Iron Range Engineering Program Recognized in MIT Study

Program named "top 10 emerging world leader in engineering technology."

May 02, 2018 |

a group of men in safety vests and helmets standing on a roadMankato, Minn. – Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Iron Range Engineering program, located on the Mesabi Range College campus in Virginia, Minn., and delivered by a university-college partnership between Minnesota State Mankato and Itasca Community College, was recognized as one of the top 10 emerging world leaders in engineering education in a recently published Massachusetts Institute of Technology research study.

The 170-page study is titled “The global state of the art in engineering education,” and was published in March. It is the result of a benchmarking study commissioned by MIT 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 report indicates that the top 10 emerging leaders of innovation, in order, are:

  1. Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore)
  2. Olin College (United States)
  3. University College London (UK)
  4. Pontifical University of Chile (Chile)
  5. Iron Range Engineering (United States)
  6. National University of Singapore (Singapore)
  7. Technical University Delft (Netherlands)
  8. Charles Sturt University (Australia)
  9. Tsinghua University (China)
  10. Arizona State University (United States)

a group of people looking at a posterIron Range Engineering provides an engineering education to graduates of Minnesota’s community colleges. Using an innovative approach based on the latest research on how people learn, the Iron Range Engineering 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.

The Iron Range Higher Education Committee and the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supports Iron Range Engineering, which is funded through the Iron Range Higher Education Account.

Quotes originally published in a news release published by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and Iron Range Engineering

Ron Ulseth, founder of Iron Range Engineering: 
“This program is an example of a true three-way partnership. The vision and support of Sen. David Tomassoni and former Rep. 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. Thirdly, a wide range of industry partners who have been at the table since the beginning provided feedback, supplied projects, and hired graduates. This special set of circumstances now has the rest of the world looking to northeastern Minnesota for leadership.”

Northeast Higher Education District President Bill Maki: 
“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.”

State Rep. Jason Metsa, current chair of the Iron Range Higher Education Committee: “There are some investments that pay dividends to our state—higher education is one of them. 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.”

Iron Range Engineering Director Christine Kennedy:
“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.”

Excerpts from the study indicate 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.’”

“A number of interviewees commented that IRE was ‘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 are not starting with any cream-of-the-crop students. 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.’”

Iron Range Engineering is offered on Minnesota’s Iron Range in Virginia, Minn., and its students are upper-division Minnesota State Mankato engineering students who are graduates of Minnesota’s community colleges, most commonly from Itasca Community College Engineering in Grand Rapids, Minn. For more information, please contact Christine Kennedy, director of Iron Range Engineering, by phone at 218-766-9536 or by email at

Iron Range Engineering is a program within Minnesota State Mankato’s Department of Integrated Engineering, which is part of the University’s College of Science, Engineering & Technology.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 14,712 students, is part of the Minnesota State system, which includes 30 colleges and seven universities.