SMU Engineering Teams Up With Lockheed Martin To Teach Innovation, Creativity
By Margaret Allen
Illustration By John Cannell
Can students be taught to be innovative thinkers? SMU’s
Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering is betting they can.
The Lyle School has launched the SMU/Lockheed Martin
Skunk Works® Program, a progressive plan for teaching innovation
to attract bright students into engineering. It targets
two national crises: an unprecedented demand for emerging
technologies to solve critical global problems such as housing,
energy, global development and national defense, and a rapid
decline in the number of new engineers.
The program is a partnership with the acknowledged leader
in innovative thinking – aerospace defense contractor Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®. The Skunk Works®
process originated in 1943 with work for the
military that was conducted in secret.
The name emerged when a team member
began answering the phone
“Skonk Works,” the name of a
secret still for making “joy-juice”
in Al Capp’s then-popular newspaper
comic strip “Li’l Abner.”
Lockheed’s lab is known for
working under extremely
short deadlines to develop
the fastest, most sophisticated
military aircraft. Unmatched
in its success, Lockheed’s Skunk
Works® was the first – and now
longest-running – innovation lab of its
kind. The company’s partnership with SMU,
announced last fall by Lyle School Dean Geoffrey
Orsak, is another first for Lockheed.
For Lockheed, the SMU program expands on the company’s
broader effort to cultivate in students an enthusiasm
“It’s really important that we bond with the freshman and
tell them what engineering is, as opposed to what they thought
it was,” said Frank Cappuccio, executive vice president at
Lockheed and director of Skunk Works®, who helped launch
the SMU/Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® Program lecture
series on campus in March.
The SMU program already is turning heads, says James E.
Quick, associate vice president for research and dean of
“With Skunk Works®, the Lyle School is stating that it’s
emphasizing innovation to train the next generation of
engineers,” Quick says. “This emphasizes collective problemsolving.
Every engineer in the United States knows about
Skunk Works®. They’ll see that we’re taking bold directions.”
The program will combine research and innovation. “Innovation
creates an entirely new approach or solution to a
problem in such a way that changes the way others look at the
world or engage the problem,” Quick says.
Delores Etter, director of SMU’s Caruth Institute for Engineering
Education, is director of the SMU/Lockheed Martin
Skunk Works® Program and is leading development of the curriculum. It will include lectures on the Skunk Works® philosophy
in courses for first-year engineering students; a Skunk
Works® Lecture Series featuring business and government
leaders; and visiting professorships in innovation. In addition,
a laboratory will be developed where students will work
round-the-clock in small teams to solve an assigned problem
within a specific time frame, ranging from one or two weeks
to a semester. The curriculum initially will target engineering
undergraduates but eventually will include all disciplines.
Nathan Huntoon, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering,
is developing the innovation lectures. They will start in
fall 2009 and will include case histories of innovative products
and immersion projects.
“We’ll provide students with the environment, the tools and
the problems that will challenge them,” Huntoon says.
“By experiencing that process, students will realize
what is possible. Everyone can be innovative, but
they have to be in the right environment.”
Students can participate in their first year. Etter is working
with the U.S. Navy to secure a variety of authentic projects
that students can tackle.
“Some projects are going to be more successful
than others, and with
each project they’ll
get a lot of feedback
from faculty and their
customers from the
public or private sector.
That will help students improve
their design abilities,” she says. “I want to increase students’ confidence, which occurs by
doing things that are successful, but also by understanding
why something didn’t work well.”
Students will work in the Lyle School’s 10,000-square-foot
Innovation Gymnasium – a flexible lab space in the new $22
million, 65,000-square-foot Caruth Hall, now under construction.
The building is set for completion in December. A spacious
room with high ceilings, the gymnasium will be stocked
with computers, electronic testing equipment, table saws and
other materials and resources. Large glass windows will open
to an interior public corridor, allowing passers-by to observe
students at work.
The gymnasium also will include an “idea room” with
audio-visual equipment for videoconferences and teleconferences.
Student researchers can meet there with customers
and faculty advisers.
Design projects may start at the end of this summer in
existing lab space. All projects will address a critical need,
“We are committed to graduating students who bring innovative
engineering skills with a passion for leadership and a
strong social conscience,” he says. “Skunk Works® assignments
will provide a fantastic opportunity to make that connection
by challenging students with demanding problems that address
An important element of Orsak’s and Etter’s vision is
to broaden the program beyond the University. Each
semester a visiting professor from another university
will be invited to participate in the program,
probably starting in spring 2010. They believe that
scholarly cross-pollination will bring new ideas to SMU, as
well as send faculty back with a passion for
implementing an innovation gymnasium
at their universities.
Ideas from many sources have helped
Lockheed Skunk Works® succeed, as the
company hires graduates of numerous
universities, Cappuccio said at the lecture
“It takes people to make things happen,”
he said. “That’s where the magic of
innovation comes in – the willingness to accept
ideas from many people and to integrate the ideas
to get a better product.”
For more information: www.skunkworks.com