Category: Faculty Spotlight

Breffle Recognized for Outstanding Teaching

Dr. William Breffle, Associate Professor of Economics within Michigan Tech’s School of Business and Economics (SBE), has been selected as a finalist for the Distinguished Teaching Award, a notable recognition from the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning.

Based on 50,000 student ratings, five finalists were chosen for the 2015 award. The selection committee will be basing its ultimate decision on class surveying, and on recommendations from the Tech community. Staff, faculty, and all current and former students of Dr. William Breffle are strongly encouraged to submit a recommendation by Friday, April 3.

Associate Professor Breffle is consistently one of the SBE’s most beloved professors. In the 33 courses he has taught, Breffle maintains an average rating of 4.6 on student evaluations. He has an overall quality rating of 4.3 on Rate My Professors, being cited as inspirational and known to give amazing lectures. One student of EC3100: International Economics wrote in December 2014,

“In seven years of academia, Dr. Breffle is BY FAR the best professor I’ve ever had. Extremely passionate about his topic and wants students to learn. He uses real world examples to simplify the subject and is a fair grader. Took another class from him because he’s THAT good!”

Breffle is also an active researcher, having published over 20 peer-reviewed articles, including very recent papers in top journals such as Contemporary Economic Policy, Environmental and Resource Economics, and  Ecological Economics, among many others. His strong research record helps to keep his classroom curriculum on the cutting edge and directly related to real-world policy. His current research interests lay within environmental economics, non-market valuation, discrete choice modeling, benefit-cost analysis, restoration program planning, and health economics.

Breffle’s impressive resume also boasts numerous presentations at  institutions nationwide, including Colorado State University and Cornell University. He currently serves as article reviewer for 19 top journals in environmental economics and policy, and he remains a member of Mensa, Phi Beta Kappa, the American Economics Association, and the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, among others.  A new father, Breffle has found a perfect balance between life with a newborn and his love for teaching economics.

Please submit a comment in favor of his award recognition by clicking here so that we can show Dr. Breffle how much we appreciate his hard work and dedication to Michigan Tech!

Last Blast of Energy Econ: Mark Roberts Bids Farewell

Mark Roberts in front of his solar panels at his house.

Damp wind and scattered flurries were cold leftovers from an overnight slush event: a perfect late-April Keweenaw send-off after 29 years of teaching at Michigan Technological University.

Mark Roberts, professor of economics, lectured on alternative sources of electricity on his last day in front of a class.

“Keeping up to date with the constant change,” was his biggest challenge, he said before class. And, given the dramatic energy transformation over three decades, that wasn’t hard to believe.

He proved it in his last lecture, covering a lot of ground and wishing he had more time.

Solar makes more sense in the sunny southwestern US, like in the Mojave Desert, he said. Drops in the price of solar cells made adding more of them more cost effective than panels with specialized lenses.

Wind has possibilities in certain locations, Roberts said, but the windier air 80 meters up makes it a better option for commercial ventures than for individuals.  The middle of the Great Plains up to Canada and the California mountain passes are promising places for wind energy..

He showed a map of coastal winds with potential for 50-meter high turbines. There are more offshore wind turbines in Europe, he said.

“As we’ve mentioned, the problem with the Keweenaw is not the amount of wind, but the lack of a population to use it and the need for transmission to other areas,” Roberts pointed out.

Wind turbines can be considered an eyesore, and their power is intermittent, he said.

Hydroelectric power is most prevalent in the far western US, but was excluded from many federal parks and lands, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Sierras.

He mentioned famous examples of dams: Hoover and Grand Coulee (which generates three to four times the power of Hoover). They are operated by a giant rotor and spinning magnetic fields.

A student asked about residents displaced by the projects.

“They were compensated, but not fairly,” Roberts said.

Geothermal is another western-centric energy source in the US. Roberts described it as a “hot rock area, but you need to live close to it to do any good.  Iceland, Italy and the Philippines are all heavily invested in it.

Another alternative is biomass–both forest and crop residue–which is economical to collect and use where available.

Ethanol and biodiesel are the best-known examples of biomass-based energy. The first biodiesel was actually peanut oil, a fact verified by a student.

Roberts passed around a chunk of oil shale, “a precursor to oil” found in the cliffs of Colorado. It’s not economical, he said. “They’ve been promising it for 100 years!”

I finally saw a supply and demand chart, for hydrogen (which is an energy carrier, not a source, Roberts emphasized). Waves of memories flooded me as I recalled one of the rare tidbits of econ that made sense to me long ago.

He discussed power generated from dried manure, municipal waste, waves and tides, and the most out of this world–literally–solar collectors in space, which would generate super-intense light and heat.

“There’s concern about birds hitting wind turbines, but can you imagine the birds getting cooked by that?” Roberts remarked. The class chuckled.

