Tag: Michigan Tech

Carolyn Duncan: Free Falling

Original story published on College of Engineering Blog, 11/10/2022

Cat suspended in air
Just what is Reactive Balance Ability? And why does it matter? Join us during Husky Bites, to find out!
Carolyn Duncan, Michigan Tech Assistant Professor

Carolyn Duncan shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive Zoom webinar this Monday, 11/14 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes or so, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/14 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Carolyn Duncan, assistant professor, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology and Affiliated Assistant Professor, Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech.

Joining in will be Sarah Aslani, Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) PhD student and a member of  Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech, who will share just how balance is studied in the lab.

Falls are a major cause of serious injury and death in our society. So how can we prevent them? 

Sarah Aslani, ACSHF PhD student, Michigan Tech

“We need greater understanding of exactly what affects our ability to regain our balance when we lose it,” Duncan explains. “Not all risk factors affect balance in the same way. There are many unanswered questions, and that’s where our research comes in,” she says.

How do we anticipate falling? And what happens if we are distracted?

“There’s a lot we still don’t understand in respect to balance,” she says. Some major culprits, though: clutter and poor lighting. 

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan will explore what is currently known on how we regain our balance, share some things we can do to improve our balance and prevent falls, and discuss her ongoing research on balance control and fall prevention.

We can learn a lot from penguins, says Prof. Carolyn Duncan.

Duncan earned her BSc in Kinesiology and MSc in Occupational Biomechanics, both at the University of New Brunswick, and her PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on biomechanics at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, then taught engineering ergonomics courses at Virginia Tech before joining the faculty at Michigan Tech in 2018.

After obtaining her doctorate in mechanical engineering, Prof. Duncan spent time working as an ergonomist and fall prevention specialist before she became a researcher. Her work has spanned from fall prevention in offshore industries to developing fall prevention safety programs for workplaces. These experiences give her valuable real-world insights in the fall-related challenges people face in everyday life.

Balance control research in Prof. Duncan’s MTU Balance and Functional Mobility Lab at Michigan Tech

At Michigan Tech, Duncan investigates factors that influence successful balance recovery—from lighting, load-carrying, and aging, to cognitive, neurological, and physical disorders and musculoskeletal injury. She also works with the design of built environments for older adults and special populations. 

“My research primarily focuses on the factors that influence successful balance recovery to prevent falls and improve mobility,” she explains.

Her work studying balance recovery in moving environments—such as the wave motion encountered in maritime settings—involves asking questions, such as “would dancers have better balance on a boat?” 

(Prof. Duncan found that while dancers demonstrated significantly fewer stumbling events when on a simulated boat than novices during the first trial, dancers did not perform as well as individuals with offshore experience.)

Clutter + Poor Lighting = Falls, says Prof. Carolyn Duncan. (Okay, we’ve been warned.)

Arriving recently from the warmer climate of Tehran to earn her PhD in Cognitive Learning Sciences in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Aslani has not yet experienced a Houghton winter, or ever slipped on the ice and snow. Thankfully, she is co-advised by Prof. Duncan and Kevin Trewartha, an assistant professor with joint appointment in CLA and KIP. They’re already preparing Aslani for what to expect when the snowflakes start to fly and temperatures dip.

Are wide stairs safer or more dangerous? And what does the “run length” have to do with it? We’ll find out during Husky Bites!

“Sarah has a background in biomedical engineering, and she just started this semester,” says Duncan. “She will be doing her PhD research on factors that influence our ability to recover our balance. I look forward to furthering this area of research with her in the upcoming years. And we look forward to teaching her how to snowboard and ski as part of our Lab bonding time.”

“I was looking for a research project that would cover both of my interests—biology and neuroscience—when I saw Dr. Duncan’s profile on the Michigan Tech website,” adds Aslani. “So I sent her an email. Then, in our first meeting, it really felt right. I knew this would be a place where I’d fit in.”

In the lab, Duncan and her team perform balance control research. Their overall goal: to help improve the lives of individuals in our community.

“Type 2 Diabetes is a big challenge facing many older adults, with devastating effects on balance. However, surprisingly, very little is known about how exercises like Tai Chi may decrease fall risk. My team is excited to start examining how effective lost-cost group exercise programs like Tai Chi, for improving balance and decreasing risk of falls. We’ll be working in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Trewartha and physical therapists Dr. Cameron Williams and Dr. Lydia Lytle,” Duncan says.

