First Snow – Fall Break 2020

October 16, 2020

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

Looking out my window, the first sticking snow of the year has arrived. Two inches of wet and very slippery snow has already come down and the temperature has dropped almost to freezing. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, it is four days later than last year and comes after a truly beautiful summer and early Fall!

Campus is quiet as the students are off Thursday and Friday this week for our new “Fall Break.” We started classes two days early and added this time to give us more flexibility if we needed to pivot to fully remote instruction at some point during the semester. I have already heard from both students and faculty that the break is very much appreciated; it would not surprise me if it becomes a permanent addition to our academic calendar.

Michigan Tech has played a huge role recently in the local fight against COVID. In late September cases surged in the UP, with cases in Houghton County briefly over 700/million/day, the highest in Michigan. Together with our local K-12 schools, we took a two week pause on most face to face instruction and dedicated our campus testing capacity to the local community. We also hosted a drive thru event on campus where more than 600 tests were done in a single day. These efforts, together with the actions of our community, have led to a 75% drop in daily new cases in the past two weeks. 

On campus the numbers are promising and improving, with only one positive in our last 300 surveillance tests and 31 total cases in the last 14 days, less than half the total early in the semester. In a few weeks, some new equipment will arrive that will double our testing capacity.

In my office, we welcomed a new Director of Advancement, Karin Van Dyke. Many of you have worked with Ben Larson over the years; Ben is now the Houghton County Administrator! Karin is a proud Tech alumna who was previously Director of Advancement at Finlandia University. She is looking forward to connecting with many of you in the months ahead.

Despite the pandemic, this past year was a record-setting one for faculty researchers in Sciences and Arts. New external research funding totaled $10.6 million in 2019-20, a new record and up from $6.7 the previous year, an increase of 58%! Meanwhile our incoming CSA class was the second largest in the last five years. With the wonderful variety of interesting majors we offer and the dedicated recruiting efforts of our faculty and advisors, this is not surprising. We are already beginning our faculty recruitment for next Fall to build on this momentum.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. They will play an even bigger role over the next year with decreased state support expected. Thank you so much for supporting Michigan Tech! For CSA giving opportunities please visit:  https://www.mtu.edu/sciences-arts/giving/

If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or offer suggestions.


Campus Life – Fall 2020

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

As I sit in my Walker Arts & Humanities Center office after five months of almost total silence, it is wonderful to hear the sounds of the great Husky Pep Band, outside my open window, learning the Michigan Tech Fight Song and other classics like “The Engineers.” Today’s rehearsals seem to be socially distanced sectionals, so there are often 2 or 3 fight songs being played, unfortunately not in unison! It is a real sign that campus is returning to something resembling normalcy and it greatly lifts my spirits to stand at the window listening.

Our battle against COVID continues. Using our own testing lab in the Great Lakes Research Center, we tested almost 2000 students as they moved into the dorms. Nine positive cases were put in quarantine, and contact tracing is being handled by MTU in partnership with the Western UP Health Department. Our surveillance testing program is underway, and will run at least 600 tests a week. We are also doing wastewater testing in multiple campus dormitories to detect any possible outbreaks as early as possible.

Out on the campus the hammocks are up, frisbees are in the air, and masked students stream between classes with a bit more space than usual between them.

Meanwhile our faculty research is back in full swing. I had the opportunity last week to tour the research lab of Dr. Steve Techtmann, assistant professor of Biological Sciences and one of the young rising stars on our faculty. Steve is an environmental microbiologist who is the lead researcher on a recently awarded $1 million + grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project, in collaboration with faculty in Chemical Engineering, hopes to turn plastic waste into protein (i.e. food!). As I understand it, the chemical engineers turn the plastic into something resembling petroleum. Then Steve and his custom bacteria come in and turn it into protein. Steve has extensive expertise on the role microbial communities play in breaking down oil spills.

