NSF Awards $4 Million to Michigan Tech to Build Earth Science Teaching Model in Grand Rapids

Tech Today

by Jennifer Donovan, public relations director

Some of the most pressing problems facing the world today–climate change, earthquakes and volcanoes, energy and water resources–are in a field of science most Americans haven’t studied since their middle-school earth science class. So Michigan Tech is partnering with the Grand Rapids Public Schools and other groups in Michigan, Washington, DC and Colorado to help students learn more about the earth.

The new program, called MiTEP (Michigan Teaching Excellence Program), is funded by a $4 million, five-year National Science Foundation Math Science Partnership grant. It brings university geoscience researchers and middle-school teachers together to identify ways to make earth science more exciting and meaningful to middle-school students.

In the process, the project hopes to motivate more young people to consider further education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math, fields known collectively as STEM. Educators nationwide have expressed concern about a declining interest in STEM among today’s students. STEM professionals are in high demand and are viewed as critical in our nation’s effort to maintain its leadership role in the world’s economy.

“Middle school earth science is a particularly important area because it is often the first secondary science course taken by students,” said Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School. The MiTEP partners believe that if students have a good experience in their middle-school course, they will be enthusiastic about taking more science in high school. Students who like science are more likely to do well in their science classes, so improving attitudes early on may have long-term benefits.

MiTEP will use an innovative approach to improving student learning by bringing together practicing scientists and Grand Rapids teachers to collaborate on improving instruction. Active partners in addition to Michigan Tech and the Grand Rapids Public Schools include the Grand Rapids Area Pre-College Engineering Program (GRAPCEP), the American Geological Institute, the National Park Service, Grand Valley State University and the Colorado School of Mines.

Sleeping Dunes National Park and Keweenaw National Historical Park will also be key players. “We recognize and want to fully utilize the power of place in teaching,” Huntoon explained.

Ann Benbow, director of education and outreach at the American Geological Institute, is excited about participating in the new program. “This new research-based program will help those in the geoscience education community to make better-informed decisions when designing earth science curricula, implementing instruction and providing professional development opportunities for teachers,” she said.

Unlike many educational fix-it projects, MiTEP researchers will work closely with the classroom teachers and school district representatives to collect information to help them identify effective ways to improve student learning and attitudes. Teachers have a real leadership role in the project. Teachers’ input is being used by the researchers to develop professional development activities that are tailored to meet the needs of the Grand Rapids schools. Curricula and teaching methods developed for the MiTEP project will be carefully evaluated to determine which are most effective in improving student learning.

“We’re talking about a fundamental and much-needed study of how to best reform science education, one that could make an enormous difference to the future of our nation,” said Huntoon.

“This project has tremendous potential because Michigan’s educational issues are typical. This project could serve as a template for improving STEM education throughout the country,” added Bill Rose, a professor of geology and lead researcher on the project.

Grand Rapids Public School science teachers are being recruited now for two weeks of intensive training in June, one week on the Michigan Tech campus and the other in Grand Rapids. The grant will cover substantial teacher stipends, travel funds, equipment and supplies and release time for professional development. Participating teachers can also earn up to 20 graduate credit hours at no cost.

“We are pleased to be part of an opportunity that allows our great teachers to strengthen their content knowledge and bolster our curriculum with real-life experiences,” said Bill Smith, science curriculum supervisor for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.


LiveScience.com Features John Gierke

Tech Today

By Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Technological University

LiveScience.com featured a profile of Associate Professor John Gierke (GMES) in its ScienceLives series.  The series is a cooperation between the National Science Foundation and LiveScience. 

Graduate students will find of interest several of Gierke’s answers to questions that explore what makes scientists tick.

Check out the full story at LiveScience and stay tuned for an upcoming Behind the Scenes story that will feature Gierke’s work and former graduate student Jill Bruning.


MBA Student Chad Daavettila Honored

Tech Today

MBA student Chad Daavetilla was inducted into the Michigan Tech chapter of Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society.  Students ranking in the top 20 percent of master’s degree programs at schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International are eligible for membership.

While almost 300,000 students receive bachelor’s or master’s degrees in business each year, only about 20,000 are inducted into lifetime membership in Beta Gamma Sigma. BGS membership provides many benefits, including career development advice, leadership conferences, networking with successful business people and scholarships.

The co-advisors for the Michigan Tech chapter of BGS are Associate Professor Chelley Vician and Assistant Professor Mari Buche (SBE). For more information about BGS, visit http://betagammasigma.org/index.htm .


National Geographic TV Highlights Tech Volcano Research

Tech Today

Clips from a film about Adam Durant’s volcano research in Hawaii will be shown on the National Geographic Channel as part of an Earth Day program at 8 p.m. tonight.

Durant earned his PhD in Geology from Michigan Tech in 2007.  After graduation he did a post-doc at the University of Bristol.  Currently, he is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

He and colleagues took meteorological balloons to the Kilauea Volcano last summer to make the first on-site measurements of volcanic gases as they spewed from the mouth of the volcano.

