, the sophomore level class focuses exclusively on concepts related to the front-end portion of chemical product design including: customer identification and needs, brainstorming and decision making processes. Subsequently, the junior level course in the sequence focuses on the fundamentals necessary to perform chemical product design including formulations, heuristics and life cycle analysis for the development of more sustainable products. This course also includes elements important to small business development such as intellectual property, commercialization plans and how to deliver a business pitch. Finally, in the senior level prototyping course, students will actually be given the opportunity to create a physical prototype of their product and work alongside a faculty mentor on the development of their own business model. This course sequence provides a "safe" environment for chemical engineering students to get a real taste of what starting your own business might be like prior to entering into the marketplace. It is believed that this first-of-itskind "Product Innovation Sequence" will build not only a culture of entrepreneurship that permeates all levels of education (from sophomores to graduate student TAs to faculty), but also produce a new generation of alumni better equipped to work in today's marketplace, whether they choose to work within an existing company or venture out on their own.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event121st ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: 360 Degrees of Engineering Education - Indianapolis, IN, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2014Jun 18 2014


Other121st ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: 360 Degrees of Engineering Education
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityIndianapolis, IN

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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