Author: djhemmer

Return to the Classroom-January 2021

January 15, 2021

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

Students return to the classroom next Tuesday after being forced to be remote for the first week of the semester to comply with the Governor’s Covid orders. We are trying to provide as much face to face instruction as possible this semester, including holding classes in the Rosza Center and the MUB ballroom!

Winter Carnival remains a go, and statue construction has begun. But, alas, there is a severe shortage of snow and it is currently raining outside my office window! Across the canal at Mont Ripley, only half the ski hill is open and warm weather has hindered snow making. The Tech Trails have just closed for cross-country skiing. For the first time since I arrived at Tech we are in desperate need of snow! Fortunately, the forecast calls for a shift to much colder weather next week, and hopefully some more of the white stuff.

Our faculty and staff continue their great work dealing with the pandemic. Despite the disruptions, Fall 2020 was a great semester for research and creative activities in the College of Sciences and Arts! Mary Cyr, Lecturer in Visual and Performing Arts, was the first honoree for the 2021 “Dean’s Teaching Showcase.” Cyr runs the costume shop, teaches our costuming classes, and oversees costuming for all our student theater productions. Her ingenious use of document cameras and monitors, as well as constructing take-home kits, allowed our students to preserve the essential hands-on experience that is part of every Tech education.

We are continuing our aggressive testing and contact tracing program, I hope for the last semester! A generous donation of equipment from the Portage Health Foundation has helped us double our testing capacity on campus, and the goal is to test almost all the returning students very early in the semester. Vaccinations are underway locally, with nursing homes, health care providers and first responders mostly complete.

Meanwhile our recruiting season is here, as we attempt to bring in another large, crazy smart and diverse class next year! Completed applications for CSA are up 40% from last year, with huge increases in students interested in health professions.

Some of you have already heard from our 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.

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.


Last Day of Fall 2020 Semester

December 18, 2020

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

It is the last day of this strange semester, and I am getting ready to don my full academic regalia for departmental graduation ceremonies over Zoom. When I last did this in May I would never have believed it would happen again in December. With COVID vaccinations underway, including in the UP, I’m hopeful that I will be shaking students’ hands at our commencement next May!

Despite our wonderful efforts and very low COVID numbers on campus, a spike in cases across Michigan led our governor to end face to face instruction early and students were mostly sent home before Thanksgiving. We will, hopefully, welcome them back January 11 and continue our success at providing Tech’s signature hands-on learning in a safe environment.

Across the canal the snow guns are blazing at Mont Ripley, which is fortunate as we’ve had only a few inches of natural snow so far. Opening day is tomorrow, with modifications including outdoor tents set up for warming up and eating. Heading into my third season of skiing, I’m looking forward to trying some of the scarier trails this winter!

I am so proud of the work of our faculty and students dealing with this pandemic. Despite the disruptions, fall 2020 has been a great semester for research and creative activities in the College of Science and Arts! Our superstar Physics Professor Petra Huentemeyer is principal investigator on a recently awarded $860,000 NSF grant to help design a $50 million Southern hemisphere gamma-ray observatory as part of a large collaboration of astrophysicists that she leads. Professor Huentemeyer is currently a leader in the HAWC observatory, https://www.hawc-observatory.org/, located high on a volcano in Mexico!

Our fall student theatre production of Miasma turned into a movie, ingeniously filmed in the McArdle theater with full COVID precautions. See how the students did it here https://youtu.be/y4dQZxHMBfs.

Both our Army and Air Force ROTC programs have new commanders, and eleven new 2nd lieutenants will be commissioned tomorrow morning in our thriving Army and Air Force ROTC programs.

Some of you have already heard from our 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. She is looking forward to connecting with many of you in the months ahead.

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.

Best wishes,

David Hemmer


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.


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.