Engineering education has been focusing on incorporating the Entrepreneurial Mindset (EM) into First-Year Engineering Programs (FYEPs) due to evolving employer expectations and the benefits that develop from engineers equipped with an EM. The Ohio State University honors FYEP includes a semester-long design project to help students synthesize engineering concepts, create a coherent product, and further their EM development. Two of these first-year design projects are a robot design project and a nanotechnology research project. For the robot design project, students develop autonomous robots that complete a series of tasks within a two-minute period. For the nanotechnology research project, students design a lab-on-a-chip and explore nanotechnology applications in medicine. Both projects provide a vast number of experiences that support the development of an EM.
The goal of this complete research study was to evaluate the efficacy of how these projects further an EM in the honors FYEP. We focused on one specific attribute of EM which was making connections. Our primary research question was: Are there differences in students’ ability to make connections between different first-year engineering design projects? The purpose of the comparison was to determine whether both projects provided equal value to the first-year students regarding their ability to learn to make connections. To answer our research question, we used concept maps developed during the 2021-2022 academic year. We scored a subset of 22 maps (n = 11 from the robot design project, n = 11 from the nanotechnology research project) with an adapted traditional scoring method to assess the concept map structure, and we used inductive coding to assess concept map content.
Although there was no difference in the adapted traditional scoring method scores between the robot and nanotechnology projects, the coding exhibited a clear distinction in how robot and nanotechnology students differed when identifying content in the concept map activity. The most common code was Engineering Design Process, while the least common code was Exploration. Our findings suggest that both projects generally cultivate equal amounts of connection-making ability from students. Future work should investigate how our inductive coding findings translate to established categorical scoring methods for concept maps, particularly in the space of EM.
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