We continue our series highlighting educators within the VentureWell network who are doing good work—faculty members who are challenging norms in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention.
This month’s faculty spotlight is Raja Schaar, Assistant Professor of Product Design at Drexel University, and Executive Director at Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). Her industrial design curriculum is centered on health, well-being, social impact, and sustainability. Schaar is an active member of the VentureWell community, serving as a Principal Investigator for a Faculty Grant and a presenter at our OPEN conference.
How did you get interested in teaching entrepreneurship?
When I started teaching Biomedical Engineering students at Georgia Tech, I saw the ingredients of problem solving, ambition, and entrepreneurial spirit really come together. There were several teams of students who wanted to see what their ideas could do in the marketplace, and I was the teacher who didn’t say “no” when they reached out for mentorship. I got to be a part of the early journey of many stellar endeavors.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
It’s exciting to view the changing world through the eyes of the students. I’m fortunate to be in a position to encourage their eagerness to make an impact through innovation.
Where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?
I get a little weary of the jargon when talking with people who work exclusively in the space. Canvases, models, and schools of thought all have their place, but we have to be careful not to get prescriptive. I use what I can when I need to, but I also don’t subscribe to a single model, nor do I expect my students to.
What traits make for great teachers, advisors, and mentors?
Being open and available are valuable traits. Despite our busy schedules, it’s important to take a few minutes to listen to a student when she wants to talk or share an idea. A great mentor is also a bridge builder. If a student is passionate about an idea, I’m happy to connect them with my network of experts and advisors.
What books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately?
I’ve been reading and teaching from Mary Beth Privitera’s book, Contextual Inquiry for Medical Device Design. Contextual inquiry is a methodology that helps innovators and entrepreneurs establish a well-grounded problem statement. I’ve become more concerned with what we’re producing and why. I find myself asking, “Do we really need another ________? Are we solving the right problems – in the right way?”
What’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?
Peer critiques – I LOVE a pin-up. Sharing, constructive critique, and open dialogue has really helped students grow their ideas. These daily conversations are where I get to know my students, gauge their learning, and assess how the class is progressing. I try to switch up the format regularly. Some days it’s a game, some days it’s formal, but it’s always about open conversation.