Jonathan Leinonen, Senior Lecturer at Michigan Technological University College of Business, is a 2021 Engineering Unleashed Fellow.
This year, 27 people from higher education institutions across the country were named fellows by Engineering Unleashed (EU). The designation recognizes leadership in undergraduate engineering education. The honor, which spans research and funding, will go a long way as it continues to differentiate Michigan Tech’s business program for its business-STEM interface.
In this Q&A, Leinonen describes the opportunity, his work, and what the EU scholarship means for students of Business, Michigan Tech and the region.
Engineering Unleashed (EU) is a community of 3,800 faculty members from 340 higher education institutions. It is powered by the Kern Family Engineering Entrepreneurship Network (KEEN), a collaboration of 50 partners who share a mission to train graduate engineers with an entrepreneurial spirit and equipped to create societal, personal and economic value. In 2019 Michigan Tech became the 42nd university accepted into KEEN, a great honor for the entire campus.
Q: Jon, congratulations on being named Engineering Unleashed Fellow! How did you get involved in the European community?
JL: Thanks! The seed of the scholarship process was planted as I worked with a group of innovative faculty from across campus with the vision of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset throughout Michigan Tech. Once I understood what Engineering Unleashed is, I began to realize that much of what we teach in College of Business is KEEN compliant.
In the process, I attended Engineering Unleashed Faculty Development workshops which were designed and facilitated by a group of subject matter experts who are faculty members from over 25 institutions. The workshops attract faculty from across the country, focusing on the development and application of an entrepreneurial mindset in teaching and learning, research, industry or leadership.
Q: What do you do in your daily work?
JL: As a lecturer in the College of Business, my main goal is to teach business management courses. Prior to that, I worked in industry for about 20 years, which made me aware of the needs of businesses to develop a holistic view of problem solving. To complement my teaching, I also work with Entrepreneurial and Economic Development Groups which include Michigan Tech Entrepreneurship Support Programs, Michigan Small Business Development Center, Finnish American Chamber of Commerce for the Upper Peninsula, MTEC SmartZone and Portage Health Foundation.
Q: What opportunities does this scholarship open to you?
JL: Working in the middle of this ecosystem allows me to leverage my roles for classroom projects, research and community impact. Support from the KEEN scholarship has significantly advanced the dialogue between underfunded students and stakeholders, identified new research opportunities for students, and led to material results that demonstrate our capabilities as a university and within from the College of Business. As we show success in these areas, students are eager to learn and get involved in research, the community becomes more engaged, and opportunities open up at all levels. I’m the type to look to the future and often wonder what the next step is. I look forward to seeing this project attract more students and opportunities to engage the community with new value.
Q: What is your project?
JL: I applied the Entrepreneurial Learning Framework (EML) of Engineering Unleashed to work with students to submit a project to the Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URIP) through Pavlis Honors College. EML is the collective process of arousing curiosity and discovery, developing knowledge and creating value through experiential education. We secured funding to hire two students with additional support from the Dean’s Advisory Council of the College of Business and the Portage Health Foundation. These students worked on two reports that identified the resource needs specific to students in the western Upper Peninsula.
An example of the need we are addressing is the number of students who have been diagnosed with disorders such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Students who do not have the resources to manage these diagnoses face a much greater learning challenge. Another is the cost of college where students are unable to access available grants or benefits to which they may be entitled. Helping students identify and access available resources is an ongoing need that we are exploring.
Right now, we are finishing our first edit of informational videos and a draft of the regional scholarship program.
Q: Where did you get the idea?
JL: In my introductory business class, some students expressed an interest in research, so I attended the Engineering Unleashed workshop on finding entrepreneurial students. The goal of our project is to help underfunded students, which ties into a community poverty relief initiative run by the Portage Health Foundation in which I am also involved.
Q: What challenges have you encountered?
JL: As I brought more students to work on the project, one of the challenges was to stay focused. We have started to address resource needs which include food security, safe and affordable housing, various aspects and access to health care, communication with stakeholders and more, in addition to finance.
In our fall class, we limited our scope to communicating with stakeholders through informative videos aimed at high schools and community representatives. Another group also focused on researching and documenting a best practice business model applicable to the Western UP for a regional scholarship program.
Q: How will students benefit from it?
JL: The concepts discussed in class are of little value unless we can help someone improve their life at the end of the day. Students gain hands-on experience with a variety of business concepts with the promise of helping prospective students through their work as well. Through this project, we have followed students’ curiosity for research and applied it to a challenge of regional importance.
I interviewed students in my class after practicing entrepreneurship. Eighty-five percent of respondents indicated that they agree or strongly agree that they are better prepared to manage a complex future project, that they are more proficient in the skills and ability to lead research, that they can see how their work leads to wider benefits to the community and society, and their efforts will bring material benefit to the lives of other people. Overall, the students have not only helped the project, but are more able to advance these skills for future impact.
The group interviewed high school and college students and administrators, community representatives and government officials. They are working on videos for social media to communicate the needs and ways to get people more involved in supporting students.
Another group of students prepared information to develop a regional scholarship program. The goal of the students is to develop a plan to initiate, build and operate a community scholarship program for the western Upper Peninsula.
I anticipate that future student projects will be able to work on more specific facets that have been identified along the way, including resources to support the mental and physical health of students, support for navigating college administrative processes and also a increased engagement with the scholarship program.
Q: You are also Co-Director of Husky Innovate and Vice President of Superior Innovations. How is the EU associated with these initiatives?
JL: Michigan Tech has an incredible team of entrepreneurial people. As students develop their entrepreneurial interests, Michigan Tech offers people and programs to meet them every step of the way. Students shape and test their ideas, secure development resources, build their team and business model, and embark on the path of entrepreneurship. I often say that success has a lot of fingerprints on people, and the team here is as good as anywhere at helping dreams come true.
About the College of Business
Michigan Tech College of Business offers undergraduate specializations in accounting, construction management, economics, engineering management, finance, management, management information systems and marketing, as well as a general business option. Graduate degrees include the TechMBA®, a Master of Engineering Management, a Master of Science in Accounting, and a Master of Science in Applied Natural Resource Economics.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and welcomes more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the top universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate programs in science and technology, engineering, computer science, forestry, business and economics, health professions, sciences. humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is located a few miles from Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, providing year-round outdoor adventure opportunities.