Month: October 2023

A Memoir of Purpose and Adventure: Tech Alumna Shares South American Posting

Family, world travel, and an opportunity to build an energy-efficient home were factors that brought Merle Kindred to Michigan Tech in 1998 and sparked her journey as an author.

After she and her husband, Garfield, were awarded a grant through President Clinton’s Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, they decided the Upper Peninsula was the perfect place to build their energy-efficient home. They relocated their architectural firm from the Detroit area.

Within a year, Kindred applied to Tech for her PhD in Rhetoric and Technical Communication and was admitted in 2000. Her husband passed away shortly after.

During her time at Tech, Kindred taught various communications courses in the humanities department to help fund her PhD position. She was involved with such organizations as the Copper Country Habitat for Humanity, the American Solar Energy Society, and the Copper Country Peace Alliance—which was reinvigorated after 9/11, due in part from an essay published by Kindred in The Lode after the attacks.

Kindred’s original dissertation was focused on rhetorical strategies for disseminating information on renewable energy and architecture in an effort to share how communications can be used to inspire more energy-efficient building processes. A vacation to India after her fifth year at Tech changed the trajectory of her education and her future.

Kindred with an indigenous guide in the deep interior

“I returned from my holiday and told my department chair to rip up my current proposal,” she said. “I was inspired to write from both the Eastern and Western perspectives.”

Creeks served as roads in the wetlands

When Kindred heard about the work the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development (COSTFORD) was doing in India, she had a starting point for her own research. She traveled to Kerala, India, to study what local communities were doing with traditional materials and architectural processes, combined with modern technology. She completed her PhD in 2007.

Kindred continued her work in India and spent the next nine years doing pro bono consulting in business practices and communication strategies with COSTFORD.

Shortly after, Canada’s Cuso International had a six month posting in Guyana to work on a strategic plan. Kindred, a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., again packed her bags. In addition to the work, Kindred spent time in Guyana learning about the country, doing fiber arts, and continuing her interest in tropical birds. After her first posting was completed, she prepared a placement description for another six months to serve as an ecological and economic advisor in Indigenous territories.

Kindred’s campsite on a quest to find a rare eagle

Her work in Guyana inspired her memoir, Gripped by Guyana: A Memoir of Purpose and Adventure. The entire process from writing to completion took around four and a half years. It was published in April 2023.

Kindred says that there is value in the book as a deep dive into a country that most people don’t even know exists unless they hear its pre-1966 colonial name: British Guiana. Now it is becoming increasingly important with ExxonMobil having discovered offshore oil.

“I’ve left myself very open and vulnerable through this memoir,” Kindred said. “I’ve shared both the things that worked, and the things that didn’t where I could have acted differently. I hope it gives readers an intimate look into urban life as well as Indigenous lifestyles in contrast to how we approach life in the West.”

Kindred was on a book tour in the Midwest, which included a visit to Michigan Tech where she connected with faculty members involved with international studies who could use the book as an additional reading resource for relevant courses.

Time & Talent Showcases the Power of Knowledge Exchange

Time & Talent (T&T) is a testament to Michigan Tech’s commitment to fostering meaningful connections between the University and its alumni. The program, led by the Office of Alumni Engagement, has become an ongoing narrative of volunteerism and knowledge sharing.

In October, the T&T program invited a group of talented alumni to return to campus where they engaged with current students, faculty, and staff through presentations, lectures, and learning opportunities. Representing the October cohort of T&T guests were four alumni whose achievements span a variety of fields:

  • John Helge ’76 (Forestry)
  • Bruce Kuffer ’71 (Civil Engineering)
  • Paul Meneghini ’93 (Civil Engineering)
  • Brian Schwanitz ’77 (Applied Geophysics)
L-R: Paul Meneghini, Brian Schwanitz, Bruce Kuffer, John Helge

This assembly of accomplished professionals brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to campus. Their collective expertise covered a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, industrial water treatment, business development, operations management, and trenchless technologies for sanitation, water, and pipeline sectors.