Despite the pandemic, this past year was a record-setting one for faculty researchers in the College of Sciences and Arts. New external research funding totaled $10.6 million in 2019-20, a new record and up from $6.7 the previous year, and increase of 58%! Meanwhile our incoming CSA class is the second largest in the last five years. With the wonderful variety of interesting majors we offer and the dedicated recruiting efforts of our faculty and advisors, this is not surprising.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. They will play an even bigger role over the next year with decreased state support expected. Thank you so much for supporting Michigan Tech! For CSA giving opportunities please visit:  https://www.mtu.edu/sciences-arts/giving/

If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or offer suggestions.


Return to Campus

July 27, 2020

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

It is a beautiful summer day in Houghton, and an exciting day on campus as we enter the third and final step of our “Return to Campus” plan, more than four months after most of us hastily vacated our offices due to COVID.  Campus buildings are open and unlocked, most faculty and staff can return to their offices and labs, and campus tours have resumed. Of course, reminders of the ongoing pandemic are everywhere: daily symptom checking, mandatory face masks, reduced capacity in classrooms, and continued meetings over Zoom!

Our faculty and staff are busy preparing to safely welcome students back to campus. Classroom capacities have been reduced, many large lectures have moved online, and laboratory classes are being adjusted to maintain our signature hands-on learning style while keeping every safe. Our faculty and graduate students managed to, starting from scratch, get a COVID testing lab set up and certified. The lab, which offers drive-thru testing on campus, hopes to process 500 tests per day this Fall, and will play a key role in helping us reopen safely. You can read the latest details on all our plans here: https://www.mtu.edu/flex/

Despite the pandemic, this past year was a record-setting one for faculty researchers in Sciences and Arts. New external research funding totaled $10.6 million in 2019-20, a new record and up from $6.7 the previous year, and increase of 58%!

Meanwhile our incoming CSA class is only five students below last fall and the second largest in the last five years. With the wonderful variety of interesting majors we offer and the dedicated recruiting efforts of our faculty and advisors, this is not surprising.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. They will play an even bigger role over the next year when we expect decreased state support and possible enrollment declines in the Fall. Thank you so much for supporting Michigan Tech!

For those interested in supporting our students, many of whom have lost income and had additional expenses due to coronavirus related shutdowns, please consider giving to the Husky Emergency Assistance Fund:

https://www.mtu.edu/giving/heaf/

We also have a separate fund set up for our graduate students, many of whom could not travel home, or lost summer work opportunities. You can find that here:

https://www.mtu.edu/givenow/?desig=3345-Emergency-Fund&code=GRAD

If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or offer suggestions.


Spring is Coming

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

Winter Carnival has ended and the forecast high for this past weekend was 43 degrees, could Spring be right around the corner? The Keweenaw snow thermometer at shows 243” and the 10-day forecast suggests more to come.

We are in the thick of our hiring season in the College. While having breakfast recently with a Chemistry chair candidate, I looked across Suomi Restaurant and saw our humanities and mathematical sciences chairs also meeting with faculty candidates! We are currently searching for department chairs in chemistry and humanities and for regular faculty positions in mathematics and physics and humanities. Hiring and retaining outstanding faculty is the most important thing a Dean can do to ensure the long-term success of the College.

Speaking of outstanding faculty, over in Biological Sciences, Assistant Professor Erika Hersch-Green just won an NSF CAREER award! These are among the most prestigious awards a young scientist can earn (they are limited to pre-tenure faculty). Her five-year project, titled “Can material costs contribute to the structuring of biodiversity patterns from genomes and transcriptomes to multispecies communities?”, will bring in more than $1.1 million! Congratulations to Erika for this incredible achievement!

External research funding is also pouring into our Chemistry department. Five different faculty principal investigators brought in $1.5 million in new awards during 2019 alone. Many of these awards are for research in human health, the focus of our new health education and research building currently being designed. Health research and pre-health education are both growing parts of our mission at MTU.

Last month I traveled to Denver for the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society. I spent three extra days visiting our very passionate alums. It is wonderful to hear the success stories of our alumni, scattered across the country. Their message was loud and clear, MTU hockey needs to return to the Denver area!

Our recruiting is also going well, with our freshman deposits in CSA up 20% over last year at the same time, and the highest in at least 10 years. It is a testament to the quality of our programs that we can resist the demographic trends of declining numbers of high school seniors and grow enrollment.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!

If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.

