Excellence Begets Excellence

By Rick Koubek, President

It’s always a delight to watch campus spring back into action as new students move in, faculty return, and classes resume. As I talk with our new students and meet with new faculty each year at this time, I am all the more cognizant of the excellence that this institution attracts and creates.

Rick Koubek
Rick Koubek, President

Over the past four years, Michigan Tech has pursued a path of excellence to become a premier national university positioned to lead the US in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Evidence suggests we are on the right track. The University has experienced unprecedented demand from prospective students, federal research agencies, employers, and the community at large.

In fall 2022, our incoming first-year student class is on track to be the second largest since 1984 and is on par for the most academically proficient on record (back to 1991) measured by high school GPA and SAT. And, thanks to the efforts of faculty researchers like Raymond Shaw, who received over $3.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy, the University’s research expenditures hit a historic high. Accomplishments like this punctuate the need for growth.

The Vision 2035 Campus Plan, which was completed in early 2022, ensures that Michigan Tech remains equipped for the academic and research demands of tomorrow. In April, the University broke ground on our new H-STEM Complex, which will support integrated educational and research programs in health-related technological innovations. Future capital projects include the Center for Convergence and Innovation, renovations to our academic spaces, and new on-campus residential housing, along with others.

But, Michigan Tech’s reach extends beyond teaching and research in the Keweenaw. In fall 2021, we met demand from our community partners by opening a satellite office in Traverse City. These efforts complement Michigan Tech’s existing partnerships with Northwestern Michigan College and collaborations with Traverse City’s K-12 educational system, to better meet the economic development needs of the region.

This is on top of employers’ growing demand for Michigan Tech graduates. Job placement rates six months post-graduation average 94 percent. Payscale reports midcareer earnings of $120,900 annually for Michigan Tech graduates. And hiring managers say many of their brightest engineers are from MTU.

Our graduates go on to become the world’s leading CEOs and business leaders. In 2021-22, our supporters graciously donated a near all-time high of $47.01 million—6.87 percent more than last year’s impressive total of $43.98 million and the second-largest fundraising year in MTU history. Their vote of confidence in our programs, students, and research supports our move into an era of growth for Michigan Tech.

As a result, our community and state will enjoy innovations that make life better through our Tech Forward research. Our campus community will enjoy the modern conveniences of updated facilities, classrooms, and technologies. Our students and faculty will reap the benefits of donor support through scholarships, professorships, endowed chairs, and other forms of philanthropy. And finally, we will all be part of a more inclusive and diverse community by growing our student and teaching populations.

The state of Michigan, our region, and our country should demand nothing less.

Thank you for your continued support of Michigan Tech.

Make a Difference with the Alumni Board!

Join a team of fellow alumni to make a difference at Michigan Tech!

The Michigan Tech Alumni Board of Directors is a group of volunteers elected from around the country to represent their fellow alumni. It sets priorities and works with the University to develop and support programs to connect alumni and support students.

Members of the Alumni Board of Directors participate in a cardboard boat race during Homecoming 2019.

Benefits of Service

  • Meet many amazing Huskies – engage with students, faculty, staff and fellow alumni and gain insight into the university’s vision for the future.
  • Find opportunities for your company to be more engaged on campus
  • Support and Inform students in your community who may be future Huskies.
  • Continue the tradition of “Huskies helping Huskies”
  • An excellent ‘excuse’ to get back to the Keweenaw twice per year.

Learn More or Nominate Someone (including yourself).

Members of the Alumni Board of Directors visited Michigan Tech’s student Mushing Club during Winter Carnival 2021.

Slushy Spring Days

The years go by, but some things never change. This flashback image to Shelden Avenue shows a slushy spring day in downtown Houghton, reminiscent of the spring weather this year. This image from the Earl Gagnon Collection is undated, but there are many landmarks and vintage cars that might allow an alum to help us identify the year of this photograph! What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

West Michigan Event Report: Volunteering, Hockey, and Pickled Eggs

Alumni and friends in the West Michigan area have been enjoying a variety of events, from volunteering at the zoo to cheering on the Huskies, and enjoying delicious pickled eggs! If you’d like to follow along with what is happening in the West Michigan area, check out the West Michigan Alumni Facebook Page.

