Sundar Krishnamurty – a professor and the department head of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE), the Isenberg Distinguished Professor in Engineering, and the director of the Center for e-Design – recently received a VentureWell Faculty Grant of $30,000. This funding will support the creation of a new course that teaches innovation and entrepreneurship from the viewpoint of understanding disability.
VentureWell’s Faculty Grants program helps faculty and staff at institutions across the country develop or sustain courses and programs that encourage STEM innovation. Krishnamurty was one of thirteen grant recipients chosen through a competitive national review process.
The focus of this new course will be on “Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurial Mindset,” and Krishnamurty is collaborating with MIE alum Brian Mullen of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design to aid in the development and teaching of the course.
Dr. Mullen and Dr. Krishnamurty have a long history of working together on assistive technology design and development projects. Building on that relationship, they plan to work together on the course content and associated resources, as well as with the detailed syllabus, lesson plans, and projects for the pilot offering next year.
In addition, Mullen will serve as the liaison to develop and foster relationships with the Institute for Human Centered Design, Independent Living Centers, and the various innovation and entrepreneurship programs at UMass, state, and federal levels.
As Krishnamurty and Mullen explain, “We are proposing a novel course that views innovation and entrepreneurship through the prism of understanding disability. People with disability are an underserved group that [totals] over one billion worldwide, and disability touches every race, gender, and class.”
According to Krishnamurty and Mullen, the course will introduce students to a new paradigm of innovation and entrepreneurship by focusing on the importance of knowing the customers – that all people have limitations and that everyone benefits from adding inclusivity – and that understanding disability can improve inclusivity in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We expect the course to not only provide a cornerstone of empathy that can be applied to advance inclusivity in innovation and entrepreneurship,” say Krishnamurty and Mullen, “but also to add to the enriching cross-disciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum at UMass Amherst.”
Krishnamurty and Mullen say that their proposal has three major objectives. The first is to develop a robust course to teach students about the importance of inclusivity as related to learning and understanding disability.
The second objective, according to Krishnamurty and Mullen, will be “to offer a hands-on team- and project-based course, where students get to engage with people with disabilities and interact with a diverse set of experts on assistive technology, universal design, inclusive design, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”
Objective number three will be to help students learn and develop an entrepreneurial mindset through an iterative "Invent, Innovate, Incubate" methodology with a particular focus on inclusivity.
According to VentureWell, “We envision a world in which science and technology innovators have the support, training, and access to networks and resources they need to solve the world’s most difficult problems.” (March 2021)