Author: Lisa Hitch

Alumni Spotlight: Zoe Reep

Today we are chatting with Zoe Reep, recent Michigan Tech grad who earned her bachelor’s of science in Psychology and Mathematics in spring 2022. This fall she begins her post graduate studies in Clinical/Counseling Social Work at Boston College. 

Zoe describes herself as a person who lives with intention and makes decisions—big and small—based on purpose. It is no surprise that she filled her summer “break” with activities and adventures that align with her curiosity and passion for the great outdoors. Let’s let Zoe unpack the details and give us a glimpse of what her purpose-filled living is all about.

Q: We last saw you in late April as your undergrad time at Michigan Tech was ending and your next adventure was about to begin. Where and how did you spend your summer after finishing your bachelor’s degrees?

A: For most of the summer, I split my time working with Michigan Tech’s Outdoor Adventure Program and a local screen-printing shop in Calumet called Monkey Business. I focused on my interests and explored new hobbies such as embroidery, sewing, kombucha brewing, gardening, puzzling, reading, and fly fishing. I also experienced #vanlife and used it as my temporary home for the first couple months. As summer went on, I wanted to do something even more physically and emotionally challenging. Within two-weeks I doubled my paychecks—working 14-16-hour days—packed up my things and hitched a ride out to Colorado with some friends.

The long workdays and foregone sleep to fund my trip was totally worth it! I spent the next 35 days hiking the Colorado Trail, a 486.6 mile trek. It was absolutely incredible and definitely life changing as I met people from all over the country and around the world. Some moments were tough, and sometimes dark, and other times I cried of joy. The experience taught me to be resilient, I even managed to make myself a splint in order to get down the mountains with a leg injury. The views were insane, the hikes were brutal, and the weather was not cooperative—we hiked through many, many thunderstorms. 

For those who don’t know about the Colorado Trail, it runs from Denver, CO to Durango, CO, has an elevation gain of 75,000 feet (more than twice the height of Mount Everest), 8 national forests, and 16 mountain passages. Most people who hike the trail as a thru-hike go into town every 3-5 days. For example, I stopped in Breckenridge, Twin Lakes/Leadville, Garfield/Salida, Lake City, and Durango. Most hitchhike to get into town. We definitely came across some interesting characters this way, and even got to ride in a semi-truck!. 

Some people stay overnight in town, as we did, and others just resupply and head on their way. I hiked the first half of the trail with some friends I met—a couple from Boston (now moving to California, sadly), and a hiker from South Dakota. One friend from Michigan Tech joined us along the way; the poor guy hiked the worst part—40 miles with 3 water sources, rocky roads and cow pastures, including a decaying cow on the trail. We separated paths from the Boston couple but I’ve been with the hiker, Russ, ever since. We finished the remaining trail route and road tripped it back through Houghton, Petoskey, Grand Rapids, Louisville, Dayton, Cleveland, Niagara, arriving in Boston. In fact, Russ will be moving out to Boston now! 🙂 Overall…summer was wild—and a blast. I documented a lot of it on my “adventure” Instagram account, which I created for my friends who wanted to laugh about my amusing life @2rav4u.

Q: You were part of Dr. Samantha Smith’s Nature Psychology class at Michigan Tech this spring. Were there any takeaways from the course that helped you make the connection between wellness, resilience, and nature?

A:  Great question! I took Nature Psych because it dealt with exactly what I wanted to move into post-graduate. So it didn’t really change my direction. However, it definitely created a lot more questions and curiosity for me. It helped me determine that this is exactly the field I want to go into. It gave me all sorts of fantastic connections and brought up a lot of passion for me. It helped me to connect with the local community and gave me tons of resources (in regard to social issues, the role of nature on the mind, local UP history, etc.). Dr. Smith is an incredible professor—I’ve learned a lot from her. I also admire who she is as a human being, which really ties the whole class together: Her curiosity, passions, knowledge, heart, etc. Highly recommend the course 🙂 Absolutely.

Q: You’ve had a four-legged friend along the way. What’s her name and how did she become your travel companion?  

