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AVP explores new ways for true multidisciplinarity in education

Multidisciplinarity is crucial in entrepreneurship education — anyone who wants to build a successful company must understand topics or work with people outside their own major. To allow students from very different backgrounds to collaborate on a meaningful project, Aalto Ventures Program decided to create a new, multidisciplinary course on cosmetic product development combining chemical product design with R&D management.
Students working on a cosmetic product during lecture

Multidisciplinarity is one of the key elements of entrepreneurship education — anyone who wants to build a successful company must understand topics or work with people outside their own major. True multidisciplinarity, however, can be difficult to achieve. Even though Aalto is one university, the different schools still have different systems and students tend to stick with courses from their schools. To really understand the different aspects of creating new business, students should engage in cross-school collaboration. That was the premise when AVP teachers Håkan Mitts and Elina Kähkönen decided to create a new, multidisciplinary course that combines chemical product design with R&D management. They were joined by Satu Rekonen and Lauri Saarinen from the department of Industrial Engineering and Management, and together they made the course a truly multidisciplinary experience.

The new multidisciplinary consumer product development course effectively combines two existing courses — Basics in Research and Development (R&D) Management (TU-C3030) and Chemical Product Design (CHEM-CV). Both courses still exist; students who enroll in either of the courses will take part in the combined course and get the multidisciplinary experience. In addition to just combining R&D management and chemical product design, the teachers also decided to add design and marketing to give the students a full package of entrepreneurial knowledge.

In spring 2020, the students who took the course formed teams and then chose between three learning tracks: R&D project management, design and marketing, or chemical product development. Each team would then act as an independent product development unit developing a new consumer product for a Finnish cosmetics company. After the course, students had all they need to develop a new product and take it from the initial user and market research to production readiness.

Students testing materials for a cosmetic product in class
Students doing texture tests for their cosmetic products

Providing the students such an assignment that requires cooperation with different study fields is crucial in creating a multidisciplinary course. Another requirement is more practical: if the new course is created by combining existing courses, they should be roughly of the same size in order to make balanced teams possible.

The feedback from both students and teachers has been extremely positive. Students from chemical engineering got to understand what else is needed besides lab work to get a real product, and the industrial engineering and management students had a real, tangible product to work with that they also helped create. 

Multidisciplinarity is one way to add entrepreneurial elements into education. At AVP, we believe they are beneficial for all students. If you’d like to help your students by making your course more entrepreneurial, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
 

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