“Dim lighting is often associated with falls in the home,” she adds. “We’re currently looking into how lighting specifically affects balance recovery. We hope this knowledge will be used to develop guidelines on optimal lighting in homes and built environments in our community  to decrease risk of falls.’

During Husky Bites, Prof. Duncan promises to offer some takeaways, too. She’ll provide exact details on the best kinds of shoes, railings and stairs to prevent falls. 

“Mountain biking and alpine skiing are my passions, so the Upper Peninsula is a great place to live all year around,” says Dr. Duncan.

Dr. Duncan, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I first got into Engineering when I decided that pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering would best suit my long-term goals of being a researcher in biomechanics. My previous undergraduate and Masters degrees in Kinesiology and Science with focuses in biomechanics and ergonomics had sparked a desire to learn more advanced biomechanical modeling techniques. A PhD in Mechanical Engineering allowed me to learn these advanced biomechanical modeling techniques while also gaining the foundational knowledge in mechanical and human factors engineering to pursue this career.

Hometown, family?
I’m originally from Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada–about 45 minutes east of Maine. Interestingly, I come from a healthcare and teaching family. My parents were both public school teachers, and my grandparents were all healthcare professionals or engineers. I have one younger brother who is currently an electrician in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

There’s something so adorable about Brady!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a member of the Mont Ripley Ski Patrol and Copper Harbor Bike Patrol. I’ve recently taken up Nordic skiing and disc golf. When I’m not outside I love to cook and am an avid indoor gardener. I have a two-year old ginger tabby cat named “Brady the Tomcat,” in honor of Tom Brady (I’m a lifelong New England Patriots fan). I found Brady at Copper Country Humane Society right here in Houghton. 

Sarah, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

“I always enjoy chatting with my friends,” says Aslani. “Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I hang out with a friend.”

Growing up, I was always trying to figure out my real passion–some area in which I am really talented, so that I can direct all my attention and power toward it.

I tried out many things, including painting and playing piano. But, they were never enough for me. After getting admitted to the Iranian Biology Olympiad (IrBO) at age fourteen, and then, a year later, to the Iranian’s national Mathematics Olympiad, I started to realize that I may be good at both those fields (biology and math). That is why a couple of years later, I chose to pursue a biomedical engineering degree.

Hometown, family?
Until recently, I lived in Tehran, Iran. It is the capital of Iran. Very crowded, but it is very beautiful, with lots of beautiful countryside spots to go on picnics, like Chitgar Lake. Plus, there are two, three great places to go hiking.

We are a small family. I have a younger brother who also chose the engineering field. My dad is an agricultural engineer. My mum is a biotechnology researcher. 

Any hobbies? Pets? What do you like to do in your spare time?
The first thing is that I love hiking; when I was in Iran I used to go hiking every two weeks.

Hiking is one of Aslani’s passions. She’s excited to get out and start exploring the UP!

Another thing I am crazy about is learning new languages. I learn new languages by watching movies and listening to music. Recently I started learning Spanish. I love Spanish music. I memorized the lyrics and tried them out with karaoke!

And finally, I always enjoy chatting with my friends. Sometimes when I want to clear my head and not think of anything, I hang out with a friend. 


Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in Psychology and Human Factors, along with a Minor in Psychology. We also offer an Accelerated Masters degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF), which typically requires only one additional year of course work. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF).

Questions? Contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And follow us @clsmtu on Instagram and Facebook for the latest happenings.

Robin Chosa appointed to Michigan Board of Counseling

Michigan Tech alumnus Robin Chosa has been appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the Michigan Board of Counseling.

Chosa earned the degree Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Michigan Technological University in 2015 and is the operations manager for the Ford Center in Alberta. He is also chairman of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College Board of Regents and the owner of Rez Robbins LLC. The Baraga-based business operates as a food vendor providing catering for local festivals and pow wows on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

Susie Amato-Henderson, associate professor and former CLS chair gave input on the nomination process. “They were hoping to find a candidate from the UP with strong community ties, ideally from a traditionally underrepresented community. Robin instantly came to mind as his tie to the whole community, and especially to the Ojibwa community, are strong. I knew that he had spoken out previously, following some tragic losses in the community, regarding the need for mental health treatment services. He will bring a much needed underrepresented perspective to the board.

Robin will serve as a strong advocate for the needs of rural communities, and also for the needs of indigenous communities and people. I know he will be a fantastic addition to the board!