Best wishes,

David Hemmer
Dean- College of Sciences and Arts


Winter is Here: Students Attend Conferences and Other Updates

Mount Ripley and Portage Canal with snow.Classes nonstop from K-Day until Thanksgiving can be exhausting. On the Walker lawn outside my office, the broomball courts filled with snow from the past two storms and across the canal, I can see the snow guns blowing on Mont Ripley after a successful opening weekend. Having taken beginner lessons last year, I am ready to hit the slopes hard this winter. One of my department chairs even gave me a private lesson on waxing and sharpening my new skis!

I was very proud last month when eight of our Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology students presented at the Michigan Space Grant Consortium. Their presentation, Setting foot on Mars: A Big Step and Even Greater Leap for Undergraduate and Graduate Students, analyzed the most energetically efficient form of locomotion on Mars and its implications for successfully carrying out a human Mars mission. They are now seeking funding to present at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Over in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, a large contingent of faculty and students represented Michigan Tech well at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Conference in Seattle. Six of our students presented posters at the conference. The talent and dedication of our students and faculty is what makes MTU such a special place.

Our architects recently unveiled the first rough sketches of our new health research building, and whatever doubts I had were washed away. It will be a beautiful seven-story structure attached to the southeast corner of the Chemical Sciences building, with natural light throughout the building and, hopefully, some mass timber construction. While the state is paying part of it, we will lean heavily on support from our alumni and corporate partners to maximize the potential of this space. I was particularly impressed by the prediction that the new space will use less than 1/3 of the energy per square foot than our current laboratory space on campus! Health research and pre-health education are both growing parts of our mission at Michigan Tech.

For the first time ever, this year’s freshmen class in CSA was majority (52%) female! This class was 8% larger than last year. Our efforts now focus on retaining these students and recruiting another great class next Fall. In CSA our application numbers for Fall 2020 are up more than 80% from the same time the previous year, and have, as of November 16, exceeded the final total from last spring! I’m proud of our wide array of degree options in the College that are proving so popular with the students.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a Dean’s Priority Fund. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!

If you are a current student or alumni back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me at any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.

David Hemmer
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences


Fall 2019 Updates

Staff with President in Cardboard boat in water paddlling.We are midway through the semester now and winter is in the air and on the ground with a coating of snow that seems to have stayed. On the Walker lawn outside my office the broomball courts are under construction. I recently enjoyed watching my first cardboard boat races, including one magnificent vessel captained by our very own President Koubek!

One of my favorite events as Dean, the induction ceremony for our Distinguished Alumni Academy was held in October. We were proud to induct Ziyong Cai (1990 Physics PhD), who captivated the crowd with his tale of growing up in China during the cultural revolution when schools were closed and he had to save for more than a year to afford the TOEFL fee. Laura Barrientos (1995 Chemistry PhD) described her work battling the Ebola virus and starting her own business. Finally, we inducted our third ever honorary member into the academy, former Humanities chair, Dean of Sciences and Arts and Michigan Tech’s first ever Provost, William Powers. Powers shared his stories of working with former President Ray Smith, and leading the department as it moved into the as yet unrenovated Sherman Gym where faculty and staff worked in cubicles on the basketball court!

Teaching Abstract Algebra

In between my dean duties, I grade stacks of papers, as this semester I am teaching my first class here at Tech, with 42 students in Math 3310 Abstract Algebra. It has been wonderful to be back in the classroom after two years away, and great to have a real chalkboard! It has been a thrill to get to know so many of our undergraduates.

College Grows

For the first time ever, the freshmen class in CSA was majority (52%) female! This class was 8% larger than last year, and our early application numbers for Fall 2020 are up 109% from last year at the same time! I’m proud of our wide array of degree options in the College that are proving so popular with the students.

Our ROTC programs are thriving, with 70 cadets this Fall in Army and more than 100 in Air Force (up from 30 just a few years ago)! Both programs were recently visited by Colonels who command multiple ROTC units, and both visiting Colonels were very impressed with what they observed on the ground.

New Space

Planning continues for our new health research building. This beautiful laboratory building will be near the current Chemistry building, which will also be renovated to host our departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering. Architects are busy on campus gathering information from our faculty to design laboratory space to meet their needs.