Volunteer Day at the Zoo — October 2023

Some alumni in the West Michigan area volunteered to hand out goodies to children attending the “Boo at the Zoo” event at John Ball Park Zoo in Grand Rapids. They dressed in Halloween attire and socialized with the children and their families. Zoo staff set up booths and provided the goodies. It was a very cold day, but that did not keep them from having more than 1000 children stop by for treats!

Group of six alumni at zoo event
Volunteers Barb Way, Mike DeJonge ’65, Ben ’20 and Hannah Lutz, Emma ’12 ’16 and Adam ’16 Zawisza

Holiday Party at The Mitten — December 2023

To kick off the holiday season, a pizza and pub night was held at The Mitten Brewery in Grand Rapids in conjunction with our monthly meeting. This event drew 29 people. Various gourmet pizzas and delicious breadsticks gave everyone all they could eat. The Mitten Brewing Company—located in historic Engine House No. 9—was founded in November 2012 by lifelong friends Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler. Their variety of beers offers something for everyone’s tastes.

Emma Zawisza ’12 ’16 helped host the event and attendees had the opportunity to score Michigan Tech swag, courtesy of the Office of Alumni Engagement. Anne Barton and Dave Cox ’76 won a classic Husky banner.

Great Lakes Invitational Pregame Social & Hockey Games — December 2023

Michigan Tech alumni and friends, along with Head Coach Joe Shawhan, gathered on December 28 for the 2023 Great Lakes Invitational (2023) pregame social, hosted by the Michigan Tech Alumni Board of Directors. The social took place at Peppino’s Downtown Sports Grille, just a short walk from Van Andel Arena, before the Huskies took on Alaska Fairbanks. Michigan Tech branded door prizes were awarded, including signed hockey jerseys and GLI apparel and tumblers, courtesy of the Office of Alumni Engagement. The Huskies won the first game against Alaska Fairbanks, 3–2.

On December 29, the Huskies took on Michigan State for the GLI championship. The game ended in overtime play with a 3–3 tie. The Huskies won the shoot out for a final score of 4–3.

Hosts included current Michigan Tech Alumni Board members: Steve Williams ’86, Tonya Moore-Bouchard ’96, Britta Anderson ’15 ’23, Michelle Wazny ’10, Emma Zawisza ’12 ’16, and Diane Cesarz ’94, and Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement Jordan Shawhan.

Everyone enjoyed this event and made several comments on the great social and great games!

Championship Alpine Skiing — March 2024

Holly Grzelak, daughter of Kevin ’89 and Lynn Grzelak, and a current mechanical engineering student, represented Michigan Tech at the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association Alpine Women’s Giant Slalom National Championship race in Lake Placid, New York. In one of the largest races held to date with 150 female athletes, she placed 33rd. Congratulations, Holly!

Pickled Egg Contest — March 2024

After a four-year break, the annual pickled egg contest took place at Schmohz Brewery in Grand Rapids. This year, we had five entries and approximately 20 people attended the event. All the eggs were great, so it was difficult to pick a single winner. However, by a slight margin, the first-place winner was Robert Casler. Mike Dunphy ’03 took second place, and third place went to Joshua Manning ’12. It was a great event and everyone enjoyed eating many pickled eggs and drinking Schmohz beer. Jim Crouch ’90 hosted the event. The Office of Alumni Engagement provided the prizes.

Spring Recreation in the Keweenaw

One of the benefits of being a Michigan Tech student is you are never more than a few minutes away from lakes and rivers for endless spring recreation. March is an especially great time for Brown Trout and Lake Trout fishing. The great undated image from the Brockway Photograph Collection shows off some of the trophy fish that are possible in our sportsman’s paradise. Do you have a favorite honey hole that you fished while you were here? Let us know your angler’s secrets in the comments!

Gift to Blue Key Provides Solid Footing to Future of Winter Carnival Tradition

Pulicks with members of Blue Key.
Pictured (l-r): Aracely Hernandez-Ramos, Skylar Spitzley, Michael Pulick, Elizabeth Pulick, Joe Dlugos, and Sara Goheen.