Susie Amato-Henderson, CLS associate professor

If approved by the state senate, Chosa will represent the general public on the board, which oversees licensing of counselors and counseling practices.

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences congratulates Robin on being appointed to this key post in the governor’s office.


Michigan Tech’s Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences offers bachelor of science degrees in Psychology and Human Factors, along with a Minor in Psychology. We also offer an Accelerated Masters degree in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF), which typically requires only one additional year of course work. Our graduate program includes masters and doctoral degrees in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF).

Questions? Contact us at cls@mtu.edu. And follow us @clsmtu on Instagram and Facebook for the latest happenings.

ACSHF Forum: Grad Student Presentations

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will host ACSHF students Lisa Casper and Betsy Lehman at the next Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors forum Monday (October 17) from 2:00pm to 3:00pm in Meese 109 and via Zoom.

Lisa Casper will present her research titled “Does Design Thinking Support Innovation: Empirical Evaluation

Abstract: Design thinking (DT) is a tool to support team innovation however, few empirical studies have examined it. In this study, we experimentally compared the effect of two approaches for DT ideate brainstorming on the number of ideas generated and the perceived innovativeness of those ideas.  As part of a semester-long DT project, 145 participants comprising 48 teams were challenged to develop an innovative solution for one of 17 United Nations sustainability goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals).  Half of the teams engaged in a standard DT brainstorming ideation process, while the other half participated in an experimental brainstorming condition. Participants generated ideas and provided subjective ratings of the process and their team’s solution. Ideas were content-coded on several dimensions by two independent raters.  We found that teams in the DT experimental brainstorming techniques condition generated almost 58% more ideas than those in the DT baseline condition in the same amount of time, but their ideas were not rated as more innovative. What these data suggest for innovation and conducting research on innovation will be discussed.

Betsy Lehman will present her research titled Counterfactual Thinking as a Strategy for Questioning a Frame: Experimental Results

Abstract: Understanding how people make sense of situations and question the theories they hold may be critical in many circumstances, from communicating about climate change to improving DEI at work. Questioning a perspective is assumed to be a precursor to changing it (Klein et al., 2007), yet the research on the questioning process is limited. In a previous study, we found that factors involved in counterfactual thinking (Roese & Olson, 1995), mutability of the situation and ease of generating counterfactuals, appeared highly relevant in the sensemaking process. In the present experiment, we tested this effect by manipulating ease of generation and a mutability focus strategy. This research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of perspective shifting to support applications such as programs to reduce implicit bias.

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

Student Spotlight: Brandon Woolman

Brandon Woolman with Triforce at Otter River Sled Dog Training Center

This weekend, huskies and their mushers from near and far will gather in Calumet, Michigan, for the Copper Dog 150. Brandon Woolman, Michigan Tech University Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (ACSHF) masters student, will be among the over 50 teams registered for the event. Brandon is a member of The Mushing Club at Michigan Tech – maybe the only collegiate-level mushing organization in the nation. His role as “handler” will be to help prepare and care for a very energetic team of dogs, poised and ready to run!

Brandon gives us an insight to how he got into dog sledding, the relationship between mushers and their dogs, and what he’d like to accomplish during his time with the Mushing Club.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the sport of dog sledding?

I grew up in Waterford, Michigan and earned my undergraduate degree in cognitive neuroscience from the College of Wooster, Ohio. Two summers ago while visiting Houghton, I went to the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center with my partner Suzie Harris, who is a member of the Michigan Tech Mushing Club and current secretary. It was so cool to see all of the dogs and the workings of the kennel. Later, when I was accepted to the ACSHF masters program, I realized that I could actually participate in the Club myself and help out with the dogs.

I’ve kind of always been an outdoors person. I really enjoy the winter so I like the cold and snow. Southeast Michigan doesn’t get a ton of snow compared to up here where we’ve gotten nearly 250 inches so far this season. But I also grew up in Grayling, where my father lived, and we would do a lot of ice fishing, sledding, tubing, and snowboarding – all sorts of winter activities.

The thing that I like best about the sport of dog sledding is its friendly competitive nature – two adjectives you usually don’t hear together in describing a sport. When I started going to the races, I had never been on a sled before. I would just go and talk to all the mushers and the people involved with the races, and help out with the dogs. I also enjoy seeing the Michigan Tech team arrive at the events with so many people. Other teams might have two to four, but at the last event, Marquette’s Midnight Run, we had 20 members of the Mushing Club helping out with our three teams.

