I recently had the opportunity to travel to Belo Horizonte, Brazil to work with Alessandro Moreira, Vice-Director (Associate Dean) of Engineering at UFMG, Universidade Federale de Minas Gerais. During the visit, I learned of a special group of students and how they helped the University in its engineering education transformation efforts.
On the first day of my visit, Dean Moreira and I were touring campus and we went to the entrepreneurial business incubator, where I was surprised to meet students in Junior Enterprise. I engaged them in conversation regarding the need for change in engineering education, and they were articulate about the need for better pedagogy, more practical subjects, and hands-on projects. I also learned how they were backfilling what their educations’ were not providing themselves.
Junior Enterprise was started in 1967 in France, and it has chapters in many countries, but Brazilian universities have taken it especially to heart. At UFMG, most of the engineering disciplines have a Junior Enterprise chapter or enterprise, and each enterprise organizes to do consulting projects for local businesses. The students organize in functional specialties (marketing, technical, administrative, etc.), and take pride in teaching each other professional skills such as powerpoint presentation and project management. Enterprise sizes of 25-50 or so with 5-10 or more projects running at time are not unusual. Enterprises have faculty advisors, but they are largely hands off, and many of the research faculty would prefer that students concentrate on their studies.
I was unfamiliar with Junior Enterprise before this visit, but it is an exemplary model of students taking action in service to their education in a direct way. Students in design competition clubs and projects get similar experiences, but the connection to markets and work in Junior Enterprise closes the real-world loop in a very special way, and Junior Enterprise students come out of the experience ready to tackle the world of engineering full force.
This would make a terrific end to the story, but the best part comes next. Dean Moriera had toured Olin and iFoundry and knew that he wanted to bring change to undergraduate education at UFMG. A good place to start was with a joyful welcome similar to the iFoundry iLaunch (now called iEFX Launch), so he started making plans for a program “Engenharia Recebe” or “Engineering Welcomes You” (FB pager here). It was a few short weeks before the start of the semester in March, and Dean Moreira didn’t have the staff or resources to pull off the program himself, so he turned to the real-world-ready leaders of UFMG Junior Enterprise for assistance. A team consisting of Andre Drumond, Guilherme Lage, Jorge Raso, and Paloma Assis, and others put together an outstanding launch program in a very short time with professional social media, handouts, activities, and prizes. Overall the program was well received by students and faculty alike, and it helped kick off engineering education for first-year students at UFMG in a very positive way. The program is continuing at UFMG, and now Dean Moreira has brought students into his planning team for curricular change at UFMG. One possibility is the idea of having a educational transformation Junior Enterprise team to contract projects for social media, training, new course design, and other educational activities using student power and ideas to drive the enterprise.
Junior Enterprise, Engenharia Recebe, students actively engaged in educational transformation, and the possibility of student-run incubators for change are models worth watching and emulating. This blog will keep an eye on UFMG as it transforms and you should, too.
Students and faculty interested in starting these sorts of activities at their schools should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.