Entrepreneurship program for underrepresented groups in STEM to expand


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — VentureWell, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering future inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, has awarded researchers in the Penn State College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) $24,000 to support and expand an existing extracurricular program in the College of Engineering, Boosting Undergraduate Innovation and Leadership through Design (BUILD).

The BUILD initiative was designed to increase and retain the number of women and traditionally underrepresented students in engineering by bolstering engineering confidence through hands-on design activities. This eventually led to the creation of the Maker Ambassadors, a program that provides training to women and underrepresented engineering students who plan, promote, lead and execute the BUILD Nights held at the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory.

These BUILD nights have succeeded in strengthening women and other underrepresented students’ confidence in their engineering abilities. With VentureWell’s support, the impacts will now expand beyond the College of Engineering.

Jessica Menold, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering and the principal investigator, said, “This additional support will help the BUILD program reach new audiences. Specifically, we are excited to work with faculty and students from the College of Health and Human Development to launch hackathons and BUILD nights that bring together engineering students, nursing students, biobehavioral health students and many more.”

According to VentureWell, this project was selected for funding through a competitive national review process and has the potential to inspire significant and lasting impacts on the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Penn State.

“This funding represents a unique opportunity to encourage cross-college collaboration that could lead to some really unique projects and startup ideas,” Menold said.

The project is also led by co-principal investigators Meg Handley, acting director of SEDTAPP’s Engineering Leadership Development (ELD) program, associate director of engineering leadership outreach and assistant teaching professor; Sarah Ritter, associate teaching professor of engineering design and associate director of the engineering design program; and Meg Small, director of social innovation at the Prevention Research Center in the College of Health and Human Development.

The BUILD initiative has attracted strong industry support, with the VentureWell grant coming on the heels of a recent $20,000 gift from Lockheed Martin that helped to establish the program. As the initiative continues to grow, the team is confident that the participants will be poised for impact.

Menold said, “Entrepreneurship faces the same problems with gender equity and diversity as engineering and STEM fields. Our hope is that through this collaboration, we will not only spur unique startups at the intersection of health and technology, but we will encourage women and minoritized students to lead them.”


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Megan Lakatos