It’s always nice to hear stories from the mushers. They’re all very friendly and so are all the people who help put the races together – from the volunteers at the start, checkpoint crews along the way, and the judges. I try to talk to as many people as I can and hear their stories of past races, experiences they’ve had caring for their dogs, and learning more about their lifestyle.

The mushers definitely form a strong bond with their dogs. And the lead dogs are amazing and really smart. Until you get them leashed up and ready to go, you wouldn’t realize the strength of just one dog, and the mushers are racing with a team of 6-12, depending on the length of the race. That’s a lot of power in front of a sled.

I’ve learned that good mushers prioritize praise and positive reinforcement when training their dogs. With patience and time, they build trust with their team. Of course belly rubs, ear scratches and treats help as well. Mushers learn what motivates each dog, just like humans, they are all unique.

Do you have a mentor in the sport?

I definitely look up to Tom Bauer. He and his wife Sally are the owners of the Otter River Sled Dog Training Center and sponsor the Mushing Club. We [club members] go to their kennel and help take care of the dogs. We feed and run them and keep their spaces clean.

I’m always excited to follow Tom during a race. It’s cool when he’s out there and I get to watch where he is on a tracking system. You can actually see as his team moves through the course and encounters other racers. It also helps to estimate the location of the teams and how close they are to the next checkpoint.

As a handler, I help with the maintenance and feeding of the dogs before and during the race. At the rest points, you’ve got to take the dogs out of their houses every four hours and let them stretch their legs. It can be a lot of work when you’re staying overnight and you need to wake up at 2 or 4am. It definitely helps when you have a lot of handlers with the team, so it’s not just you. We’re all bearing through it together – negative temps and snowstorms alike. As far as dressing to stay warm, I wear Rocky boots, wool socks, lots of layers, and a good pair of Carhartts.

A highlight for me so far this year was helping run Tom’s team to the starting line at the Midnight Run. So much excitement and adrenaline ready to break loose as crowds of people watched on. It took four of us to hold the team, along with Tom pressing on the break until the countdown was complete.

How do you balance your studies and time spent with the dogs?

I try to get to the kennel at least once a week. My schedule is rather busy with coursework and research so it really depends on how things are going. Some weeks I just can’t make it, but then there are those weeks when I’m able to help out a lot. The kennel has nearly 70 dogs so any time I can give makes a difference.

Right now I’m trying to learn all the dogs by name. There are some of our Club members who know them all. Mushers have a naming system that helps in remembering which dogs are from what litter. Each litter is named after a certain category, such as Greek Gods with one named Ares, for example.

My goal before I complete my degree and leave the Mushing Club is to race as a musher for the team. But until then, I’ll enjoy being with the dogs and the people in this very interesting world of dog sledding.


Brandon is currently working with his advisor, Dr. Kevin Trewartha, CLS/KIP associate professor, in a research project aimed at evaluating whether subtle differences in motor behavior could serve as a sensitive marker for early cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease. The project, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), is assessing differences in rapid motor decision making between healthy older adults and individuals with mild cognitive impairment or early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

New Chair of Cognitive and Learning Sciences Has Passion for Human Factors and… the Ukulele

David Hemmer, Dean of the College of Sciences and Arts, announced that Kelly Steelman has accepted the position as chair of the Cognitive and Learning Sciences department.

Kelly Steelman

Steelman, an associate professor of psychology and an affiliated associate professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics, had been working as the interim chair.

Hemmer cited her work developing Michigan Tech’s new bachelor’s degree in human factors as one reason he’s happy to see her in the role. “Kelly has done a great job as interim chair, including shepherding the department’s new Human Factors BS degree through to approval,” he said. “I look forward to working with her over the next three years.”

You’ve been working as the interim chair during a time of great change here. From a new university president, to a new college. What have you enjoyed about it?

Some people might view this as somewhat terrifying: to step into a chair position, or really any leadership position, in a time of great institutional change, with a global pandemic and lots of uncertainty in the world and in higher education. But for me, this seems like the best time to be in a leadership position, because you can actually do things and facilitate positive changes. You know, when everybody’s off-kilter, it gets the ball rolling and then you just get to help guide it in different ways. That’s a lot easier than trying to get people who are used to the status quo to take that first step.