A: Murphy is my recently adopted doggo. Her trail names are Wags—because her tail is cropped and is always wagging, uncontrollably. And Bumper—she hiked with a backpack and when she wanted to pass someone on the trail, she would keep bumping them with her pack until they made room for her to pass. I’ve had her for about 7 months, adopting her the day before my birthday. She’s loved by everyone who interacts with her. Here at Boston College, she has already strutted through one of my classes, gotten affection from all over campus, and explored the campus store and buildings. She is very calm and goofy, so she seems to get into any place she wants (i.e. places that don’t allow dogs). Funny, I almost didn’t take her home with me, but I knew I couldn’t end the day without adopting a dog so we became a pair. I was hoping that she would become my trail dog— running, biking, backpacking, etc.—and an unregistered emotional support animal. She has taken on both roles. I am currently planning to certify her as a therapy or facilities dog.  

Q: What field of practice will you be focusing on for your post graduate studies and how does this align with your purpose?

A: I am really interested in Wilderness Therapy. I’m toying with the idea of pursuing a PhD in this realm or becoming a Wilderness Therapy practitioner. I think there is a lot of research still to be done in this field and I’m super excited to help pave the way to a more effective and safe way to use nature to heal. 

Nature has been a huge source of healing for me—through coping with anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, and disordered eating. It has taught me a lot about the way my mind works (stressors, relaxers, etc), encouraging me to love my body and mind for the work that it can do (thinking, running, etc), and has strengthened my characteristics such as confidence, creativity, emotional regulation, etc. 

At Boston College, I will be working toward my Masters in Social Work. I am currently taking four classes and will be starting a field placement as a middle-school counselor. The school just received a therapy dog, so I hope to bring Murphy in as well. I also have a part-time job at a rock climbing gym teaching youth classes and covering  the front desk. Why rock climbing? After spending last summer as a wilderness therapy guide, I learned how effective rock climbing is when working on skills such as emotional regulation, confidence, anxiety reduction, teamwork/trust, etc. It is all very interconnected.


Read more about Dr. Smith’s Nature Psychology course and other related stories in the links below.

Related stories: 

Huskies Follow the Research Trail to Explore the Psychology of Nature

Samantha Smith Selected for Deans’ Teaching Showcase

What is Wilderness Therapy?

@kltrocks

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Photo credit: Zoe Reep

Brandon Woolman presents research findings at MI Society for Neuroscience

Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) MS student Brandon Woolman presented his team’s research findings during the Michigan Chapter Society for Neuroscience at Central Michigan University on August 20.

Woolman’s, along with teammates Alexandra Watral (ACSHF PhD candidate), Rajiv Ranganathan (Kinesiology, Michigan State University), and advisor Dr. Kevin Trewartha, research titled “Sensorimotor Adaptation and Retention in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Early Alzheimer’s Disease,” is made possible by grant funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIH).

The study included preliminary data from participants diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and control groups of cognitively healthy older and younger adults. All of which performed a force-field adaption task using a specialized robotic device (KINARM). The team investigated whether the early stages of motor learning are affected by early AD, and whether those patients exhibit additional impairments in short-term (i.e., within the testing session) and long-term retention (after a 24-hour delay) of a newly acquired motor skill.

Participants were instructed to reach for visual targets, and while their arms moved, the robot would apply a velocity-dependent force perpendicular to the direction of the target. The mechanical load hinders smooth movements toward the target, but over time participants
adapt by applying forces to counter the load. Short-term retention of force-field adaption was assessed in a final block of trials on Day 1. Participants returned a day later to perform the same motor task to assess long-term skill retention over a 24-hour delay.

The work aims to determine whether acquisition, short- and long-term retention measures in a motor learning task, can identify differences between early AD and healthy aging. Measuring these differences could aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease in its earliest stages.

For more information and details on related research, see Dr. Trewartha’s Aging Cognition Action Lab website.

