We continue our series highlighting educators within the VentureWell network who are doing good work—faculty members who are catalyzing change in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention. This month’s faculty spotlight is Gary Brooking, Chair of Engineering Technology at Wichita State University. Brooking is an active member of the VentureWell community, serving as a principal investigator for teams participating in the BMEidea Competition, E-Team grant program, NSF I-Corps as well as two Faculty Grants. He was also a member of the Pathways to Innovation team at Wichita State University. He recently co-presented at our OPEN 2019 conference about his involvement with the VentureWell-supported Invent for the Planet intensive design experience.
How did you become interested in teaching entrepreneurship?
In my first teaching position, I had some amazing students with bleak employment prospects. So I taught them the mechanics of running their own businesses. As I began to learn the process myself, I started my own business with students. Having never been in business, we had to learn things like customer discovery and product market fit the hard way—through not-so-successful ventures. Both the students and I loved the experience. I left teaching to run startups—mostly with students—for over 10 years. I returned to teaching, bringing with me some great entrepreneurship experiences to share.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
The biggest reward of this job is watching students succeed. It’s great to see concepts click with students. It’s also satisfying to see them value collaborative engagement to effectively solve a problem. I enjoy any opportunity to broaden their (and my!) perspectives.
Where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?
To teach entrepreneurial mindset across all disciplines, starting with a required “General Education” class on the topic. Not necessarily to prepare everyone to start their own business, but to teach students to develop a mindset that is open to understand broader issues and perspectives to better solve problems.
What are the challenges you’re tackling in your work today?
Creating new opportunities for multiple career paths for students. Basically, trying to massage a very structured higher education system into small, customizable student learning pathways to cater for new careers that we haven’t yet considered.
What books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately?
I have been switching between a few. A Whole New Engineer by David Goldberg is in line with my desire to innovate engineering education. On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines by Jeff Hawkins feeds my passion to understand the human mind and relate that back to effective artificial intelligence.
What’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?
I teach a biodesign class that focuses on the design process. During the first week of class, students are asked to pitch what they think is the greatest problem that must be solved. The students vote on which problems to tackle. Half of the ideas are cut. The class then breaks up into teams of two. The teams start to develop innovative solutions to a problem. After a few weeks, the pairs pitch their ideas along with their value proposition, market opportunities, revenue model, etc. The class votes on the pitches. Again, half of the ideas are cut. The students then form teams of four to further refine their solutions.
While my focus is on the design process and not the final product, it’s amazing how introducing competition and fear of failure really ups the level of engagement in the class. Most recover well from the failure and jump in with the new team to win the next stage.
VentureWell Faculty Grants provide up to $30,000 to help fund and support faculty with innovative ideas to create new or transform existing courses and programs to help students develop novel, STEM-based inventions and gain the necessary entrepreneurial skills needed to bring these ideas to market.