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Iron Range Engineering - An Overview of Design and Open-Ended Problem Solving Activities in an Interdisciplinary, Project-based Learning Program

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Engineering Programs

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Pluskwik Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Elizabeth leads the Engineering Management and Statistics competencies at Iron Range Engineering, an ABET-accredited project-based engineering education program located in northern Minnesota. She enjoys helping student engineers develop entrepreneurial mindsets through active and collaborative learning in the classroom, on project design teams, and while out on co-op placement. Her prior education and industry experience are in business and accounting, and her Ph.D. in Organization and Management is from Capella University, Minneapolis. She has Six Sigma and Lean certifications and enjoys using game-based learning as pedagogy. Elizabeth and her husband also own photography business and spend time outdoors with their cameras in Minnesota.

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Project-based learning (PBL) in engineering education is growing at a rapid pace. The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) Program of Minnesota State University Mankato, is an upper division (3rd and 4th year) undergraduate engineering education program based on the Aalborg, Denmark PBL model. Students work in teams to solve industry-sourced projects each semester. The learning of engineering is accomplished in three domains - technical learning of engineering concepts, professionalism, and design, which we call the “three-legged stool” of engineering education. The program promotes entrepreneurial mindset and innovative open-ended problem-solving in context. Fifty students are enrolled in 3rd and 4th-year studies at a time and work in vertically integrated teams. Most of the courses are flipped and active learning based on learning science is implemented regularly. Nearly all students in the program have one or more co-op experiences in industry. Students earn a Bachelor of Science in Engineering when they complete the interdisciplinary engineering program. IRE has been awarded recognition for innovative practices in engineering education by ABET. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the integrated teaching and learning strategies that IRE uses to facilitate engineering design learning with an entrepreneurial mindset in a PBL model. The paper describes the sprint model of engineering design used in the IRE program, along with team formation, facilitation roles, and design review expectations. The paper also describes the open-ended problem solving verbal exams taken by student engineers every 6 months, as well as several other learning practices used in the program. Descriptions of interleaved spaced retrieval and connections to other learning are presented, along with summaries of active learning strategies used by our faculty. Evidence for the effectiveness of these learning strategies includes data collected from supervisors of program graduates which indicate that this program prepares entry-level engineers to a level superior to entry-level engineers from traditional university programs.

Pluskwik, E. (2019, June), Iron Range Engineering - An Overview of Design and Open-Ended Problem Solving Activities in an Interdisciplinary, Project-based Learning Program Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31913

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