Erich Petushek ranks in top 100 most impactful articles on the ACL

Photo of Erich Petushek, CLS assistant professor

Erich Petushek (CLS) and co-authors received high rankings in The top 100 most impactful articles on the anterior cruciate ligament: an altmetric analysis of online media, recently released by SAGE Open Medicine.

Petushek’s article “Evidence-Based Best-Practice Guidelines for Preventing Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Young Female Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and has been ranked #16 as measured by the Altmetric Attention Score (AAS). Altmetric tracks the type and volume of online engagement the research has received since published.

The purpose of the research was to evaluate the common and effective components included in Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) neuromuscular training (NMT) programs and develop an efficient, user-friendly tool to assess the quality of the injury prevention programs. This was accomplished by using meta-analytic techniques to develop an easy to use checklist—a human factors tool—to evaluate the effectiveness of ACL injury prevention programming. The article’s AAS was 380 at the time the ranking was conducted in January 2022.

Clinicians, coaches, athletes, parents, and practitioners can use the developed checklist tool to gain insight into the quality of their current injury prevention programs and optimize their programming for future ACL NMT to reduce injury risk.


Erich is an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences and a member of the Health Research Institute at Michigan Tech.

Briana Bettin Wins Best Paper Award at ITiCSE ’22

A paper by Briana Bettin, Assistant Professor (CS / CLS), received Best Paper Award at the 27th ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE ’22), held July 8-13, 2022, in Dublin, Ireland.

The title of the paper is, “Semaphore or Metaphor?: Exploring Concurrent Students’ Conceptions of and with Analogy.” Co-authors are Linda Ott (CS) and Julia Hiebel. The paper is published in the conference proceedings.

Paper Abstract: Concurrent programming can be a rewarding but challenging topic for computing students. Comprehending concurrency can help students gain a better understanding of the computer as a machine, and how processes within modern machines execute and interact. Knowledge of concurrency is important to develop secure and robust multithreaded programs. However, understanding this topic at a machine and syntactic level can be difficult for students due to its novelty and complexity. Several topics in concurrent computing can initially be explored at a high-level using real-world examples and analogies to facilitate comprehension. This paper explores perspectives provided by university students in a concurrent programming course on the use of analogy to facilitate learning about concurrent topics. Through this paper, we draw attention to analogies used in course examples and assignment prompts, while turning attention to how students interpret and reason about and with these. We also explore new analogies these students crafted while reasoning about the problem space. This exploration suggests that while these students may draw attention to different aspects (in different ways) of an analogy’s design, they generally approach similar conclusions in their reasoning process provided the core relational design remains intact. Students also applied prior analogies from lecture and past assignments, actively reasoning during problem solving with these known examples. There is also some evidence of analogy mixing and swapping, suggesting malleability in analogy use while problem solving. Together, this exploration contributes to understanding student problem solving, reasoning behaviors, and perspectives while using analogy within concurrent computing courses.

Paper Citation: Briana Bettin, Linda Ott, and Julia Hiebel. 2022. Semaphore or Metaphor? Exploring Concurrent Students’ Conceptions of and with Analogy. In Proceedings of the 27th ACM Conference on on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education Vol. 1 (ITiCSE ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 200–206. https://doi.org/10.1145/3502718.3524796

Alumni Spotlight: Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk

Minoring in Psychology at Michigan Tech led me to find and obtain my dream job. I never knew that I could combine engineering and psychology and turn it into a career. My minor helped me understand how people think and behave, feeding into my work on medical devices that are used by various groups of people. It has also taught me how to interact with diverse personalities and perspectives, serve clients in a global market, and lead my employees toward success. I would not have the career that I have today without my Psychology minor.

Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk, Managing Human Factors Specialist at Emergo by UL

Michigan Tech alumna, Emilee (Philson) Stanczyk had a strong interest in medical technology when she started Michigan Tech in 2012, and knew she wanted to use her math and science skills for medical innovation. As she explored career options within biomedical engineering, she realized that before you design and develop medical technology, you have to first understand who your users arewhat they want and need and how they think and work. That prompted her to add a minor in psychology to her education, opening up a wide variety of career opportunities in the field of Human Factors Engineering. “I quickly discovered that Human Factors is highly regulated in the medical device field and would enable me to use my biomedical engineering skills to develop products specifically for their intended users,” said Stanczyk.