When you think of Michigan Technological University, there is one tradition that stands out amongst the rest: Winter Carnival. Its reputation is second only to the University’s outstanding academic reputation and job placement rate.

Winter Carnival is organized and run by Michigan Tech’s premier student leadership organization, Blue Key National Honor Society. Blue Key’s mission at Tech is “to organize and coordinate Winter Carnival in a fair and equitable manner to serve the surrounding community.” The organization strives for excellence in academics, development of leadership, and service to the community. Student volunteers in Tech’s Blue Key chapter put their leadership acumen on display every year as they successfully plan, fundraise, organize, and execute the University’s most time honored tradition.

While the lack of snow certainly made this year’s edition historic, Blue Key and Michigan Tech had another milestone reason to celebrate Winter Carnival 2024. Blue Key recently received a generous gift from Elizabeth (Schumacher) Pulick ’88 and Michael Pulick ’86. The former Blue Key members know how important the student experience is to Michigan Tech Huskies. They wanted to make a gift to Michigan Tech that supported all students and the community by endowing Winter Carnival. The funds Blue Key will receive from the endowment will go directly to supporting the annual costs of putting on a major community event plus a scholarship for the Blue Key president.

“Blue Key was special for me,” said Elizabeth. “It allowed me to be a leader and hone those skills working with people.”

Michael added, “Blue Key put me into situations like managing a budget and meeting with community leaders and the media. It was pressure that I hadn’t felt before. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.”

“This was a genuine surprise and absolutely wonderful,” said Joe Dlugos, a senior environmental engineering student and current president of Blue Key. “This gift will not only help Blue Key, but everyone who enjoys Winter Carnival.”

“We will be able to provide students with scaffolding, shovels, and lighting for snow statues,” said Dlugos. “We have plans to add fire pits for people to stay warm during the all-nighter. The possibilities are endless, and we couldn’t be more grateful to the Pulicks for their support.”

The Pulicks credit their experience in Blue Key and as Michigan Tech students for amplifying their personal growth. “We always talk to others about how special Tech is,” said Michael. “We want Winter Carnival to go on forever, and hope this gift takes some of the pressure off of students in Blue Key.”

Elizabeth echoed the sentiments. “We are really passionate about the student experience and wanted to pay back what we received. We’re excited to help Blue Key make Winter Carnival better for the whole community.”

Annually, Winter Carnival occurs the second weekend in February with events including snow statues, broomball, stage revue, royalty competition, human dog sled races, and Michigan Tech hockey. The event not only brings students, alumni, and the community together, but it also has a considerable economic impact on the Keweenaw.

Laura Bulleit, vice president for student affairs, underscored the significance of Blue Key and Winter Carnival. “The impact of Winter Carnival isn’t limited to just a fun weekend for our students. It’s so much more than that. It is a major draw for alumni, families, and tourists, and has an enormous impact on our local economy. Very few student organizations have the opportunity to plan and execute something as large as Winter Carnival. To know that it’s our students, and not faculty and staff, who are behind all of this really highlights the capability and excellence of our Michigan Tech students.”

Blue Key has put on Winter Carnival for 90 years. The Pulicks’ gift helps ensure that Blue Key has the resources to continue the tradition into the future.

“This endowment will preserve one of Tech’s most well-known traditions in perpetuity,” said Bill Roberts, vice president for advancement and alumni engagement. “I’m so glad the Pulicks have led the way with this gift that will ensure Winter Carnival for generations to come.”

Michigan Tech’s endowment is a collection of funds which were given by donors to provide support to Michigan Tech in perpetuity. When an endowment gift is received, it is placed in a long-term investment fund. The investment returns generated from that principal are used on a continual basis while the principal is preserved for the future. The endowment provides the University with future financial stability.

Others may join the Pulicks to further support the Blue Key endowment with a one-time or annual gift. Those interested can contact the Office of Gift Planning at 906-487-3325.

Seasonal Sports in the Copper Country

In the wake of an unseasonably warm Winter Carnival, it makes sense to wonder what season we are really in! The snow that usually lingers until late spring, and even early summer in the deep woods, is nearly nonexistent so spring seems right on the horizon. Even though broomball, skiing, and other winter sports have been scarce this year, it is still possible to get some fresh air by hiking the trails or a good old-fashioned game of mud ball! When the weather gets warmer and the snow starts to go, what is your favorite thing to do in the Copper Country? Let us know in the comments.

