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The Impact of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education

I&E Education and Academia

Why should academia, in particular academic administrators, want to see innovation and entrepreneurship built into their programs? For one thing, recruiting and retaining incoming students, with their diverse backgrounds and changing demographics and expectations for employment and financial return, are critical for the viability of academic institutions. Students today want and demand educational experiences that are engaging and connect to the real world. This is true at each level—for the institution as a whole, for an individual college or school, and for each department or program. Physics has faced this type of challenge before: In the early 90s physics suffered an enrollment crisis that led to a greater sense of urgency for reforming physics instruction, such as adopting methods based on physics education research. Today, implementing PIE can help buffer the enrollment issues of the 21st century.

Physics has traditionally funded its research enterprise through grants. Competition for those funds has increased, and the likelihood for continued support from the same agencies has dwindled. There are many interesting, meaningful, and lucrative research projects out there—some that come from industry and others that apply physics to significant world problems that are fundable and are of interest to the next generation of student researchers. PIE lends itself to solving these problems and attracting the associated funding, expanding the landscape of research dollars available to those in academic programs.

I&E Education and Professional Societies and Economic Development

Professional physics societies—APS, AAPT, Society of Physics Students (SPS), and others—all have goals to prepare the next generation of scientists, promote physics as a discipline, and engage physicists with improving the world. As we detail in Section 4, promoting PIE education to their membership and to the communities that they influence will help societies contribute to meeting all of those needs. PIE makes physics a more attractive discipline, helps recruit more physics-trained individuals to apply their skills where they can contribute to the world, and gives them the tools to do so effectively.
Economic development will be enhanced by a workforce that has not only the unique capabilities that physicists bring to the table but also the background and skills to be productive in work environments, commercialize technology more rapidly and cost-effectively, and reduce training costs for organizations. Traditional funders of physics and physics research will also benefit, as the long-term value of physics research will be better understood and students will be more attracted to the discipline. With a wider, more diverse cadre of physics practitioners and with greater likelihood of successful research commercialization, funders will more easily justify their budgets.

I&E Education and the World at Large

Can you name a technology that didn’t start in physics or where physics doesn’t broadly and deeply apply? Can you name a problem facing the world that wouldn’t benefit from the application of physics and the input of physicists? If physics is perceived as the vital source of technological discovery that it truly is and, indeed, prepares its graduates to more efficiently develop answers to real-world problems, many new and effective solutions will be found. Energy, the environment, health, safety, food, and water are all topics that physicists can address. The potential benefits of physics to the world are immense, and in a mutually beneficial arrangement, the perception that physics can deliver those benefits will draw more students, especially women and underrepresented groups, who could contribute so much to the world if given the chance.

Physics Departments and Faculty Can Do This—But How?