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.


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