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  1. Previous work has identified that one third of Americans live in an engineering education desert, or a county without a face-to-face 4-year accredited engineering degree or a two-year face-to-face pre-engineering program, regardless of whether it results in a credential. Iron Range Engineering (IRE) is an upper division engineering program designed to help provide access to individuals who due to financial and/or geographic location would be otherwise unable to participate in engineering. In this paper we present data demonstrating how this model of engineering education supports students from a range of geographical areas by addressing the research questions: Is IRE supporting students from engineering education deserts, are those students returning to their home region with a paid engineering position, and if so, with what income? In 2022, students at IRE were surveyed about their co-op experiences, feelings of belonging, and demographic information. This data was analyzed using descriptive statistics of location, salary, and demographic data. Our data supports the idea of this model of education attracting participation of students who otherwise may not have access to an engineering degree. Of the students in IRE, 67% come from engineering education deserts. Of those, 17 returned to their home state with a co-op and 8 returned to their home county with a paid co-op, at an average salary of $22/hour. Our results contribute to our understanding of engineering education deserts in the United States, and the IRE Bell co-op model as a curricular model to provide access to an affordable engineering degree for students in a wide range of locations. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. This project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Over its six year duration, this project will fund scholarships to 120 unique full-time students who are pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees in engineering. First semester junior, primarily transfer, students at Iron Range Engineering will receive scholarships for one semester. The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) STEM Scholars Program provides a financially sustainable pathway for students across the nation to graduate with an engineering degree and up to two years of industry experience. Students typically complete their first two years of engineering coursework at community colleges across the country. Students then join IRE and spend one transitional semester gaining training and experience to equip them with the technical, design, and professional skills needed to succeed in the engineering workforce. During the last two years of their education, IRE students work in industry, earning an engineering intern salary, while being supported in their technical and professional development by professors, learning facilitators, and their own peers. The IRE STEM Scholars project will provide access to a financially responsible engineering degree for low-income students by financially supporting them during the transitional semester, which has two financial challenges: university tuition costs are higher than their previous community college costs, and the semester occurs before they are able to earn an engineering co-op income. In addition, the project will provide personalized mentorship throughout students’ pathway to graduation, such as weekly conversations with a mentor. By providing these supports, the IRE STEM Scholars project aims to prepare students to be competitive applicants for the engineering workforce with career development and engineering co-op experience. Because community colleges draw relatively representative proportions of students from a variety of backgrounds, this project has the potential to learn how transfer pathways and co-op education can support financially sustainable pathways to engineering degrees for a more diverse group of students and contribute to the development of a diverse, competitive engineering workforce. The overall goal of this project is to increase STEM degree completion of low-income, high-achieving undergraduates with demonstrated financial need. As part of the scope of this project, a concurrent mixed-methods research study will be done on engineering students’ thriving, specifically their identity, belonging, motivation, and overall wellbeing (or mental and physical health). Student outcomes have previously been measured primarily through academic markers such as graduation rates and GPA. In addition to these outcomes, this project explores ways to better support overall student thriving. This study will address the following research questions: How do undergraduate students’ engineering identity and belongingness develop over time in a co-op-based engineering program? How do undergraduate students’ motivation and identity connect to overall wellbeing in a co-op-based engineering program? In the first year of the IRE STEM Scholars Project, initial interview data describe scholars’ sense of belonging in engineering, prior to their first co-op experiences and survey data describe IRE students’ experiences in co-op and overall sense of belonging. Future work will utilize these values to identify ways to better support the IRE STEM scholars’ identity development as they move into their first co-op experiences. This project is funded by NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers, and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and academic/career pathways of low-income students. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 25, 2024