Support

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day.


College of Sciences and Arts Remains Very Strong

Students at a picnic table on campus

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

It is cold and rainy as classes start today, but the students’ excitement is palpable as we begin a new academic year. This is always my favorite time to be on campus, the leaves are starting to change, the freshmen are meeting new friends, the raucous sounds of the Pep Band can be heard in the distance, and no one is behind on homework yet! This semester I am teaching my first class here at Tech, with 42 students in Math 3310- Abstract Algebra. It was great to get back in the classroom after two years away, and great to have a real chalkboard!

The big news on campus is the launch of our new College of Computing. The computer science department has left CSA to join the new College, leaving us with 9 academic departments plus Air Force and Army ROTC. The “new” College of Sciences and Arts remains very strong, with our freshmen class up 17% from last year! For the first time ever, the freshmen class in CSA will be majority (52%) female! We not only welcome new students but new faculty as well, with eight new tenure-track faculty and several more teaching faculty joining the College. I look forward to sharing with you their accomplishments as the year goes by.

In our Biological Sciences Department, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Trista Vick-Majors. Dr. Majors is best known for her work discovering microorganisms under the Antarctic ice sheet. Other projects have focused on boreal aquatic environments and alpine lakes. Her research should be a great fit for the Copper Country. Dr. Elena Giusarma joins our Physics Department as an assistant professor this Fall. She adds to our already strong astrophysics group. She describes part of her work as “building a convolutional neural network to understand the effect of massive neutrinos in the Universe.” Wow!

Our ROTC programs are thriving, with 70 cadets this Fall in Army and more than 100 in Air Force (up from 30 just a few years ago)!  I continue to enjoy meeting our successful alums. Last month I snuck in a quick trip to the Pacific Northwest, hosting alumni events in Seattle and Portland and meeting with more than a dozen of our successful alumni working at Nike, Intel, Boeing, etc….

Planning continues for our new H-STEM building. This beautiful laboratory building will be near the current Chemistry building, which will also be renovated to host our departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering. Groundbreaking should be in fall 2020. The architects have made several visits to campus, and are meeting with researchers to design to meet our needs.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!  If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.


First Academic Year as Dean

David Hemmer and faculty putting a sash on a grad student at commencement.Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

I completed my first academic year as Dean of Sciences and Arts at our graduation May 4, when more than 1000 graduates walked across the stage of a packed MacInnes Ice Arena on a beautiful sunny day. On May 3 our Board approved the new College of Computing, which goes live on July 1. While I am sad to see our wonderful Computer Science Department leave CSA, the new College will position Michigan Tech for growth and success in an era where computing and data science dominate so many aspects of our lives.

Things are much quieter on campus now, which leaves time to reflect on the past year and plan for an exciting year ahead. We will have at least eight new tenure-track faculty joining our College in the fall, with our Humanities chair search and biology search still underway. We are excited to welcome Adam Meckler as our new Jazz director, replacing the legendary Mike Irish. You can listen to his smooth sounds at www.adammeckler.com.

Freshmen deposits in the college are up 11% from last year, thanks in part to our exciting new Sustainability Science and Society degree. Thanks to all our alumni and friends who help with recruiting, and feel free to contact me if you’d be willing to help in your area.

Our student, Alyssa Smith, exercise science major, was recognized as the top undergraduate kinesiology student in the nation! Over in biology our superstar sophomore, Tessa Steenwinkel, won a prestigious Goldwater fellowship. Tessa has been working in the lab of Professor Thomas Werner since her first day on campus! Many of our undergraduate research opportunities on campus, both during the year and over the summer, are supported by alumni donations. Our faculty are busy too. Professors Roman Sidortsov and Tim Scarlett received national media attention for their grant to study the feasibility of using abandoned mines for hydroelectric pumped storage, essentially turning the mine into a giant battery!

I departed late on Easter for a wonderful week long trip along Interstate 10 from Pensacola to Mobile, Houston and Phoenix meeting many of our successful and generous alumni.

