Teaching by CSA faculty recognized

Universities have occasionally struggled in recent decades to achieve an appropriate balance between our two core responsibilities: teaching and research. Not surprisingly, this challenge has surfaced at Michigan Tech as we have worked to balance Tech’s traditional strength as an undergraduate teaching institution with the more recent strategic emphasis upon graduate education and research supported by external funding. But in the College of Sciences and Arts, our commitment to teaching and learning has never weakened and remains a crucial yardstick for measuring how well the college meets its mission.

Indeed the college and its faculty take pride in excellence in the classroom.  A significant part of CSA’s mission is delivering core foundational courses in calculus and statistics, physics, chemistry, composition and communication, global issues and other courses in the general education program to EVERY student in every major. For example, the Department of Mathematical Sciences instructs more than 7,000 students in its courses each year, at a time when the university enrollment is just over 7,000. Yet the math faculty also maintain a high level of scholarship and each authors an average of 2 research articles per year. That type of balance is found in every department, for the college’s faculty must be good teachers as well as good scholars. And many are excellent!

I consistently take pride in the efforts of our best teachers, and this is the time of year when those individuals are recognized. This spring, I highlighted the efforts of five college faculty for their exemplary teaching approaches and goals in the Dean’s Teaching Showcase. The showcase is a weekly event inaugurated by the Director of the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning, with each dean selecting exemplary faculty whose instructional efforts are less likely, because of the topic or the course, to achieve recognition through the regular teaching awards.

Beth Reed, Mathematical Sciences
Beth Reed, Mathematical Sciences
Raymond Shaw (2nd from left), Physics
Raymond Shaw (left), Physics
 Loredana Velenzano, Chemistry
Loredana Velenzano, Chemistry

The showcase continues the rich and valuable dialogue that has taken place among the faculty over the past 15 years or more about teaching and student learning. You can read more about the showcase nominees from CSA in Tech Today: Elizabeth Reed (MA); Raymond Shaw (PHY); Loredana Valenzano (CH); Donald LeFreniere (SS); and Steven Elmer (KIP); each brings something special to our students and is well deserving of this recognition.

Don LaFreniere, Social Sciences
Don LaFreniere, Social Sciences
Steven Elmer, Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology
Steven Elmer, Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology

As the Showcase unfolded this spring, the process of nominating the faculty to be inducted into Tech’s Academy for Teaching Excellence proceeded on its own pathway, culminating in a dinner on April 4 to honor the new inductees into the Academy as well as others nominated for a teaching award more than once.  This year the college was again well represented: 2 individuals were nominated in the Lecturer/Assistant Professor Category, and another faculty member in the associate and professor category.  The first nominee was Senior Lecturer Beth Reed from Math, who was inducted  into the Academy in 2012 and has since been nominated several times for the outstanding teacher award.  Beth’s repeated nominations reflect her intense dedication to help students succeed in her statistics classes.

Brigitte Morin, Biology
Brigitte Morin, Biological Sciences
MC Friedrich, VPA
MC Friedrich, Visual & Performing Arts

A first-time nominee to the Academy is Brigitte Morin from Biological Sciences, who is an integral part of the Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS) program.  Her nomination highlighted the amazing enthusiasm she brings to teaching and learning.  A graduate of our MLS program, she returned to Tech several years ago and has made an an exceptional contribution from day one.  She mentioned herself how thrilled she was to be back here with the people whose teaching had made such a difference to her.  Now she is doing the same for another generation of Tech students! But the highlight of the evening may have been the comments from MC Friedrich in Visual and Performing Arts, nominated (again!) in the professor category.  MC chose to read a few comments from students she found posted on RatemyProfessor.com. They seemed to have a different idea about excellent teaching.

“The class was a little too slow for me but others needed the time.”

“Stop expecting us to remember and do what we learned earlier in the class.”

“In the future add in some more evil twists to the projects so we can brag to the following classes that we did not have to do that.”

“The projects are hard.  Make them simpler.”

“And I wish you wouldn’t give us a chance to fix mistakes for points.  That’s too much pressure.”

Behind the humor, however, we can see the commitment to preparing students for their future careers that is the mark of every good teacher.  It’s a hallmark of our faculty, and yet another reason for pride in what is happening here at the college!


Undergraduate Students and Research

Chemistry Lab Updates 201610130007The pace of the academic semester picks up in mid April, with students and faculty alike realizing that the end of the semester is looming.  Students hustle to complete projects and papers, but I am especially impressed by the number of research activities in which CSA undergraduates are involved.

Michigan Tech has sought to connect students to research as early as possible in their time here, believing that research, like other experiential activities, can transform their education. The following list of their work is, I believe, impressive.

In Biological Sciences, fourth-year Biological Sciences student Rebecca Hobmeier recently presented a department seminar on “Drosophila Gene Regulation in the Formation of Complex Color Patterns in Yellow Evolution of Guttifera.” Thomas Werner was her adviser.