This past week we got a chance to catch up with Emilee and hear how her life after Michigan Tech has been going so far in this alumni Q&A.

Q: With Alumni Reunion 2022 right around the corner (August 4-6), we’d love for you to reflect back and tell us why you decided on Michigan Tech for your undergraduate studies?

A: I knew that I wanted to major in Biomedical Engineering, so I started with schools in my home state of Michigan that offered the major. I was looking for a school that was big enough to have lots of opportunities for me to begin my career and get involved in student organizations, but small enough for me to make connections with my peers and professors. Michigan Tech was that happy medium. Although all of that was what drew me to look at Michigan Tech, it was my first visit to campus that really “sold” me. The campus itself is beautiful but the surrounding area was like no other place I had lived before, and I just knew it was where I would spend my undergraduate years.

Q: You have recently been promoted to Managing Human Factors Specialist at Emergo by UL. What does an average day at work look like for you?

A: In short, every day is different! A lot of my work consists of usability testing where I conduct sessions with representative users who use devices in development so that I can assess if the device is safe to use. This could mean I’m working with surgeons to evaluate a new surgical robotic system, or patients who have a skin condition to evaluate a new injection device. Other projects involve working with clientsmedical device manufacturersto advise them on regulatory strategy, often navigating FDA’s Human Factors requirements for marketing a medical device. In addition to my project work, I serve as a manager to a team of human factors specialists and help guide and mentor them.

Q: It’s evident that you are passionate about your work. Can you tell us a bit more as to why?

A: Knowing that my work impacts individuals on a daily basis is meaningful and is why I do what I do. I know that at some point in my life, I or someone I love, might need to use a medical device, and taking the time to design the devices intentionally, such that they can be used safely and effectively, is so vital in today’s world.

Q: Looking back, can you tell us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way?

A: My biggest lesson I have learned so far in my career is not to dwell on mistakes. Sometimes a failure seems like the worst thing that could happen in the moment. But often times, dwelling on the mistake is worse than the actual mistake. Accept that mistakes are learning opportunities and although you can’t change the past, you can use it to transform your future.

Q: What do you see for the future of Human Factors?

A: The field of Human Factors is growing and growing and has never been so important in our society. As technology advances and becomes more widely available, implementing Human Factors into product designboth medical and non-medicalwill be imperative to safe and effective use. I see the field growing and more and more jobs becoming available.

Q: You have been of service as a student mentor through the Women’s Leadership Institute and The Chapel Student Ministry. What is the top advice you give to young students deciding on their future education and career?

A: Find what you’re passionate about and what motivates you. Although your career will often be challenging and hard work, it should be something you enjoy doing. Find your “why” for why you enjoy something and use it as your driving motivation to move forward and work toward a goal. Finally, don’t be afraid to change your mind. Life is too short to have a career you don’t love. Go after what you want and make it happen!

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your career in the human factors field so far?

A: The most rewarding part was during one of my usability tests. I was working with a patient who had a rare diseaseone that limited her life expectancy to a relatively young age. During the session, the patient got emotional talking about her disease and how it has negatively impacted her life. After hearing stories about her experience, we got to talk about how the device in development we were assessing would greatly improve her day-to-day activities and overall lifestyle. She thanked me for the work I was doing and was so appreciative that her needs as a patient were being considered. It was very rewarding to hear first-hand the impact my work would have on that patient population.

Another really rewarding experience was getting to travel to Shanghai, China for a usability test where we were interested in learning how the different techniques taught in medical school in the US and in China might impact the way surgeons use a surgical stapler. It was my first time visiting China, and I really enjoyed that cultural experience as part of my job.

Q: With a background in psychology, you understand the importance of self care. What are some ways you incorporate it into your life?