Planning is underway for our new H-STEM building. This beautiful laboratory building will be near the current Chemistry building, which will also be renovated to host our departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering. Groundbreaking should be in fall 2020.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”.

With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!  If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.


Semester Updates

Campus Mall

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

Winter has been unrelenting! When I arrived last July I was told that Tech “never closes!” We have been shut down for three days this semester. A recent blizzard dumped almost two feet of snow and 68 mph winds were recorded at the airport; it took two full days to get the snow drifts cleared off the road. My kids have not had a full week of school since mid-December, I believe they are at 9 snow days for the year. Mont Ripley has seen 255” of snow so far! I and my two oldest kids signed up for beginning ski lessons and have been enjoying our newest hobby.

Meanwhile, this has been an extremely busy time in the dean’s office. Twenty of our faculty in the College were up for either tenure or promotion to full professor. Reading their dossiers, I was blown away by the teaching excellence and scholarly success of my colleagues, many with worldwide reputations.

Hiring season is well underway. Faculty candidates are visiting on an almost daily basis (when their flights manage to arrive…). We are doing national searches for chairs of three departments: Chemistry, Humanities and Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology. Six other departments are running regular faculty searches. Hiring, retaining and promoting outstanding faculty is among my most important jobs as dean.

The Board of Trustees was in town last week, and I was proud that our own Professor Richelle Winkler, from Social Sciences, was selected to present to them on her community based solar project in L’Anse and Baraga. I enjoyed telling board chair Brenda Ryan about the many exciting happenings in our college, and taking her through the recently opened gallery show “Salon!” in the Rosza Center. Professor Lisa Gordillo curated the show, which features art and poetry from around the world, including some from several of our own faculty members. Up the hill our Kinesiology department awarded its first PhD. Matthew Kilgas defended his dissertation “Acute and Chronic Responses to Exercise with Blood Flow Restriction.” He is now a tenure-track faculty member at Northern Michigan.

As May 1 rapidly approaches all our departments are hard at work on initiatives to increase our freshman class next year. Gone are the days of calling students (they don’t answer their phones!) Instead we set up “texting events” where prospective students can chat with our current faculty and students in their preferred mode of communication!

Critical to all of this is our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”.

With state support representing only about 16% of Michigan Tech’s budget, alumni gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day and we thank you!  If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.

Best wishes,

David Hemmer

Dean- College of Sciences and Arts


Greetings from the new Dean

New CSA Dean David Hemmer with wife Ginny and children Meghan, Ben and Adam.
New CSA Dean David Hemmer with wife Ginny and children Meghan, Ben and Adam.

This will be my inaugural communication as the new Dean of the College of Sciences and Arts. I join Michigan Technological University after eleven years in the mathematics department at the University at Buffalo, SUNY; the last six as department chair. I am joined by my wife of 18 years, Ginny, and our children Meghan (13), Benjamin (9), and Adam (7).

I marveled from afar in June at the resiliency of the Copper Country residents pulling together to recover from the disastrous Father’s Day flood. We were fortunate that our new house, high up on Agate Hill, escaped unscathed. Our new friends and neighbors have been so very welcoming to our family.

This is an exhilarating time to arrive at Michigan Tech. We have a new president and four of the five colleges/schools have new deans. Everyone is full of ideas on how to maintain and build on the great momentum the departing leaders built.  Four of our 10 departments will be searching for new chairs this year.

IMG_20180711_111625946I have been touring the CSA departments and am so impressed by the commitment of our faculty to excellence in both teaching and scholarship. I visited our beautifully renovated chemistry teaching labs. I hope we will secure the funds to renovate the remaining labs. I toured the sleep center where Professor Jason Carter of our Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology department is supported by Michigan Tech’s only NIH R01 grant, studying “Alcohol and Neurovascular Control in Humans”.

I attended a beautiful performance of the opera “Carmen” in front of a packed house at the Rosza center. Visual and Performing Arts Chair Jared Anderson directed the chorus and his colleague Joel Neves conducted the orchestra.

I want to thank outgoing Dean Bruce Seely for his dedicated 10 years of service and to wish him all the best in retirement. Bruce has been extremely generous sharing with me his time and wisdom, both before I arrived and since I started.