By Beth Bily
Area dignitaries and officials gathered at the Mesabi Range College in Virginia Friday to dedicate its newest building to former State Rep. Tom Rukavina.
Rukavina was honored during a ceremony at which signage was unveiled designating the building the “Tom Rukavina Engineering Center.”
The former Virginia lawmaker has long been a champion of higher education and played a key role in securing $2 million in annual funding from taconite production taxes earmarked for higher education on the Iron Range.
The Iron Range Engineering (IRE) model began delivery in January of 2010. It utilizes a project-based teaching method that pairs students with industry in the region for their third and fourth year of engineering education. Prior to the launch of IRE, only two-year degrees in engineering were available through programming at Itasca Community College.
The engineering program, located on the Mesabi Range campus, is a collaborative effort with ICC and Minnesota State University. It has, to date, graduated 50 students, 49 of which have been placed in engineering jobs. Two-thirds of the students who have completed the program have remained in the region.
IRE won ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation last year, which was retroactively applied to all graduates. Accreditation is a key factor for students seeking licensure as a professional engineer.
Rukavina won high praise for his higher education efforts from Sue Collins, president of the Northeast Higher Education District, Ron Ulseth, program director for IRE, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Commissioner Tony Sertich as well as from students, family and friends.
Today “we have the opportunity to dedicate this engineering center to someone who cares deeply about students, about education and about this region,” said Collins, whose speech opened the dedication ceremony. “You will, no doubt, hear from my colleagues about (Rukavina) leading from the heart. I have deep admiration and respect” for him.
“Iron Range Engineering happened as the result of the tremendous dedication of hundreds of people, but it really wouldn’t have happened without one person – Tom Rukavina,” said Ulseth.
In a letter read to those in attendance by Sertich, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL – Chisholm, said “no one deserved the honor more.”
Rukavina, clearly moved by the dedication ceremony, still found an opportunity to exhibit the quick wit for which he was known during his tenure at the legislature. Poking fun at his own stature he said: “I’m feeling five and a half feet tall right now,” when he took the podium.
While the ceremonies clearly focused on Rukavina, the former lawmaker praised the role of educators and family in his own speech.
“Next to family, teachers are the most important people in our lives,” he said.
Rukavina’s parents emphasized the importance of higher education, and that emphasis clearly influenced his own philosophy.
Education “allows kids to get good jobs, and when people have good jobs, a lot of the rest things that happen to families to take care of themselves,” Rukavina said.