You came a really long way to join us in Houghton. Tell us about that.
I came to Michigan Tech following a post-doctoral fellowship at Flinder’s University in Adelaide, Australia. So I traded in the ocean and warm temperatures for the shores of Lake Superior, and a much heavier jacket.
I had returned to the States for a conference where I saw an advertisement for an assistant professor position in CLS. So I went over to check out the Michigan Tech lab poster. I grew up in Grand Rapids, so I was familiar with Michigan Tech and its reputation. And I knew that there was a graduate-level program related to human factors. But, when I walked up to the poster, I saw a group of women standing there, and I thought, wow, that really defies my expectations about Michigan Tech. That was not the crowd that I expected to see.

Susie Amato-Henderson, our former department chair, walked up and introduced herself and then invited me out to lunch with a group of graduate students. By the end of the lunch, I knew I had to apply for the position. I actually ended up extending my stay in the US long enough to be able to interview for the job before returning to finish my post-doc in Australia.

I was thrilled when I got the job offer and luckily managed to convince my wife and son that it was a great idea to move here even though neither of them had even been to the Upper Peninsula and didn’t really know where it was. After I accepted the job, we came up to find a place to live and actually saw a moose on our drive up to Copper Harbor. That was, of course, really thrilling and the first sign that we were moving to a really amazing place!

What do you like about life in the Upper Peninsula?
I love that it is just so easy to get outside and explore. I really enjoy hiking and cross-country skiing on the Tech Trails and exploring new waterfalls and beaches. I’m not a downhill skier but the rest of my family has really gotten involved at Mont Ripley. My wife works in the ticket office and my oldest son is a ski and snowboard instructor. Even my four-year-old has tried out snowboarding and loves the tube park.

I’ve particularly enjoyed getting involved with the Pewabic Community Garden in Houghton and the Keweenaw Roller Derby league. Both were great ways to meet folks with common interests and helped us feel like we were actually part of the local community.

The competition for students is tougher than ever. What do you see as a competitive advantage here?
Most people don’t think of psychology when they think of Michigan Tech. But I am very proud of our program and what it offers to our students. As one example, our psych students have far more opportunities to get engaged in research in our department than they would in other programs. All students take a two-semester research methods course that gives them the opportunity to work in teams to design, conduct, and present their own research studies.

Many students go on to do research with faculty members and really hone their research skills, making them competitive on the job market and also for graduate programs. Our undergraduate psychology program has a great record of students getting into competitive masters and Ph.D. programs.

Our undergraduate psychology program is also flexible by design. In addition to gaining research and internship experiences, we encourage our students to add minors, double majors, join the Pavlis Honors College, and really focus on building a personal portfolio of skills. Many of today’s college students will be working in jobs or industries that don’t yet exist, so it is really important that students can clearly communicate their skill sets to potential employers. We build advising right into the curriculum to help students do this.

What makes you so passionate about human factors in general and what does the study of this discipline offer to Tech students?
I completed two degrees in Aerospace Engineering before discovering the field of human factors. For those who are unfamiliar with it, human factors is the study of human performance, especially within socio-technical systems, and the application of that knowledge to the design of safe, efficient, and satisfying products, workplaces, processes, and systems. For me, pursuing human factors in my graduate studies allowed me to blend my interests in people and technology.


Through the Tech Forward Initiatives of the past few years, we’ve talked a lot about the fourth industrial revolution, the integration of the physical, digital, and social worlds, and the rapid pace of technological change. The problems facing the world today require that we take a human-centered approach and that we understand how people think, feel and behave and how they interact with technology.

Our new human factors major will be great for students that are interested in designing the future and building new technologies, but also really care about people and want to understand why people do the things that we do and why we make the mistakes that we do. A human factors program is a particularly good fit for Michigan Tech as it blends foundational coursework in psychology with courses in systems engineering, human-computer interaction, usability, business, and design. Designing the major was a true multi-disciplinary effort, with faculty from numerous departments and colleges providing input and feedback.

You already mentioned your roller derby involvement. What’s something else people might not know about you?

About two years ago, I joined a local ukulele troupe called The Yooper-leles. One of my colleagues in engineering Engineering Fundamentals, Michelle Jarvie-Eggart, invited me and it was so much fun! We had folks from five years old to probably 85, with a variety of skill levels. I’m still a beginner, but I did get in a fair bit of practice during the stay-at-home order. I’m really looking forward to when we can all gather to play together again.