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International Journal of Engineering Education


Tempus Publications


A key component associated with the development of an entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to understand customerneeds and consider this when developing a product. This study sought to understand whether the inclusion of a customerfocus group as part of a virtual internship created any differences in the design processes of sophomore engineeringstudents (114 students). The Nephrotex virtual internship requires that students design a dialysis membrane by optimizinga selection of four components: membrane polymer, polymerization process, processing surfactant, and carbon nanotubepercentage. We found that sophomores who engaged in a focus group during the virtual internship Nephrotex showed(statistically) equal focus on cost versus technical measures of design performance during the focus group. Despite this,design cost was lower in the section that participated in a focus group, with no decrease in product quality. This indicatesthat customer voice may be an important factor in decreasing product cost. We also found that sophomore studentsprioritized their interviewing of customers within the focus group towards end users, such as the patient and nephrologist.Qualitative analysis of sophomore responses demonstrated that they found utility in the focus group (30% of participants)but did not necessarily believe that the customers had useful knowledge of the relevant design attributes (17% ofparticipants). Such realizations may have contributed to the equivalent quality and decreased costs associated with thedesigns of sophomores who participated in a focus group.


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