Engineering for Peoples and Markets

Fresno State's First Tri-College Initiative.

Description
In fall, 2007, Dr. Delcore launched Engineering for People and Markets, an interdisciplinary initiative that brings together students and faculty from the Department of Anthropology, Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Entrepreneurship Program.  The core of EPM involves recruiting anthropology, business and engineering students onto Enterprise Teams (E-Teams) to work on technological innovations.

The goal of EPM is to better engage students in their own education through problem-based learning.  Dr. Delcore and his colleagues hope that student learning will improve through their experience applying knowledge and methods to a real world problem.  Each team works on an innovative electronic device or process, while exploring the needs and desires of its potential users and its market potential.  Each task involves the application of knowledge and concepts the students have encountered in their other courses and training.

Interdisciplinary: Anthropology, Engineering and Business
The interdisciplinary component of EPM is also crucial to student learning.  For example, when anthropology students explain the insights of their discipline to engineering students, and vice versa, their own comprehension improves.  Aside from aiding student learning, the ability to talk across disciplines is valuable in its own right.  Ramakrishna Nunna, a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Dean of the College of Engineering, says that conditions in the real world demand that engineers know how to talk to non-engineers.  The same can be said of students in the other disciplines, as well.  Business professionals in technology and other highly innovative fields need to be able to communicate business principles to technical experts, and to understand the technical limitations and opportunities before them.

Anthropologists
While the development and marketing of new technologies naturally involves engineers and business people, how does the anthropologist fit?  Cultural anthropologists are experts in the study of human values and behaviors, wherever humans can be found.  New technology has to fit the social and cultural context, and existing structures of daily life.  Anthropologists today work in the high tech industry, helping engineers and designers understand the potential users of new devices and applications.  Thus, the anthropology student on the interdisciplinary team studies the potential users of the device or process, and makes the appropriate design recommendations to her teammates.

Origins
The first two E-Teams are up and running in 2007-2008.  One team is designing a better TV remote control.  The anthropologist on the team is fielding a research project on TV-watching habits and remote control use.  The other team is working on a device that eases the experience of waiting for a table at a busy restaurant; the anthropologist on that team is studying the phenomenon of waiting, and the specific nature of “waiting for a table.”

Support
In 2007-2009, EPM is being supported by a seed grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.