Published: Dec. 1, 2022 By

Sample display of website created in the classA screen grab of the website Hardy and his team built for the Entrepreneurial Product Development course which featured a challenging blend of theater and engineering concepts. 

The final Entrepreneurial Product Development fall semester project seems straightforward. Meet with a client and design a product for them. Then present it to the client – usually a nonprofit – and your classmates at the end of the course. 

But Professor Jessica Rush Leeker wanted to push her students out of their comfort zones a bit this year with the final project.

She gave her students one of their biggest challenges yet, when she brought in Associate Professor Kevin Rich from the Department of Theatre & Dance who asked for products that could be used for a children’s Shakespeare theater he is looking to develop. 

“I make them sweat,” said Rush Leeker who is a scholar-in-residence in the college of engineering and the faculty director of undergraduate education and ESCEND®. “I love seeing the confusion going through their minds when we tell them what the project will be. The students hate that part, but I think it’s great because I get to see how creative they can be and what ideas they come up with.” 

In the class, students are divided into groups and tasked with interviewing their clients, sometimes multiple times, and developing a product for them. If the client likes the ideas, the class is provided with a small budget to prototype them. 

While the process might have begun with confusion, Computer Science senior Matthew Hardy said he and his group feel confident about their design and project this semester – a website to help make theater more sustainable. 

“We’re basically creating an e-commerce site that allows different producers and directors from various companies to be able to exchange costume pieces and production materials,” Hardy said. “This way, items can be reused, and we don’t have to recreate things with new resources when there are 10 perfectly good costumes sitting in a warehouse nearby.” 

Another project created for the class is a special costume light so that actors can perform theater outside in the dark.

Hardy said he was confused when Rush Leeker and Rich told the students what the topic and request would be. But after a couple of talks with Rich the group started to get some ideas. 

“It’s been really cool to go out and do our own research on this subject and gain insight into a whole new world that I’m not exposed to otherwise,” Hardy said. “This class brings up a totally new way to look at things, whereas all my other engineering classes are all within the context of engineering. This really pushed me out of my comfort zone.” 

That is exactly the point of the class Rush Leeker said. She feels that in modern times, everything is easily answered and accessible, so she wants her engineering students to look beyond the topics they know best and get uncomfortable. At least for a semester. 

Rush Leeker said she cannot wait for the two project presentation days coming up in December to see all the work on display. 

“Those are two of my favorite days of the year,” she said. “I love them so much because I can see the joy in (the students’) faces that they did it. It’s worth everything.”