New digital badges add skill-enriching opportunities for engineering students


By Samantha Chavanic

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the ever-evolving engineering education landscape, the Penn State School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) recognizes the role professional skills play in its students' future careers. Recently, two of SEDTAPP’s programs, engineering entrepreneurship (E-SHIP) and engineering leadership development (ELD), developed three digital badge short courses to build foundational knowledge in three concept areas: entrepreneurship, engineering leadership and project management.

Funded through a grant from the College of Engineering’s Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education, faculty subject-matter experts from E-SHIP and ELD crafted badge course content that aligns with the main learning objectives of each program’s undergraduate minor entry courses. The programs worked closely with the College of Engineering’s Office for Digital Learning to optimally design the badge courses from the instructional design perspective. They also designed the courses for Credly, an online platform used to create, manage and issue digital credentials.

Entrepreneurship fundamentals

The entrepreneurship fundamentals digital badge course provides students with an introduction to entrepreneurship and its ecosystem at Penn State. As a preview of the intercollege minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, the course covers entrepreneurial fundamentals and information on Centre County resources.

“The E-SHIP program believes that every student will benefit from an entrepreneurial education,” said Ted Graef, director of E-SHIP. “For engineers, they need to understand that product design is only the beginning of the process. A team has to determine who will purchase a product, how to market to this audience and then fulfill orders. Even if they don’t ever work outside of the engineering function, understanding how the rest of the organization operates will benefit their designs and their careers.”

Graef explained that the entrepreneurship fundamental digital badge course aims to teach students the fundamentals needed to create and operate a startup by providing the foundation for their entrepreneurial journeys. Through course concepts including entrepreneurial mindset, value proposition, customer discovery, intellectual property and financials, the course helps transform students into well-rounded future employees.

“Understanding business will help all engineers to be more well-rounded professionals no matter their chosen career,” he said. “They will learn the entrepreneurial mindset which encourages them to seek out opportunities, tolerate risk and deal with ambiguity, all of which are beneficial traits when combined with an engineering education.”

Engineering leadership fundamentals and project management fundamentals

Created to help increase the availability of leadership skill opportunities in an engineering context for students, the engineering leadership fundamentals and project management fundamentals digital badge courses aim to help engineering students not enrolled in the ELD minor.

“Leadership development is a life-long learning process, and students who are outside of the minor can now develop leadership skills aimed at self-awareness, team formation and project management,” said Meg Handley, associate director of ELD undergraduate programs and assistant teaching professor.

The engineering leadership fundamentals digital badge course provides students with a foundational understanding of leadership, including leadership vs. management, self-awareness, team formation, mission statement importance and effectively running meetings. Students in the course review these leadership elements through an engineering lens.

“Students who begin building these skills are setting themselves up for success,” Handley said. “Employers are looking for students who not only excel in their technical courses but also those that can demonstrate leadership skills such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving and project management. The earlier the students begin to build the skills, the greater opportunities they have to practice and can demonstrate these skills during the interview process and at internships and co-ops.”

Megan Vareha, a chemical engineering and ELD minor student, completed the engineering leadership fundamentals course to understand leadership better and how it applies to her future career aspirations.

“I have always considered myself to be a leader, but I wanted to capitalize on my natural talents and interests by challenging my prior knowledge,” Vereha said. “Taking this course helped me navigate my leadership discovery as it pertains to myself and others.”

By enrolling in the project management fundamentals digital badge course, students learn project management foundational knowledge, focusing on the planning and executing phases. The course topics also include leadership concepts addressing team dynamics, motivating team members and delegating tasks.

Enhancing engineering education

To receive a digital badge in entrepreneurship fundamentals, engineering leadership fundamentals or project management fundamentals, students work through a course on Canvas, Penn State’s online system for teaching and learning, pass a quiz covering the concepts covered through the online coursework, and complete reflections. Concept applicability in industry is shown through 10 video interviews with industry professionals completed by students in the Engineering Leadership Society. The courses also include additional video content encouraging support and partnership with SEDTAPP and its programs, specifically focusing on ELD and E-SHIP.

Upon completion of a course, students are issued digital badges, which can be included on social media accounts such as LinkedIn, personal websites, digital resumes and portfolios, and email signatures.

Though each course is available as a stand-alone class, each digital badge course was created as a steppingstone toward either the ENTI or the engineering leadership development minor.

Graef explained that though the entrepreneurship fundamentals digital badge course serves as a “crash course” that provides students with resources to get started as entrepreneurs, another goal of the course is to encourage students to enter and complete the ENTI minor.

Handley added that the badges help students differentiate themselves.

“We hope students will continue in the ELD program to further build these skills, but through the badges, we are hoping students build awareness of the importance of these skills,” she said.

Students with questions about the entrepreneurship, engineering leadership and project management digital badges should contact


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Megan Lakatos