2024 Alumni “Snow” Statue Results

Thanks to all the Michigan Tech alumni and friends who participated in the fourth annual Alumni “Snow” Statue Contest. Congratulations to the winners!

“Snow” Category — Winner

Title: In the Woods and Water Sasquatch Says Winters Are Getting Hotter
Participants: Kristen ’08 and Paul ’08 Roell, and their little Huskies Abigail (7), Philip (4), and Mae (1)
Location: Rapid City, Michigan

When camping in the UP forests or exploring the Lake Superior shore, has anyone seen this guy before? Whether the kids are watching for him while driving the Seney stretch or listening to scary stories about him around the campfire, Sasquatch brings fun to our family outdoor adventures. Our snow squatch began has a 6+ foot pile of snow, but with the warm temperatures, this elusive squatch is quickly melting away!

“Snow” Category — Runner Up

Title: Land of the Icy Blue Waters
Participants: Susan ’94, Scott ’90, and Erica Conradson
Location: Cadillac, Michigan

Sascha, the Hamms bear, has taken a wrong turn and ended up in the Land of the Icy Blue Waters, located in Michigan instead of her native Minnesota. She enjoys the Great Outdoors by fishing out of her hallowed canoe, having a cold drink, and singing “From the land of icy blue waters, from the land of pines and lofty balsams…” She better pay attention because the big fish is about to swim away. In keeping with the theme this year, she loves the outdoors, and she is partaking in the Tech Carnival tradition of celebrating winter and having a beverage.

“No Snow” Category — Winner

Title: Michigan Birds of Winter Will Enjoy This Gourmet Dinner!
Participants: Lisa ’88 and Stephen ’86 Williams
Location: Cadillac, Michigan

Considering how much the birds (and other critters) enjoyed our entry last year, we decided to apply the craft to this year’s theme. Our statue pays tribute to those tough feathered friends that stick around during the (usually) brutal Michigan winters and roam our forests and shores. This statue is constructed in Cadillac, Michigan, out of completely consumable food products and bird/sunflower seeds. Representing some of our finest forest creatures (frogs, fish, birds, and squirrels), the sunflower seed-filled dough animals have been baked golden brown and are served up on a remaining snow drift. The backdrop is a sunflower seed-covered mountain that falls into the birdseed river. To ensure anyone who sees this has no doubt of the origin, we’ve thrown in a silhouette of the UP, a Piano Dog, and a couple of pasties! Now that the pics are snapped, it’s already under siege by our local feathered and furry friends!

“No Snow” Category — Runner Up

Title: Wilbrrr’s Winter Wednesday
Participants: Ben Thompson ’09, with his children Aspen and Laurel, and Drew Vettel ’05, with his children Maeda and Jackson
Location: Woodruff, Wisconsin

We took a family vacation with friends to Woodruff, Wisconsin, and stayed at an Airbnb on a quiet little lake. The statue was built at the end of the dock at the place we are staying at. We harvested some broken pine boughs and flower parts from a kiddo craft project to add some character to the entry. Wilbrrr is sporting a pine mustache and mohawk. The statue was mostly built by Ben and Drew, but our eldest daughters helped a bit and we had plenty of playtime in the snow with them too (sledding, making snow angels, learning cross-country skiing, etc.).

Glimpses of Snow and Stage: Winter Carnival Contests through the Years

As we prepare for Winter Carnival, we thought it timely to share an image of the upcoming Archives display to be featured at the Alumni Social + Winter Carnival Contests Exhibit on Saturday, February 10. Glimpses of Snow and Stage: Winter Carnival Contests through the Years will feature rich images and small displays of Michigan Tech memorabilia. Skits, the beard competition, human sled dog race, human bowling, snow statues, and many other traditions will delight one and all! If you have a Winter Carnival memory to share, please let us know in the comments.