During the visit, each alumnus served as a guest lecturer in a mix of classes that matched his practice. Where Helge spoke in classes such as Experiences in Environmental Engineering and Intro to Sustainability and Resilience, Schwanitz addressed students in Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Formation Evaluation and Petroleum Engineering. Meneghini and Kuffer both met with students from various disciplines, including Professional Development, Community Development and Planning, Social Sciences, Public Speaking and Multimedia, and Introduction to Public Policy.

Their collective wisdom resonated with a common theme: the importance of communication skills, no matter the industry. Kuffer, in particular, emphasized the significance of recognizing and learning what he coined as “the soft side of engineering,” which proved to be the key attribute of his successful career.

In addition to guest lectures and presentations, the cohort also met with various Michigan Tech staff and student organizations, including the Student Leadership and Involvement Office, Husky Innovate, Blue Key Executive Board, Law Club, Green Campus Enterprise team, and the Society for Environmental Engineering, where they not only shared their knowledge and expertise but also provided valuable guidance on how to navigate and succeed in a professional career.

Previously, the Office of Alumni Engagement hosted Tom Seel for the Time & Talent program. A 1985 mechanical engineering graduate, Seel shared decades of valuable experiences with students and faculty during his September visit.

The Time & Talent initiative isn’t just about a singular event; this University-wide program aims to bring a diverse cohort of alumni back to campus every semester. These cohorts may feature new rosters or the return of previous guests, depending on what schedules allow. As the Time & Talent initiative continues to grow, we anticipate additional volunteer opportunities to arise for alumni along the way. Whether through Time & Talent or other volunteerism, the Office of Alumni Engagement encourages all alumni to stay connected and active through a variety of events and opportunities.

Stay tuned for more interactions and upcoming Time & Talent events that promise to add new dimensions to the rich tapestry of alumni connections at Michigan Tech.

Interested in volunteering or know an alumnus who would be a good fit? Submit the nomination form on our website or contact Jordan Shawhan via email or call 906-487-3575.

Fall in the Keweenaw

After some unseasonal warmth, the crisp, cool air of fall is on the way. As fair winds transition to cooler breezes, the Copper Country leaves prepare to dance. Color touring in the Keweenaw is a rite of passage for everyone at Michigan Tech and many keep fond memories of exploring the fresh coasts, lush forests, and the forgotten ghost towns of the region. To spark some fond memories or inspire a modern-day color tour, here is a vintage, undated image of the ghost town at Central, Michigan (Keweenaw County) accented by rich fall color. Did you have a favorite place to explore in the autumn? Let us know in the comments!

Wickstroms Fund Scholarships in Their Father’s Memory

For some families, the impact of Michigan Tech can be felt generations later. That is the case with the Walter Wickstrom ’37 family.

Three of Walter’s children, Betty Wickstrom Kendrick, Jean Wickstrom Liles, and Phil Wickstrom—none of whom are Michigan Tech alumni or live anywhere close to Michigan Tech—all fund scholarships in memory of their father and to support Tech, which they credit with setting up their family for success.

Photo of Carly Lindquist, Betty Wickstrom Kendrick, Phil Wickstrom, Jean Wickstrom Liles, and John Myaard.
The Wickstroms hosted two of their scholarship recipients for lunch at their family summer home in Christmas, Michigan. Pictured (l-r): Carly Lindquist, Betty Wickstrom Kendrick, Phil Wickstrom, Jean Wickstrom Liles, and John Myaard.

“I feel strongly that Michigan Tech prepared Daddy and, in turn, helped us become successful,” said Jean. “So supporting Tech is payback for what it did for us.”

Walter Wickstrom Sr. earned a mining engineering degree from Michigan Tech in 1937 (then called the Michigan College of Mining and Technology). The family moved to Alabama in 1947  where he spent a large portion of his career employed by the Tennessee Coal & Iron (TCI) Division of US Steel. He was captain of TCI’s mechanical mining team and later mine captain of the Jefferson County, Alabama-based Ishkooda mines.

“Michigan Tech helped him succeed and be ready to not only work in the mine but to advance into management,” said Phil.

Betty added, “My father went to school during the Depression. I put a scholarship in his name because I want to brighten the day for current students.”

