T6-DM2-3 - Startup: Iron Range Engineering

Difference Makers
Ron Ulseth1 , Elizabeth Pluskwik1, Rebecca Bates2
1 Iron Range Engineering
2 Minnesota State University

The motivations behind the startup of the Iron Range Engineering program (2010) were driven both the need for regional economic development and the desire to provide a high quality, more balanced education for students. The balance that was desired was across the professional, technical, and design domains of the profession. There was the impression by the "drivers" of this change that the other pathways students could take to become engineers were imbalanced towards the technical domain at the cost of the development of professional and design competence. The change drivers also felt the need for student-centered experiential pedagogies to ensure a more impactful learning experience. Regional legislative and economic agents provided the funding for the change, while engineering professors drove the academic development.  A national academic advisory board of leaders in engineering education was established to give guidance. Project-based learning (PBL) in the Aalborg model was chosen as a starting point for adaptation and development. A curriculum was developed.  Much resistance to change was encountered at the college and university levels.  Industry, however, welcomed the change with open arms seeing the value of the more balanced entry-level engineer. Bridging agents were identified to help mitigate the resistance on campus. As the first generations of students completed the program and found success in companies, the program used a robust feedback system to drive substantial continuous improvement. The student experience would be changed by 10-20% each semester as new strategies were developed, tested, and improved. ABET accreditation was obtained. After 5 years, others began to take notice. ABET awarded IRE the Innovation award and Ruth Graham identified IRE as an emerging world leader in her landmark study for MIT.  Now 10 years have passed. Continuous improvement is still the norm. The original change agents are fading away and new leaders are taking the program into a sustainable future.