Impact of Philanthropy: Gary Sparrow Endowed Faculty Fellow

Jeana Collins ’16 ’18 is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Gary Sparrow Endowed Faculty Fellow. Her position is made possible by a gift from Gary Sparrow ’70 and impacts many students she teaches and leads in the Unit Operations Lab. Below is a Q&A with Collins.

Jeana Collins ’16 ’18

What are your responsibilities?
My responsibilities in the Chemical Engineering Department are teaching and service. This year, I am teaching the senior capstone laboratory sequence (Unit and Plant Operations), Computer-Aided Problem Solving (a chemical-engineering elective class), a new elective on programming in DeltaV (the distributed control system that we use in the UO lab; DeltaV is widely used in industry), and Material and Energy Balances (summer class). I also serve on and chair multiple committees within the department, as well as advise the Dance Team and AIChE student organizations.

Tell us about your background and how you came to teach at Michigan Tech.
I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2012 and came to Michigan Tech for graduate school. I completed my M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech. During my graduate studies, I was also a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) for a variety of classes. I really enjoyed being a GTA, and found that I wanted to pursue a career in academics, focused on teaching instead of research. I joined the department as faculty in 2016.

Why is your position important?
Instructional track faculty are important because of our focus on undergraduate education. Because we are focused on teaching, we have higher teaching loads and can reduce the amount of teaching needed from research faculty. We can also take on classes that require more time than traditional classes. For example, the senior capstone lab requires 16+ hours a week in the lab with the students.

What does holding an endowed position mean to you?
I am honored to be the first Gary Sparrow Endowed Faculty Fellow. I feel that an instructional track endowed position really shows how much the Department and University care about undergraduate education. This position will provide more opportunities for me to go to workshops/training and conferences to continuously improve our program and share knowledge. For example, over the summer, I completed a week-long training on DeltaV at the Emerson Training Center in Round Rock, Texas. That training expanded my knowledge of DeltaV. I am using that to create a new elective course that I am offering for the first time this spring. The course will be focused on the DeltaV software. All of the chemical engineering students operate equipment with DeltaV in the capstone lab sequence, but this new elective will delve more into process and process control engineers’ roles with DeltaV in industry. With the endowed position, I will be able to continue expanding my knowledge and improving my classes, both core and elective.

Gary Sparrow ’70 (center) presents a check to now-retired Department of Chemical Engineering Chair Pradeep Agrawal (left) and Bryant Weathers ’10, Director for Charitable Gift Planning.

What takes place in the Unit Ops lab?
The Unit Operations Lab provides a hands-on education for students. Students first enter the lab in lower-level classes to look at real equipment and potentially see equipment relevant to their coursework operating (for example, the CM 3240 students come in to learn about distillation on the glass distillation unit so that they can see what is happening inside of a distillation column while they are learning about distillation in class). The first class that they operate equipment is during their junior year during their process control course. In process control, the students apply what they have been learning in lecture in the lab. In the UO lab, they complete step tests and tuning on a controller for the heat transfer experiment, are introduced to DeltaV (our distributed control system) on the flow measurement experiment, and tune a cascade control loop on the three-story distillation column. In their senior year, the students run multiple (at least four) of the unit operation experiments, as well as both of the pilot plants, applying concepts from all previous chemical engineering classes. For the pilot plant operations, multiple groups work together to operate the equipment. They get to experience shift changes, radio communication between the control room and floor, manual and automated operations, troubleshooting, and more. Safety is a huge part of the UO lab. A safety inspection, including asking other students safety questions, is completed every run day, each group has a safety check every run day before operating equipment, students prepare safety moments for each other, and we have a reporting system PAWS (prevent accidents with safety). PAWS is a comprehensive safety program that requires training, constant vigilance, and incident reporting and documentation, all with an eye toward critical review and continuous improvement.

How does the Unit Ops lab impact students and their futures?
The UO lab provides students with valuable hands-on experience that translates to their careers. They gain experience operating equipment, troubleshooting, communicating via radio, DeltaV, and safety culture, as well as experimental design and statistics. We also coordinate with industry representatives to teach the students about how the equipment relates to their industry. The students are able to draw upon their experiences in the UO lab when talking to recruiters (during career fair / during interviews).

