Iron Range Engineering (IRE) has been recognized as one of the top 10 emerging world leaders in engineering education in a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

IRE provides an engineering education to graduates of Minnesota’s community colleges through a university-college partnership between Minnesota State University, Mankato and Itasca Community College.

In the MIT study, IRE was described as “a truly innovative model, based on good scholarly work, that doesn’t get the press and the accolades that it deserves.” As one interviewee commented, “They take students that wouldn't make it into outstanding engineering departments and they turn them into independent learners in two years.... It is really very different”.

Using an innovative approach based on the latest research on how people learn, the IRE model guides students to develop the wide variety of technical, professional, and design knowledge and skills that engineers need to succeed in the ever-changing world.

“This is an example of a true three-way partnership. The vision and support of Senator David Tomassoni and former Representative Tom Rukavina, combined with the innovative spirit of the faculty and administrations of Itasca Community College and Minnesota State University, Mankato to develop this cutting edge program. The third partner is the wide range of industry partners who have been at the table since the beginning giving feedback, supplying projects, and hiring graduates. This special set of circumstances now has the rest of the world looking to northeastern Minnesota for leadership," said IRE founder Ron Ulseth.

The program is located on the Mesabi Range College campus in Virginia, Minn. It is supported by the Iron Range Higher Education Committee and the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and funded through the Iron Range Higher Education Account.

Northeast Higher Education District President Bill Maki said, “We are fortunate to have the continuing support and financial investments of the public and private sector partners of IRE. IRE is at the center of the education-based economic development strategies we have in our region.”

“There are some investments that pay dividends to our state - Higher Education is one of them,” State Representative Jason Metsa, current chair of the Iron Range Higher Education Committee stated. “As chair of the Iron Range Higher Education Committee, I am proud of our students and faculty who have made Iron Range Engineering successful. It has played a crucial role in placing students into workplaces across our region.”

MIT commissioned a benchmarking study in June 2016 to provide a rapid overview of the cutting edge of engineering education globally and a horizon scan of how the state-of-the-art is likely to develop in the future. The study draws on interviews with 178 global opinion leaders in engineering education located in 18 countries. As part of the study, thought-leaders in engineering education from around the world, identified two sets of university programs. The two sets are the current leaders in engineering education and the emerging leaders in engineering education.

The top ten emerging leaders of innovation, in order, are:

1. Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore)

2. Olin College (US)

3. University College London (UK)

4. Pontifical University of Chile (Chile)

5. Iron Range Engineering (US)

6. National University of Singapore (Singapore)

7. Technical University Delft (Netherlands)

8. Charles Sturt University (Australia)

9. Tsinghua University (China)

10. Arizona State University (US)

“We are honored to be recognized as an emerging leader in engineering education. Our number one goal is to prepare student engineers for what they will experience in engineering practice. We strive to help them develop the work-ready skills and attributes to be highly successful.” said Christine Kennedy, Director.

Following are excerpts from the study indicating how IRE was described:

Catering largely to the Community College student market, Iron Range Engineering (IRE) is an upper-division program, comprising the final two years of a four-year engineering bachelor’s degree. Although based on a Community College campus, IRE degrees are [awarded] by Minnesota State University, Mankato. The program first opened its doors to students in 2009 and its annual intake is currently fixed at 25. The two-year program is entirely structured around semester-long industry-sponsored projects using a Project Based Learning approach. At the start of each semester, students are expected to define their own learning goals and outcomes relating to each project as well as determine how these will be achieved. At the close of each project, students are asked to submit a design report. All exams are conducted orally, before a mixed panel. Self-directed learning is a critical element of IRE, which is supported by a significant focus on student self-reflection. Indeed, students are asked to document and submit around 150 structured self-reflections during the two-year program. With a strong program focus on “supporting the unique trajectory of every student”, the continuous process of self- reflection also helps to guide and inform student decision making in their choice of projects, competencies, specialisms and ways of working. Professional expectations are also strongly emphasized in the IRE program, with a dress code, a professional code of conduct relating to student and staff communication and a learning environment that “emulates professional practice.”

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