A: The most important self-care tip I can relay is to set boundaries. I work in a hybrid model where I spend some days in the office and some at home. In today’s modern world, I am usually accessible via phone or email at all times. It’s important for me to set boundaries on my work email and make sure I am not checking it during “off” hours so that there is separation between home and work. I also find that moving my bodywhether it’s a run around my neighborhood, a walk during my lunch break, or time in the gymcan do just as much good for my mental and emotional health as it can my physical health. I also make sure that I spend some time away from technology each week to engage in something I enjoy doing, like cooking, reading a book, or playing golf.

Q: What is next for you on your life journey?

A: Career-wise, I am looking to grow into my role as a people manager, which is something I took on a few months ago. I look forward to opportunities to mentor and manage those who are early in their career.

Life-wise, my husband and I hope to start a family soon and plant our roots in the Chicago suburbs. We bought our first house a few months ago and are enjoying some new projects as first-time homeowners. I also really enjoy traveling and have a bucket list item to visit all of the US National Parks, so I’m hoping to cross some more off in the next few years!


We look forward to seeing our alumni back on campus in August and invite everyone to stay in touch on Instagram and Facebook @clsmtu.

Brittany Nelson and the Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality

ACSHF PhD student Brittany Nelson (bottom left) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany

Summer is a time for adventure and learning. ACSHF PhD student Brittany Nelson earned her spot to experience both as the recipient of a 2022 Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality scholarship.

The program offers a forum for young scholars from around the world in various disciplines to share their approaches, discuss their research, and inspire each other. This year’s Summer Institute took place June 14 – 22, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. Brittany shares her experience with us here.


Photo of Brittany Nelson

I’m very grateful to have attended the Max Planck Summer Institute on Bounded Rationality in Berlin, Germany. I heard from some of the best researchers in the world who study decision making (e.g., Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer and Dr. Ralph Hertwig). While there I developed and refined new research ideas, created a professional network with excellent graduate student researchers, learned new methodologies from interdisciplinary fields, and refined my presentation skills in front of leading experts! On the last day I heard an inspiring talk from Dr. Naomi Oreskes who discussed the responsibility of scientists to disseminate our science within our society. I really enjoyed my time there and am significantly better researcher for it. [Hear Dr. Oreskes message in her Ted Talk below.]

Brittany was also awarded a King-Chávez-Parks (KCP) Future Faculty Fellowship this past spring in support of her doctoral studies. Under the advisement of Dr. Erich Petushek, her current Ph.D. research involves identifying, measuring, and improving key factors that impact healthy lifestyle decisions.

For more CLS summer adventures and the latest happenings, follow us on Instagram @clsmtu and like us on Facebook.

New Student Spotlight: Ani Schneiderhan

Hello everyone. We’d like to introduce you to new psychology major Ani Schneiderhan, a member of CLS’ incoming class for Fall 2022.

A native of Calumet, Michigan, Ani’s volunteer work with the Main Street Calumet Board and Farmers Market recently earned her a Community Impact Award from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Her community involvement also includes concern for the environment, assisting Nitrate Elimination, a Lake Linden based biotechnology company, in their test kits marketing campaign. As part of her academics, Ani was co-captain of her school’s Junior-ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) and a member of the Science Olympiad and forensics teams. For these accomplishments and more, Ani was selected as a Michigan Tech Leading Scholar and recipient of a Portage Health Foundation Making a Difference Scholarship. Already thinking like a Husky–Ani was instrumental in promoting the inaugural “Snow-coming” event in Calumet last year.

Let’s learn a little more about Ani with a few quick Q&As.

Q: Looking back on the past four years, what was the most memorable highlight of your time in high school?

A:  One of my most memorable experiences was going to Washington, DC for the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) competition. My team qualified for Nationals in 2020 and 2021. The 2020 competition was canceled due to COVID-19 but we placed 4th in the Nation in 2021, out of a field that began with over 1,700 competitors.

Ani at the National JLAB Competition in Washington, D.C.

Q:  When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A:  I really wanted to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon when I was younger. Mostly because I went to see one and I wanted to have a cool sounding job.

Q: How has that changed or how have you incorporated that into your future plans?

A:  Well, I realized that I’m not comfortable standing or walking for long periods of time. And I’ve always wanted to have a profession that helped people, so I decided on Psychology. 