Any specific stories of unique research or successes from the lab?
There is no research in the UO lab; it is only a teaching lab. When giving tours and discussing the lab with industry representatives/recruiters, they have been impressed with the experiences that the students are getting and the equipment that they are running.

What students have to say about the Unit Operations Lab:

To me, the Unit Operations lab offers the invaluable experience to put what we learn in the classroom into the perspective of an industrial environment, while still having the opportunity to make mistakes and grow from them. Being able to work on the floor and as a console operator not only helps us to cement our understanding of the technical aspects of our future positions, but to also foster an appreciation for the daily tasks and positions that make up a successful plant. 

Ana White

As a senior chemical engineering student with 15 months of hands-on experience in chemical manufacturing facilities, my time at the UO Lab at MTU has provided me with a unique opportunity. It allows me to operate industry-relevant equipment within a classroom environment. This experience is incredibly valuable as it bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. In the UO Lab, students have the freedom to ask questions and learn from their mistakes, making it an essential resource for those who lack industry experience. Ultimately, the UO Lab plays a crucial role in enhancing students’ practical understanding before they graduate.

Tom Morrison

The UO lab at Tech has provided me with experiences that have reinforced the theory and knowledge that we as students spend so much time developing throughout the entire chemical engineering curriculum. Those experiences create the industrial feel and give our students a head start over our peers as we enter into the industrial world.

Allison Swanson

From Michigan Tech to Mars

Jessica Elwell
Jessica Elwell ’02 ’03

Jessica Elwell once sat with her Senior Design team daydreaming about how they could solve all the problems of the world with thermodynamics. Now, she is actually solving one of those problems by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and sustainable fuels.

Coming around the bend in Chassell during her first campus visit, Elwell thought, “Oh, this is home now. This is where I need to be.” The remote environment, affordability, and quality of the engineering education were all factors that led her to choose Michigan Tech. She graduated with a BS in Chemical Engineering in 2002, followed by an MS in Chemical Engineering in 2003.

Her career began at SE Johnson as a research engineer, but following that she frequently jumped industries, looking for what the position would add to her skill set versus what the job actually was. “I’ve had the opportunity to go from specialty chemicals to bio labs to ceramics to defense and aerospace. I even worked in weapons manufacturing for a bit,” she said. “It’s been a really diverse path.”

Now, Elwell is chief operation officer at OxEon Energy, a start-up specializing in complementary energy technologies capable of converting carbon dioxide and water to sustainable fuels, leading the way to solve the world’s energy-related problems. Elwell was a founding member in 2017, but left to gain experience and returned to the company in 2020. While formally working together at OxEon for just five years, the team has actually been collaborating for more than 30.

Elwell standing in front of Curiosity Rover Mockup at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory holding the Solid Oxide Electrolyze for MOXIE
Elwell in front of Curiosity Rover Mockup (same class as Perseverance) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory holding the Solid Oxide Electrolyze for MOXIE

It was this team that designed, developed, and manufactured the Solid Oxide Electrolyzer at the heart of the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—or MOXIE—which was named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023. The device was attached to Mars’ Perseverance rover, successfully converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Because of Elwell and team, if astronauts ever land on Mars, they will have air to breathe and propellant produced on Mars to support a return mission.

“We are the first team ever to produce a technology that made a commodity off of the surface of Earth from the resources that are available in that location,” Elwell said. “As technical program manager, that is my biggest achievement. That team, and that product, is what I’m most proud of.”

OxEon is currently scaling up manufacturing on the devices and using them to produce fuels on the Earth.

Elwell credits Michigan Tech for giving her the tools she needs to succeed. “I’ve worked with the best of the best in high-profile engineering companies. I appreciate the background that Michigan Tech gave me. I can sit in any of those rooms, at any of those tables, and I belong.”

Residing in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her two children, Alton and Kailyn, Elwell enjoys spending time outdoors in the beautiful Utah mountains, being active in the development of a sustainable fuels economy through industry associations and government activities, and volunteering for Women Who Succeed. Elwell is on the Board of Directors for the United States Hydrogen Alliance, as well as the Board of Governors for Utah’s Aerospace and Defense Association, 47G.

Jessica Elwell with leadership of 47G
Elwell with leadership of 47G—Utah’s Aerospace and Defense Association