For a story about Durant’s volcano research that appeared last year, see Tech’s website: www.admin.mtu.edu/urel/news/media_relations/708/ .


CEE Students Present Seminar April 16th

Published in Tech Today.

Two graduate students in civil and environmental engineering will present a seminar at 4 p.m., April 16th, in Dow 642.

Shane Ferrell, a master’s student, will give a talk, “Cold Climate Embankment Stabilization.” He will address, in part, transportation infrastructures in cold climates.

Baron Colbert, a doctoral student, will give a talk, “The Application of Warm Mix Technology to High Percentage Recycled Asphalt Pavement (RAP) Mixtures.” He will address, in part, the effects that warm mix asphalt has on recycled asphalt pavements.

For more information, contact Zhanping You at 487-1059 or at zyou@mtu.edu .


Alumni and Graduate School staff honored by Alumni Association

Announced in Tech Today.

The Michigan Tech Alumni Association Board of Directors has announced the recipients of the 2009 Alumni Association Awards:

Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Michelle Boven ’99
BS in Mechanical Engineering

Honorary Alumni Award
Betty Chavis, recruiting consultant, Graduate School

Outstanding Service Award
John Calder ’67, ’76
BS in Mechanical Engineering, MS in Business Administration

Distinguished Alumni Award
Frank Pavlis ’38
BS in Chemical Engineering

For more information, click here.


Computer Science Faculty Member, Doctoral Candidate Receive Best Paper Award

Published in Tech Today

Doctoral candidate Alicia Thorsen and Assistant Professor Philip Merkey (Computer Science), along with Professor Fredrik Manne of the University of Bergen in Norway, received the Best Paper Award at the High Performance Computing and Simulation Symposium held in late March in San Diego.

Thorsen presented the paper, “Maximum Weighted Matching Using the
Partitioned Global Address Space Model.”

This paper described the design and implementation of an algorithm, expressed in a new programming language, UPC, which is designed to program the coming generation of petascale supercomputers.



Oh Deer: Grad Student Studies Effect of Whitetails on Hemlock

Published in Tech Today
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer

Nicholas Jensen likes hemlocks. “They’re my favorite tree,” he says, both for their graceful, arching tops and branches and for the shady, uncluttered forest floor they create.

But hemlocks are in trouble, down about 99 percent throughout their regional historic range. So Jensen, a master’s student in forest ecology and management, is studying how one particular animal species might impact the survival of the remaining 1 percent.

In winter, whitetail deer–lots of them–gather (or “yard up”) in groves of hemlock and cedar to escape the deep snow. They do eat hemlock, but they also deposit plenty of scat. Jensen wondered if their presence in high numbers was in effect fertilizing the local ecosystem and changing what types of plants were growing there.

Eastern hemlock thrives in poor soils that most other forest trees can’t abide. If those soils become fertile, Jensen thought, they might be colonized by other trees, like sugar maples, that could displace the hemlocks.

Three years ago, he began his study of 39 hemlock groves in the Lake Superior basin, conducting “pellet counts” and tracking the types of plants growing on the forest floor. Locally, he visited hemlock groves near Point Abbey and Big Eric’s Bridge, in Baraga County.

Hemlock groves let very little light through to ground. Only a few species of low-growing plants, including wild lily of the valley and wood ferns, grow under these conditions. However, Jensen discovered that different species of plants grow in hemlock groves that shelter lots of deer in the winter.

Just why this is happening isn’t clear. Maybe these new plants like the richer soils, maybe the deer are eating saplings and making way for additional low-growing plants.

What is clear is that something is going on, Jensen says. “It’s important to understand this. Hemlocks are an important resource, and they are really under pressure,” he says. “My hope is that we’ll be able to raise awareness of the effect deer may be having, and that our findings will someday be considered in forest management. It could be relevant to the persistence of this forest type.”

Jensen presented his work at the Graduate Student Council Research Colloquium, held April 2-3 at the Rozsa Center. His advisor is Associate Professor Chris Webster (SFRES).


Geology Grad Student Wins National Recognition

Tech Today

by Tom Schneider, student writer

For Alex Guth, being a graduate student is hardly a passive ordeal.

Recently, the Association for Women Geoscientists awarded the Brunton Award to Guth. This award, named for a top manufacturer of high-end compasses, is a prestigious commendation for work in field mapping and data acquisition. The award will include a personally engraved compass from Brunton.

“We are very proud of Alex’s work and are glad to see it recognized by a well respected organization like the Association for Women Geoscientists,” said Professor Wayne Pennington, chair of the geological and mining engineering and sciences department. Guth is pursuing a PhD in Geology.

Guth uses satellite imaging to create innovative geological maps of remote, inaccessible terrain. She has conducted fieldwork in Kenya, studying rifts in the earth. She also teaches an online distance learning course in earth science for teachers (K-12), as well as the lecture section of Structural Geology and a course on mapping of remote terrain.

“Alex is not just another student, she is a critical member of our department,” said Pennington.