Q: Do you have any special plans for summer before starting college in the fall?

A: Yes! I am volunteering at the National JLAB Competition in DC, the same one I competed in last year.

Q:  Tell us a little something about Michigan Tech that attracts you?

A:  I like the open area around campus, the trails and the water. But I also like that the student-to-faculty ratio is smaller than at other universities.

Q: You’ve chosen Psychology as your major. Can you tell us a bit more as to why?

A:  I like Psychology because it’s the study of humans and how we react. There’s not really a “right” way to look at things and everyone is going to have a different perspective even though their brains might function in a similar way. 

Q:  Besides your studies, what other activities at Michigan Tech do you want to be a part of? 

A:  I have always enjoyed watching the productions put on by Michigan Tech students. I’ve participated in high school plays so I’m excited to join something in theatre. I’m also going to join the pep band. 

Q:  What’s the best advice you have been given in your life so far?

A:  My Biology teacher, Mrs Wright, would always have us say her mantra at the end of each class; “If you can be anything, be kind”. 

Q:  How would you change the world if you could?

A:  I would really like to see people stop judging based on their characteristics and be open to hearing opposing opinions. 

Q: Would you like to give a shout out to anyone?

A:  I would like to give a shout out to my JROTC instructors Major Farley and First sergeant Powell for helping me develop my leadership skills. 

We are excited to see Ani here at Michigan Tech this fall, along with all of our new incoming and returning students!

If you are a new psych or human factors student for Fall 2022, and would like to say “hey”, please reach out to cls@mtu.edu or message us @clsmtu.

Measuring Changes in Motor Learning Outside the Laboratory

The Aging, Cognition, and Action Lab in CLS is currently investigating the validity of a new web-based application for measuring changes in motor learning that occur in healthy aging and Parkinson’s disease. Traditional laboratory approaches to measuring motor learning impose barriers to accessibility for many participants, while few options for portable devices such as smartphones and tablets have been developed. An effective web-based approach would allow testing to occur remotely, improving the reach to multiple populations of interest.

As a part of their investigative research, Dr. Kevin Trewartha and his team are seeking healthy older adults to participate in the study, as well as those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Interested participants are otherwise free from medical conditions that affect movement besides Parkinson’s disease, are between the ages of 60 and 90, and are familiar with computers and how to use them. Participants should also be free from other medical conditions that impair cognitive function.

Photo of PhD student Alexandra Watral

The research is spearheaded by ACSHF PhD student Alexandra Watral who received a Songer Research Award for this project. This award is funded through a generous donation from MTU alumni Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) to the College of Sciences and Arts.

For more information or to see if you qualify for the study, contact the Aging, Cognition and Action Lab at 906-487 2378.

Assessing the validity of an online assessment of motor learning, Alexandra Watral, 2022

Q&A with Teaching Award Winner Briana Bettin

Briana Bettin is the recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Teaching Professor/Professor of Practice/Assistant Professor category.

My goal is not just that students know how to code — you can find coding tutorials anywhere that give you raw “stuff.” I want to help them validate whether they understand what code does and whether they can communicate about code with others and justify their decisions while programming. I also ensure that students recognize, even if we aren’t building big systems for people just yet while we learn these foundations, that code is powerful and comes with responsibility, that there are social impacts to what they program and that computer scientists are often the least likely to recognize how impactful to society their job can be. These skills and this awareness are what job recruiters look for in the modern market. They are also valuable even for those who won’t go on to become programmers.

Briana Bettin

For complete Q&A with CLS / CS assistant professor Briana Bettin, see Michigan Tech News.

Queer and Here: Conversations Beyond Pride Month

This Pride Month, a few Michigan Tech faculty and staff from across campus gathered for a conversation on being queer in the Keweenaw.

In this roundtable Q&A, Amlan Mukherjee, Erin Matas, Kelly Steelman, Paige Short, and Tom Adolphs share their thoughts and experiences on the importance of representation, connections, and conversations during this heritage month and beyond. Read more.