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Entrepreneurship in the Iron Range Engineering (IRE) Model

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Novel Entrepreneurship Programs

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.633.1 - 22.633.7



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Paper Authors


Dan Ewert Iron Range Engineering

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Dan Ewert is the Director and Professor of Iron Range Engineering, Virginia, MN, a program of Minnesota State University, Mankato.

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Ronald R. Ulseth Iron Range Engineering

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Ulseth is an instructor of engineering at Iron Range Engineering and Itasca Community College both in northern Minnesota. He is the co-developer of both programs. For the past 20 years, he has taught physics, statics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics. He has successfully implemented engineering learning communities in first year programs. Recently, Ulseth began a new 100% project-based, industry-sponsored, engineering curriculum.

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Bart M. Johnson Itasca Community College

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Bart Johnson is an instructor of engineering and program coordinator at Itasca Community College in northern Minnesota. For the past seven years, he has taught physics, statics, dynamics, and solid modeling. Prior to Itasca, he was a design engineer in John Deere's Construction and Forestry Division.

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Jeff Wandler Iron Range Engineering


Andrew Lillesve Iron Range Engineering

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Andrew Lillesve is originally from Grand Rapids, Minnesota. After high school he attended the Itasca Community College Engineering Program until 2006, at which point he moved to Houghton, Michigan. There finished his Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University. In 2009, he began his M.B.A. at Michigan Technological University finishing in summer 2010.

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Entrepreneurship in the Iron Range Engineering (IRE) ModelIn the heart Minnesota’s Mesabi iron range, a new model for engineering education has beenfunded and began delivery in January 2010. The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) model is aproject-based-learning (PjBL) program in which students work with industry on design projectswith a focus on producing graduates with integrated technical/professional knowledge andcompetencies. Students at IRE are upper-division engineering students, enrolled at MinnesotaState University Mankato, who are mostly graduates of Minnesota's community colleges. IronRange Engineering is collaboration between Minnesota State University Mankato and ItascaCommunity College Engineering (Grand Rapids, MN).IRE students do not take classes. All of their learning is done in the context of the industryprojects. Their degree will be a B.S. in Engineering with emphases along a spectrum betweenwhat might be traditionally called mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. This is aprogram aimed at breaking down silos and preparing engineers who are “able to understandissues that transcend disciplinary boundaries and able to offer effective solutions”.The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) Model is a 40 hour per week experience in an engineering-type office setting where students learn engineering design through actual practice managingengineering projects for industry clients. Students manage the acquisition of their technicalcompetencies by learning and applying the engineering core concepts in context with theirdesign. 20 hours per week are dedicated to design execution and 20 hours to technical learningwith much synergy between the two. This arrangement allows for an environment conducive toentrepreneurship. Students with an interest in entrepreneurship form teams of three to five members and eitherdevelop their own idea or develop an idea from an “outside” investor/inventor. The studentsperform the usual design tasks such as requirements capture, project planning, project scope,detailed engineering analysis and technical reports, but the students also perform a market study,write a business plan, and address financing and marketing concerns. The students’ workculminates in a submission to a state-wide business plan competition.The state-wide business plan competition includes numerous workshops and seminars given byexperienced entrepreneurial leaders on various topics relevant to starting company. Regionaleconomic development agencies and business-savvy individuals also offer their expertise to thestudent groups.Last year over 1000 entries were logged into the business plan competition and students from ourprogram entered three plans into their division. Of these three plans, two made the top ten and ofthese two, one made the top three.Our aim is to recoup the intellectual capital developed in our students before they leave ourprogram and we want to provide opportunities for these talented young people to stay in ourregion, creating wealth. Our immediate goal is to continue developing a hybrideducational/economic development program that converts state tax dollars into regional andstate-wide wealth.The authors will present a detailed description of the model and describe early results as the firsttwo cohorts of students are under way.Keywords Section:Project-Based-Learning for Design, Teamwork in Design, Industry, Entrepreneurial,

Ewert, D., & Ulseth, R. R., & Johnson, B. M., & Wandler, J., & Lillesve, A. (2011, June), Entrepreneurship in the Iron Range Engineering (IRE) Model Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17914

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