Help Make Cool Big Beacon Posters

Check out the new Karen Salmansohn designed Big Beacon poster.  In working with the themes of the BB manifesto (here), a number of the posters played with whole brains as a theme.  Help us design the next generation of posters by answering a few questions:

  • What is your single most favorite web poster?  (send a link)
  • Do you like the ? (mind-heart-hands) poster (here) better than the on-switch poster.
  • What themes should we be using for the Big Beacon posters?
  • Describe in words a poster your would like to see.
  • What else should we be thinking about in poster design that I haven’t asked about?

We will use and credit the best ideas in coming poster designs.  Send your ideas to


HuffPo Part 2: Steps 6-10 of Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education

Mark Somerville (Olin College) and my article on Huffington Post on Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education just was published on Huffington Post (here).  For example, step 10 says the following:

Step 10: Band all stakeholders together coordinate effective action and collaboratively disrupt the status quo.  To date, education reform has largely been a school-by-school or even classroom-by-classroom attempt to bring about local change, and oftentimes schools or departments carefully guard their innovations as giving their unit a competitive advantage.  Unfortunately, the real competitor here is not the university down the road.  The real competitor is an educational system and cultural forces that preserve a 60-year old engineering curriculum that is demoralizing prospective engineers while or even before they come to school.  Even when change efforts aren’t viewed in this competitive way, schools have had difficulty coordinating, diffusing, and sustaining the results throughout their own institutions and to others.

Read the whole article  here, and if you missed part 1, read it here.

iFoundry Incubator as Organizational Innovation

Here’s a 2008 video of a video we shot at the UIUC in the early days of iFoundry.


The video captures the essence of a programmatic incubator as a way to (a) unleash innovation and (b) respect faculty governance.  iFoundry continues to this day ( to continue transforming engineering education at Illinois.  Other schools in Asia and South America are adapting this model to promote change at schools in those regions.

Write for more information about the possibility of setting up an curriculum incubator at your school.

Two Student-Centered Success Stories in Brazil

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

Write a Book Title for Engineering Education Transformation

Can you help Mark Somerville and me write a book title? We are producing a book connected to the Big Beacon movement and we are trying to come up with titles that reflect the kind of new engineering, engineering education, and change processed needed for our creative, transformative times. Here are some titles and subtitles, but we haven’t chosen as of yet, and your comments or suggestions could help us pick one of these, or something completely different!.

Send me your comments in an email to


  • A Whole New Engineer
  • Engineer 2.0
  • Beyond Brains on a Stick
  • The Shift
  • The Innovative Engineer

Subtitle (or subtitle themes)

  • A shift in mindset for a creative era
  • Responding to the imperative for a creative era
  • Meeting the challenge of a creative era
  • A different approach for a different time
  • Engineering and engineering education for a creative era
  • Engineering and engineering education are broken
  • Engineers are whole (mind/body) people

Help us crowdsource this title by writing to today.

Video: Karen Salmansohn and Perfectionism

Friend of ThreeJoy and the Big Beacon, author and artist Karen Salmansohn has a usefully funky take on perfectionism in the video in the viewer below:


Karen did the cool graphics on the Big Beacon Manifesto and the head-heart-hands poster here.  Her mission statement in life is quoted below:

My mission in one long run on sentence: To offer easy-to-absorb insights and advice to help you bloom into your happiest, most loved, highest potential self – and have fun in the process – because I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas (from the latest scientific studies to ancient wisdom) into short, easily-digestible, life-changing tips.

Read more about Karen’s books and work on her website

Trust and Engineering Education Transformation

In the article Engineering Students Can Do X on Huffington Post (here) I talked about the role of trust and other essentially emotional variables in effective education reform, but what is trust?  It is a word that we use quite a lot, but it is one that we use in a number of different senses, oftentimes without clarity or precision. 

A resource to better understanding of trust is the book by Bob Solomon and Fernando Flores, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, and the review at Coaching Counsel (here) covers a number of the essential points.  I became familiar with Bob Solomon by taking most of his Teaching Company courses in philosophy.  Fernando Flores is know for his dissertation in which he laid the foundations for modern coaching in Speech Acts and Heidegger (see earlier post on speech acts here), and Building Trust picks up where that work left off by viewing trust as action, really an investment, one that effects both the person trusted and trusting person.

