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Fall 2008 Cover Story

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University of Detroit Mercy alumni live in all corners of the world building successful careers, contributing positively to their professions and communities, leaving their own mark on society in ways big and small. Some earn fame and fortune within their industries. For the late Bob Kearns ’52, Hollywood has come knocking.

A native Detroiter, Kearns’ life story has been turned into a major motion picture featuring movie stars Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda. On October 25, Kearns will be portrayed on the big screen in the movie Flash of Genius. Kinnear will play Kearns who, in 1967 took out patents on his invention, the intermittent windshield wiper. According to his daughter, Maureen, her father suffered from poor vision and set out to make driving in the rain less hazardous. Kearns impressed the automotive companies but tangled with them over the rights to develop the car part. It is his passion and determination to acquire the credit he deserved for this invention that will be captured on film, recognizing Kearns’ place as a pivotal contributor to the automotive industry. (Kearns passed away in February 2005).

The spotlight on Kearns coincides with the development of a new minor at UDM specifically focused on entrepreneurship. The new minor will encourage students to think outside of the box as it becomes increasingly critical for the world—and Michigan—to face the challenges of a changing global marketplace.

Leo Hanifin, dean of the College of Engineering & Science, leads the efforts at UDM to attract and educate technological innovators. He says that the United States faces a crisis in the development of engineering talent with only 4.5 percent of college students studying engineering compared to 45 percent in China.

“If we are to be competitive with the rest of the world, we need people to be entrepreneurs,” says Hanifin. “More and better educated engineers are needed if our nation and the auto industry are to thrive, or even survive.”

With support from three foundation grants, faculty members in engineering and business have developed and piloted most of the courses that would comprise a technological entrepreneurship minor.  Once approved by the UDM faculty and administration, such a minor, built on an existing educational foundation, would prompt students to be creative and follow their dreams.

The goal is to develop graduates who will be innovative thinkers by offering an interdisciplinary curriculum taught by professors and experts with backgrounds in engineering, business, architecture, digital media and psychology. Instructors will provide direction to students who will graduate into a world where the demand to offer consumers alternative energy sources, earth-friendly products and services is increasing.

In the “Innovation and Creativity” course, for example, students learn processes for recognizing new market opportunities and defining pathways to get their product to market while they discover the tools for innovation. The business professors use case studies, exercises in creative processes and examples to support their teachings.

“The bottom line is not the only measure of success,” says Gerald Cavanagh, S.J., interim dean, College of Business Administration, professor of Business and the Charles T. Fisher III Chair of Business Ethics. “Business is for people. We will teach students to organize themselves so that they can meet the needs of people, and the benefits will be widespread.”

Several UDM alumni recall the influences that their professors had on them and their career-forming decisions. Their inspiring stories, complete with “ah-ha” moments, illustrate the progression of UDM’s ability to graduate students who persevere, despite the risks and challenges, to define themselves and their place in history.