“The issues changed every year,” the professor reiterated after class. “In the 1980s and ’90s, the price of oil was low and it was abundant, but there were natural gas problems. Recently, there was a run-up in oil prices, in 2000 to 2008. We were afraid of running out of oil.”

Now fracking is the big concern, he said, but without it gas prices could have soared.

“Nuclear is having a revival, and there is great potential with new ideas,” he said. “But the political climate and problems with waste disposal aren’t helping it.”

Roberts said he’s changed the course over the years to account for the influx of international students.

He’ll miss Gary Campbell, who taught mineral economics with him for years, and many other people in the School of Business.

He’ll continue with his own energy econ at home, with a wood-heated, solar-powered house.

“This has been a great place to work,” he said. “I enjoyed it here.”

This story was written by Dennis Walikainen for Michigan Tech News. Please click here to see the original posting.

Buche wins Props for Profs

Mari Buche was selected as this week's winner of Props for Profs.

The Props for Profs program through the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning asks students to nominate an instructor who has gone over and above the typical in their teaching or mentoring duties for students. This is the third teaching recognition that Buche has received (this semester alone) after being nominated for the 2014 Greek Life Outstanding Faculty Award and winning the Teacher of the Year Award in the School of Business and Economics earlier this semester.

Props for Profs winner Mari Buche is an Associate Professor of Management Information Systems in the School of Business and Economics. Buche was nominated by two students, both of whom commented on her willingness to listen and her concern for her students. The nominators called her a “kind soul” who is both “passionate and knowledgeable about everything she teaches.” Her willingness to listen to students and consider their perspectives, the fact that she occasionally “brings cookies and other treats” and her ability to make learning fun were also emphasized.

Both Buche and her nominators will receive a $5 gift certificate to purchase a snack or drink at the Library Café or several other locations on campus.

If you know a prof who has gone over and above, send some props today and maybe you’ll be next week’s winner.

Mari Buche voted 2014 Teacher of the Year

SBE Undergrads voted Mari Buche 2014 Teacher of the Year.

Each year the student body within the School of Business and Economics elects one faculty member as Teacher of the Year. Mari Buche has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the coveted award.  When asked what this award means, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems said, “I am deeply humbled by this award. It is terrific to know that the students appreciate my dedication and commitment to teaching and learning. This recognition is validation that the time I invest in my courses is well spent!”

During her time at Michigan Tech, Buche has proven to be a great asset to the School of Business and Economics.  This is the third teaching award that she has received since joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in Fall 2003. “It never gets old” Buche said playfully before adding “each award is sincerely appreciated.” It is obvious that Buche enjoys sharing her passion for continuous learning, especially in the areas of technology and innovation.

Spearheaded by Buche, the Management Information Systems faculty have purposefully integrated experiential learning projects into the curriculum to ensure that graduates have a taste of the entire “soup to nuts” process of IT project development. Recruiters are routinely impressed by graduates of Michigan Tech, citing their ability to add value to projects from Day One! It’s all about the skills and talent our students bring to the workplace from their time working on real world systems projects as undergraduates.

The School of Business and Economics continues to innovate- through our curriculum and industry partnerships, we align our degree programs with the ever-changing business environment. “In particular, I try to be a role model for women considering STEM fields. MIS combines the fascination of computing and information systems with business acumen and interpersonal communication,” Buche said. The powerful combination of technical and soft skills cannot be overstated.

Michigan Tech has recently announced the roll out of new graduate programs including a Masters in Accountancy and a Master of Data Sciences. These degree programs will create additional opportunities for our students while making them highly marketable and cutting edge. Successful graduates will realize lucrative careers, and many will achieve their dream jobs.  The School of Business and Economics perpetually strives for excellence and superior quality, ensuring both rigor and relevance as we incorporate new technologies enriching academia.

Thanks Mari for all you do for our School of Business and Economics and your students!

Breffle Earns Props for Profs Award

Associate Professor of Economics William Breffle recognized for going above and beyond for a student.

The Props for Profs program through the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning asks students to nominate an instructor who has gone over and above the typical in their teaching or mentoring duties for students.

This week’s Props for Profs winner is William Breffle, an associate professor of economics in the School of Business and Economics. The anonymous nominator started by explaining Breffle’s excellence as a professor, but when the student faced the death of a close family member, Breffle not only accommodated missed work and gave condolences, but contacted the Dean of Students Office and provided information about counseling services available to the student. This student felt Breffle provided a great deal of help and guidance at a very difficult and uncertain time, going well above and beyond the role of a professor–and for that he deserves some mad props.

Both Breffle and his nominator will receive a $5 gift certificate to purchase a snack or drink at the Library Café or several other locations on campus. If you know a prof who has gone over and above, send some props today and maybe you’ll be next week’s winner.