Is there any greater accolade than a student saying that a project has been the most meaningful and valuable experience of her undergraduate career? According to Kristen Laird (pictured), that’s what one of her teammates said about their capstone project, which they are working on as part of Marc Pomplun’s CS 410 Introduction to Software Engineering class.

By turning to the VDC’s global entrepreneurs in residence, Marc found real-world projects that motivate students by helping them make relevant connections between what they’re learning and their career goals.

According to Marc: “The VDC entrepreneurs are a huge benefit to our students and to me – I don’t have to try hard to come up with project ideas that will most likely be inferior and less interesting and relevant to the students. And I don’t have to do as much supervision and can focus on other aspects of the course, mainly teaching.”

Kristen agreed: “For many students, it’s their first experience to startup culture and solving real-world tech problems, and the insight and experience the entrepreneurs are lending is invaluable. Their guest lectures have been engaging and interesting, going beyond what we would normally have an opportunity to learn.”

The four participating entrepreneurs are exceptionally talented individuals with advanced engineering degrees from universities such as Stanford and MIT. They are Juan Morales, Tyme Wear; Himanshu Agrawal, Verbotics; Abhi Adhikari, Workership; and Thrasyvoulos (Thras) Karydis, DeepCure.

Not surprisingly, Thras’ project attracted Kristen. His company is transforming the field of small-molecule drug discovery, by using artificial intelligence to search trillions of chemistries with state-of-the-art accuracy. When she graduates in May 2019, Kristen will join Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence Development Acceleration Program as a program manager.

Kristen says: “This past week, our group poured countless hours into the project not because we had to, but because we were genuinely excited and passionate about it. Much of that is a product of Thras lending his expertise, giving us tips, and trusting us to solve a meaningful problem.”

Thras adds: “The students have been exceptional, contributing enough time from their schedule to get substantial work done for the projects — something that initially I had doubted would be the case. I am really confident that our participation is benefiting the students in gaining team, organization and software development skills.“ He says he’s also provided coaching for resumes and job applications.

At most other universities, professors need to constantly network in order to find real-world projects and high quality sponsors for their capstone students. It is rare to find ones who have the time to guide student projects during the entire semester.

But Marc knew where to turn. He’s not alone. In the Spring 2019 Semester, 22 VDC entrepreneurs are participating in 10 problem-based courses in 3 colleges.

Marc says: “I’m going to be the CS Department Chair starting in June. One of my plans for that is to connect the VDC and the CS Department more closely. I think there are great opportunities for our CS students as well as for the VDC entrepreneurs.”

The mastermind of the VDC’s academic engagement is Aijan Isakova, a UMass Boston MBA grad who serves as the VDC’s Program Manager. Contact her if you want to plan an engaging problem-based Fall 2019 course.