In 2021, Betty created the Walter William Wickstrom Memorial Annual Scholarship to support junior or senior mining engineering students from northern Michigan. 

That same year, Jean and Phil established the Walter William Wickstrom, Sr. ’37 and Katherine Nelson Wickstrom Endowed Scholarship in memory of their parents. The scholarship goes to engineering students in the Upper Peninsula with preference given to those from Alger County, where the Wickstroms have a family summer home on Lake Superior named Camp Walter that was built by Phil. Walter Wickstrom bought the property back in the 1940s.

The three Wickstroms hosted two of their scholarship recipients at Camp Walter in late August. John Myaard is a senior mining engineering student from Hudsonville, Michigan who received Betty’s annual scholarship. Carly Lindquist, a senior chemical engineering major from Munising, Michigan, received Jean and Phil’s endowed scholarship.

“Receiving a scholarship provides a very real and immediate impact,” said Myaard. “I was excited when I first heard about it. It was right after I had spent my entire summer doing a field course for geology, so I wasn’t able to work that summer. I was very excited and grateful when I found out about the scholarship.”

“It’s awesome that we get to meet the donors,” Lindquist added. “It’s not just an amount taken off my tuition bill, which is really important, but it’s also much more personal and meaningful. I’ll always remember this meeting and what they’ve done for me.”

The chance to meet the students was also meaningful to the Wickstroms.

“We receive letters from each of the scholarship recipients and learn a little bit about them, but it’s a highlight to meet them in person and get to know them and their situations better,” said Jean.

“I save all the thank you letters I receive,” said Betty. “I’m very impressed by all the students I hear from. It is a real pleasure meeting John and Carly in person and hearing directly how the scholarships have helped them.”

While the three donors all cited the tax benefits of their philanthropy, their main motivation was the ability to help others.

“It really makes you feel good that you’ve helped somebody,” Phil said. “Meeting these students in person really drives that home.”

West Michigan Event Report: Summer 2023

Alumni and friends in the West Michigan area have been enjoying a variety of events, from the annual Spring Dinner to baseball games, and sending off new Huskies to Houghton! If you’d like to follow along with what is happening in the West Michigan area, check out the West Michigan Alumni Facebook Page.

Spring Dinner — April 2023

Michigan Tech alumni in the West Michigan area attended the annual Spring Dinner at the Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada. The evening featured two distinguished keynote speakers: K&A Founder Mark Kieser ’88 and Mike Foster ’11 ’20, who is working for K&A on the Mona Lake cleanup project. K&A is an environmental science-engineering firm focusing on water resources. The two gave an engaging presentation on the Mona Lake cleanup and shared how they are taking it “From ick to awe”. Emily Rounavaara, assistant director of Alumni Engagement, awarded door prizes based on trivia questions that included tuition and room and board costs in 1974 and the year when Dave Cox ’76 attended Michigan Tech. Jim Mitchell ’65 also contributed to the evening by sharing a history of Tech coaches, providing a fascinating glimpse into the University’s past.

Whitecaps Baseball Game + BBQ — June 2023

Michigan Tech alumni gathered at LMCU Ballpark for a barbeque before the Saturday night game between the West Michigan Whitecaps and the Great Lakes Loons. Thirty people enjoyed a great buffet and had the opportunity to win MTU-branded door prizes, courtesy of the Michigan Tech Office of Alumni Engagement. The West Michigan Whitecaps compiled 14 hits while the pitching staff dominated for a much-needed win and 10-0 shutout of the Great Lakes Loons in front of 7,902 fans—a season high in attendance.

New Student Send-Off — August 2023

West Michigan alumni helped send off first-year students to Houghton at Millennium Park. Kona Ice served gourmet shaved ice and Schmohz Brewery provided root beer. Tom Hampton, regional admissions manager, organized the event that drew 46 incoming students and their family members. There were several alumni and existing students present to share their stories with new students. Each of the new students had the opportunity to introduce themselves and share something about their field of interest, and what they are looking forward to at Michigan Tech. Following introductions, the students came together for a group photo that marked the beginning of their exciting adventures at the University.

Welcome to Michigan Tech, Class of 2027!