Meet Dan Fuhrmann, Chair, Applied Computing


Dan Fuhrmann, Chair, Department of Applied Computing

What should students know about you and your role as chair?

The job of department chair is essentially one of service: service to our students, service to the faculty and staff, service to the university as a whole. Basically, I want to be useful, and by extension I want the Department of Applied Computing to be useful to Michigan Tech and all of our stakeholders in the Great Lakes region. Anything I can do to improve the lives of our students and promote our regional economic development makes me happy.

What are some examples of the issues that students can bring to you?

Students can come to me with concerns about individual courses and instructors. There are two levels of concern, those that involve clearly stated university rules and regulations, and those that have to do with instructor personalities and quality of instruction. Of course, I also want to know when things are going well, and areas in our programs where we could do better. Along those lines, I plan to put in place a student advisory board to get regular, structured feedback from our most important stakeholders, students. To put it simply, students can come to see me about anything they want. Believe me, I’ve heard it all!

How can students contact you?

You know where to find me: Rekhi 106, fuhrmann@mtu.edu, or 906-487-2871. And if those don’t work, you can find me on the Tech Trails or at Mont Ripley, or playing music at one of our venues here Houghton/Hancock. Please, do not hesitate to reach out if you have anything to share–good or bad–about your experience in the Department of Applied Computing. It is my favorite topic of conversation!

As chair, how do you support student learning and success?

At the high level, we oversee the academic programs, making sure the program requirements and courses meet modern standards and that we get the right instructors in the right courses. Keeping an academic program
running is a process of continual improvement: modernizing courses, adding and dropping courses, and making sure we stay current with our ABET accreditation. We also make sure the personnel and structures are
in place for student support, such as the academic advisor, the learning centers, the teaching labs, and the like. At a more personal level, I seek input from students, either as individuals or in groups, and try to be as responsive as a can to resolve conflicts. The opportunity to nominate successful students for awards and write recommendations to
support future success is also a rewarding part of the job.

Overall, what is the role of a department chair?

In short, the department chair is the first rung in the management ladder at an academic institution like Michigan Tech. The chair oversees the academic programs in the department, supports faculty in developing their teaching and research programs, works with students to find out their needs and address any concerns, handles the department finances, advocates for the departmental resources like space and equipment, and works with industry partners and other external stakeholders to make sure we are meeting our commitments to the State of Michigan. In many respects, the department chair is the face of the department to the rest of the university, whether that is other academic departments or non-academic units like admissions, career services, or facilities.

It is often said the department chair is like the two-faced Roman god Janus. Looking one direction, the chair is responsible for the well-being of the students in the academic programs and the faculty who teach the courses and carry out research and university service. Looking the other direction, we report to the college dean and other
university administrators who look to the chair for the success of the unit, as measured by enrollments, research and scholarly activity, and student success.

See the official job description for a department chair here.

What are some of your top priorities as chair?

I see the growth of the Department of Applied Computing as my first priority, supporting the publicly-stared goal of Michigan Tech to grow to 10,000 students by 2035. We are making good progress in that area, particularly in cybersecurity and mechatronics. To grow student enrollment, we also need to grow the faculty to expand our programs, and with the support of the dean I have a plan in place to add faculty members in cybersecurity, Internet of Things, and health informatics, as well as a combined staff/instructional position to support our teaching labs in the EET and mechatronics programs. This isn’t just about being bigger for its own sake. A larger department can offer more learning opportunities for students, a wider variety of courses, and more resources for faculty research and instruction. The visibility of a larger department also serves all of our students, even after they graduate. Of course, we need to maintain excellence in all we do as the department grows and evolves over time.

A second priority is helping our academic programs evolve so that they reflect the reality of what is happening in industry today. This reality goes by various names, such as Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or IT/OT Convergence (IT = Information Technology, OT = Operations Technology). There are three distinct groups in Applied Computing now: EET/Mechatronics, CNSA/Cybersecurity, and Health Informatic, but the lines between these areas are disappearing in industry, where for example there is a critical need for cybersecurity in industrial facilities, and the Internet of Things will include a huge number of medical devices. I want very much for our students and our graduates to have these cross-disciplinary skill sets that will be in demand. I am also interested in having AC Department faculty play a role in the growing activity in Data Science in the College of Computing.

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