In the heart of Minnesota’s Mesabi iron range, a new model for engineering education began delivery in January 2010. The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) model is a project-based-learning program in which students work closely with industry on design projects throughout their 3rd and 4th years. The goal of this approach is to produce graduates with significant integrated technical and professional knowledge and competencies.
IRE students are upper-division engineering students who are enrolled at Minnesota State University-Mankato and are typically graduates of Minnesota's community colleges, most commonly from Itasca Community College Engineering (Grand Rapids, MN).
The majority of the student learning is done in the context of industry engineering projects, rather than in traditional distinctly topical engineering classes. Upon graduation students will receive a B.S. in Engineering degree with emphases along a spectrum between what might be traditionally called mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Each student creates their own emphasis for the degree, by choosing particular competencies which appeal to them. This empowerment promotes the interest level and motivation of the student, and leads to the ability for deeper learning and longer retention of the material. This program aims to break down disciplinary silos and prepare engineers who are “able to understand issues that transcend disciplinary boundaries and to be able to offer effective solutions”.
The IRE model is roughly a 40 hour-per-week experience in an engineering-type office/lab setting where students learn engineering design through actual practice and managing engineering projects for industry clients. Students manage the acquisition of their technical competencies by learning and applying the engineering concepts in context with their design. Roughly, 20 hours per week are dedicated to design execution and 20 hours to technical learning with the goal of synergy between the two. This arrangement relies heavily upon industry partnership and these industries usually, but not exclusively, involve paper, mining, and energy production.