Fostering Innovative Thinking in Engineers at the University of Florida

Jacob Mass, Megan Stowers, Graham Vaith, and Tianwei Xie

Authors:  Jacob Mass, Megan Stowers, Graham Vaith, Tianwei Xie

Faculty Mentor:  Erik Sander

College: Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering


The primary purpose of this research is to determine how to better teach innovation to engineering students at the University of Florida. Faculty of various engineering departments, colleges within UF, and other universities, along with current students of innovation classes and clubs at UF were interviewed to collect information for this process. Research was acquired about teaching innovation to engineers from Web of Science, IEEE, Academic Search Premier, and ProQuest Engineering databases. The PRISMA method was used to systematically narrow search results. At a glance, it was found that many engineering students struggle to bring out the creative skills needed to make truly innovative products, and many faculty at UF are unclear about the incorporation of methods of teaching innovation. Methods such as changing the curriculum, adding extracurricular activities, and expanding innovative culture were explored to attempt to solve this problem at the university.

Poster Pitch

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We Need Your Recommendations!

We’re currently in the process of designing and implementing new initiatives in order to encourage innovation among students, and we want your input! We would appreciate you taking a minute to answer our poll to give us any ideas you have as well as provide some other helpful information.
8 Responses
  1. Derek Pena

    I understand that you have not yet reached the implementation phase for your research. However, I was wondering if any of the methods to enhance the teaching of innovation that you listed have proven effective in the past. Have any of the interviewees shared their experiences with similar methods or has another university used these methods to great effect?

    1. Tianwei Xie

      Hi Dereck, this is a really good question. Many of our ideas are inspired through our interviews and lit reviews. For instance, a lot of lit reviews suggested the significance of PBL (project-based learning) in various fields such as CS and industrial design. In addition to that, some of the professors we interviewed also practice PBL or activity-based learning, which suggests prominent results in stimulating innovation. Another example would be Mississippi State University, one of the universities we interviewed, and their organized MakerSpace program. They have many successful products developed from the programs now. For now, we are still trying to finalize our idea, but our next steps would be actually trying to implement that idea and test the effectiveness.

  2. Alissa O'Rorke

    This looks very promising! I think that having Cross-University competitions would greatly benefit UF as a whole and would do a good job of fostering innovation. I also wonder what experiences the interviewees have had with some of these proposed methods.

  3. A terrific topic to choose, and something I believe will have greater significance as we move further into the next 20+ years. Companies – large and small – are looking more and more at innovative thought vs. technical skills; certainly one has to have a baseline technical proficiency, but without application of innovative thought, “nothing new is made under the sun”. A very good start to a complex topic; well done!

  4. Dr. Donnelly

    What a neat study, and the request for input a nice touch, Hope you guys can carry it through to the implementation stages. NIce!

  5. Leah Barnes

    Wow! I do not know much about the world of engineering, but I can see how crucial fostering innovation can be in this field–I think many fields could be bolstered by creating an “innovation culture”. I like how you incorporated responses from students and entrepreneurs from different universities and have even extended the survey to viewers of this presentation! Do you predict any potential obstacles in the implementation phase? If so, how would you ensure minimal effect of these obstacles on that culture of innovation?

    1. Graham Vaith

      Thank you for the interest! Innovation is most certainly applicable to all fields, we’ve even taken feedback from the college of the arts. As for potential obstacles, there are many. Trying to implement new things into the curriculum is extremely difficult, as lots of technical curriculum needs to be taught to students. The problem with coming up with something outside of the curriculum is that it is difficult to reach a larger number of students outside of a classroom. In terms of solutions for these, we’ve tried to come up with various thinks to constantly expose students to innovation, like putting up information about other innovators at UF around campus. We’re also hoping to come up with extracurricular activities that could draw students in to work on things that would bolster their creativity. Whether that is in the form of a club, or something else is still being decided on. Our next steps will hopefully put all of these things together.