Tag: alumni

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.

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

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.

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.”

Pete Kero ’94 Helped Turn Old Iron Range Mining Lands into a Bike Park

Pete Kero
Pete Kero

Pete Kero is one of the first handful of Michigan Tech graduates in environmental engineering, earning his degree in 1994. He has spent 29 years doing environmental engineering consulting in the Upper Peninsula and northern Minnesota. Kero was the visionary behind the award-winning Redhead Mountain Bike Park in Minnesota which repurposed iron mining landscapes into recreational acreage. 

Recently, he wrote his first book titled Minescapes: Reclaiming Minnesota’s Mined Lands, which was released by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in May 2023.

Following is a Q&A with Kero on his ties to Michigan Tech and book.

Where are you from and how did you decide to come to Tech?
I grew up in Negaunee, and the short road to Michigan Tech was a well-beaten path for my family. My dad was a mechanical engineering graduate. My brother-in-law earned a civil engineering degree. My sister is a chemical engineering grad. I also have uncles who went to Tech.

What did you study?
I was part of Tech’s second-ever environmental engineering class in 1994. We were housed largely in civil engineering (now known as the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering). The department has grown and grown since I was there. It was a great choice for me.

Were there any memorable professors or academic stories?
Alex Mayer was the advisor for my environmental engineering design team. He was so patient with us as a rag-tag group of students. He took us to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a competition. I remember dodging tornadoes on the drive down. It was a really memorable capstone experience, and I appreciated that opportunity.

Talk about activities outside class while you were at Michigan Tech.
I loved skiing on the Nordic trails and mountain biking, even though there were no formal trails at the time. We’d bike the back roads and skid roads of the Keweenaw. One great memory is that my roommate and I had a competition to see how many Mondays in a row we could keep swimming in Lake Superior once the school year started. We made it to the middle of November. The last week we did it, there were people wearing snowmobile suits fishing on the shore.

How has your career progressed?
I’ve spent 29 years in environmental consulting, working for public projects, mining, and manufacturing. I got my start working in the U.P. at Sundberg Carlson and Associates. I moved to Minnesota and worked for various companies before joining Barr Engineering. What I like about consulting is there’s a different challenge every day. I see unique problems that don’t already have a stock solution.

How did Michigan Tech prepare you for your career?
Tech was a great school to prepare you for the real world—both the ups and downs. Tech was pretty hard, but work can be pretty hard. Tech taught me how to push through challenges and how to work with people and systems.

Have you been involved with Tech as an alumnus?
I make it back to campus from time to time and stay in touch with several professors, some of whom are former colleagues at Barr. I always follow with interest what’s going on at Tech. As I was writing this book one of the post-doctoral students from Tech contributed to my understanding of early tailings management on the Mesabi Range.

What advice would you give to current Tech students?
Slow down and enjoy your time. I blasted through college in four years, but a little breathing room gives you some time to sink your teeth into more things. It helps you be able to approach and understand the materials much better.

What spurred you to write the book?
I was personally involved as a volunteer and professional in this vast mine-disturbed territory in northeast Minnesota. It’s around 140,000 acres that have been flipped like a pancake to provide the iron ore that has built this country. Our goal was to see if there was anything we could do to attract people to this area. I volunteered to help create the Redhead Mountain Bike Park. We had to overcome so many roadblocks, including changing state law and changing perceptions about why people would be attracted to these old mined landscapes. So from my time volunteering working on the project, I had lots of notes. I wanted to set the story straight on how the bike park came to be. In order to properly tell the story, you have to go back in time. It’s really a history book. It tells the story of not only the bike park, but five generations of mine reclamation and repurposing in the area, told in a nonfiction narrative. 

What was the timeline and process for completing the book?
The book took four years. It started with a phone call to the Minnesota Historical Society Press. I expected to have them tell me no, but they encouraged me to propose the book and were fantastic to work with. Shannon Pennefeather helped me shape it, and many other people reviewed and edited the book. It was a journey that wasn’t easy, but it was gratifying.

What do you hope people take away from reading the book?
I hope they take away that there can be a full circular life to mine lands. The land can go through the creation of mine, active mining, and reclamation. It can be made valuable again through techniques that we used. Mining is a divisive topic, but just about everybody is in favor of mineland reclamation. It can be unifying and shine a spotlight on environmental operators and pioneers for this work.