There are other business books that deal with trust, but if you are interested in a conceptually rigorous examination of the concept, take a look at Building Trust.

Engineering Education Economics: The Goldberg-Laffer Curve

In discussions of why engineering education is so hard to reform, any number of culprits are often identified: stronger interest in research than teaching, lack of familiarity with or interest in active learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning or other pedagogical techniques, insufficient interest in the cultivation of our young people, and so on.  A factor that is rarely brought up is money. 

To get a handle on the economics of education transformation let’s turn back the time machine to the Reagan presidency and to an economist named Arthur Laffer.  Laffer suggested a theoretical construct, the Laffer curve, that postulated a relationship between government revenue and tax rates that first increased and then decreased as a function of marginal tax rate.  Laffer argued that if taxes were sufficiently high, and that if tax rates were reduced, that government revenue would increase.  Laffer was and is controversial, but whether he was right or whether he was right for the right or wrong reasons is unimportant to us here.  The shape of his curve, however, inspires our discussion.

Goldberg-Laffer Curve of Engineering Education

Consider the curve at the right.  Here we imagine that the cost (or time) invested by a faculty member in teaching as a function of student engagement.  At the left, a professor walks in with well-tested and well-worn 2o-year old course notes and gives the same lectures he or she always has given.  This is low cost, relatively low in student engagement, and in engineering education circles this situation is called the sage on the stage. 

In reform efforts, we encourage the sage to adopt experiential, active, problem-based, or some other form of enhanced learning, and if the instructor does so, we say he or she has become the guide on the side. He or she does so, however, at some personal cost, as shown on the curve with some increase in student engagement.  Since the faculty member is already fully involved in other actitivies,  the ΔC invested by the faculty member, of course, comes out of his or her discretionary time at home, in the lab, or doing other things the faculty member already values. Reformers suggest that this investment is important for the young people in the class room, but the individual instructor may or may not share their enthusiasm and commitment, and the cost is arguably the fundamental barrier to reform.  Dedicated missionaries like Rich Felder and Karl Smith have been teaching us all how to be more engaging in the classroom for two decades or more and yet, the classroom, especially in research universities, remains stubbornly resistant to wide scale and sustained change

Returning to the Goldberg-Laffer curve suggests another way out.  What if we could jump to the point on the curve labeled the learner with fervor where high student engagement is present and faculty-neutral costs are required?  This suggests we can have our cake and eat it, too, but is such a point even possible?

Cooperative experiments between Olin College and iFoundry at the University of Illinois at UIUC suggest it is.  For two semesters, Geoffrey Hermann has been leading a team conducting experiments with intrinsic motivation conversion on an existing lecture course in an introductory 2nd-year digital circuits.  The early returns are promising, and a subsequent post will examine them in more detail. For now, simply put, by reframing the discussion sections as intrinsicially motivated, students are more engaged from the get go and they shoulder more of the cost of that increased engagement.  For the faculty member, the experience requires little additional preparation and if he or she gets involved in the discussion sections, the increased interaction is more like that of a graduate-level seminar, requiring coaching and extant expertise, not additional preparation or work.

This possibility is very exciting to effective transformatio efforts, and it is one tool in a kit designed to bring about effective change without a faculty uprising. Watch for additional posts on intrinsic motivation conversion, and if you are interested in IM conversion or other effective means in transforming your program, write me at

Ten Steps to the Whole New Engineer

Dan Pink called for a Whole New Mind in his book on creativity of the same name (here).  Mark Somerville and I call for a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education in our latest Huffington Post article:

We live in a technological time. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet (and counting), we depend upon technology in almost every aspect of our lives. Billions are clothed, healed, fed, transported, connected, entertained, and employed through increasingly complex products, processes, and systems. And while technology is in one sense the gift that enables life for billions, its unintended consequences cause environmental and sustainability problems that are increasingly a concern.

As such, engineers and engineering are increasingly necessary to sustain and improve our way of life. Unfortunately, engineering is increasingly not the career path of choice for many who would otherwise make terrific engineers, and even if it were, the kinds of engineers being turned out by colleges and universities around the globe are too narrowly technical to address the complex and integrated nature of the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Read the full article here.  Read the Big Beacon Manifesto ( and its 31 points leading to a whole new engineer, a whole new engineer, and an education change process (rewire) that will get us there.