In the Physics Department, a number of seniors presented summaries of their projects at a department colloquium. These included:

  • Floyd Johnson — “Free-standing and Substrate-Supported Cytosine Molecules: Molecular Dynamics Study, advised by department chair Ravi Pandey
  • Austin Hermann — “Quantum Confinement Effect in Silicon,” advised by Ranjit Pati
  • Colin Sheidler —”Unidirectional Emission from Microring Lasers,” advised by Ramy El-Ganainy
  • David Russell — “A Search for Exotic Particles Using AUGER Data”, advised by Brian Fick
  • Michael Foetisch — “Iron Electrowinning: Proof of Concept and Optimization,” advised by Timothy Eisele
  • Nick Videtich — “Pico-second Pulsed Laser System Using Neodymium-doped Yttrium Vanadate Crystal,” advised by Jae Yong Suh
  • Kelci Mohrman — “Searching for Emission from the Geminga Pulsar Wind Nebula in GeV Engines,” advised by Petra Huentemeyer.

And in Social Sciences, three students presented their undergraduate theses in anthropology to the department.

  • James Wezensky — Stamp Mill Technologies: The Industrial Past of Isle Royale National Park, advised by Pat Martin
  • Jakob Williams — The Party of Trump: Understanding the Rise of the Billionaire Populist, advised by Melissa Baird

This list could be multiplied many times, as faculty in the life sciences (especially Biological Sciences, Chemistry and  Kinesiology) eagerly recruit undergraduates to work in their labs, so that some of them leave Michigan Tech as co-authors or contributors to a publication in an academic journal.  These outcomes explain why many of us talk about the unity of teaching and research and see them as deeply complementary activities.  These student projects offer only the most recent example of effort to integrate these core responsibilities.


A busy season for Visual and Performing Arts

Perhaps it is because I share a building with the Department of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), but it is interesting that VPA activities have figured several times in my blog comments this spring.   Whatever the reason, I am impressed by the diversity and scope of their recent and upcoming activities. Those events show the full artistic talents of our faculty and students, and enrich us all.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated 50 years of jazz on campus.  Don Keranan was the legendary faculty member who launched that effort, which Mike Irish has now guided for a long time! A good group of alumni journeyed back to campus to mark  this grand occasion, and joined the current students players.  Quite the event, as the image of the alumni jazz players shows!!

don keranen EDS                    Picture1

                                                                                                  Photo by Hannah Kowalewski

Last week two other notable events occurred.  The first was the VPA faculty and staff art exhibition, which opened with a reception on Friday afternoon.  Labeled Amusement Park Avenue, just about every person in the department contributed to the show.  These ranged from M.C. Friedrich’s historically accurate doll costumes to images and sound resulting from the Listening to the Parks soundscape project that showcases the Lake Superior National Parks (Kent Cyr, Christopher Plummer and Libby Meyer).  Anne Beffel’s Every Color of Eyes project (mentioned in my previous blog) also was displayed along with 13 other faculty and staff works, several in mixed media. The exhibit can be seen in the Rozsa Gallery until April 28, and for the last few days, student art produced this year will be displayed in an adjoining section of the gallery.

The second activity on Saturday April 1, was a very different kind of presentation. Musical performers from Vancouver, the Orchid Ensemble, offered their unique fusion/world music selections using traditional Chinese and other instruments.  They were joined for the second half of their program by conScience, the Michigan Tech Chamber Singers.  The results proofed very interesting for most of us.  For example, in the second combined number, Orchid Ensemble accompanied the Chamber Singers, while in the final number the singers served as vocal instruments accompanying the Ensemble. As always, considering there are no art or music majors on campus, both events were  superb. And a significant part of the success of the gallery exhibit and the musical performance goes back to the students responsible for the technical presentation, lighting, and sound. These students had an special learning experience with Orchid Ensemble

Amusement Park 2                    orchidensembleposter

And there is still more to look forward to, as the department is presenting its version of West Side Story, famous for Leonard Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics.  There will be three presentations from April 13 to 15.  And that will not exhaust the end of the semester schedule, so check out the VPA calendar of events.  We are lucky to have such great opportunities to experience the arts in all of their forms.

west side story EDS


New accomplishments!

One of the best things about being dean is to watch faculty and students build the successes that help their careers and the reputation of Michigan Tech. Three items passed across my desk this week that show the range of areas where the people in this college are doing really good things.

image39817-persKathy Halvorsen, professor of natural resources policy in Social Sciences, with a joint appointment in the  School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, was just elected Executive Director of the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR). Her term will begin in January 2018. Kathy has been deeply involved in a major project on Sustainability, Ecosystem Services, and Bioenergy Development across the Americas, sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s  Partnerships for International Research and Education program to the  tune of $4.8 million over the period 2012-17.  Through such international efforts, Kathy has been involved in IASNR, culminating in this newest leadership position within the organization. 

image93052-persAnne Beffel, professor in Visual and Performing Arts, has been deeply in performance art over her entire career. She has labeled her most recent effort “Every Color of Eyes.” The effort is related at least in part to the visit to campus this week of Jane Elliot, recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education. Elliot conducted the now famous  “Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes Experiment” in which she treated blue-eyed students better than brown-eyed students, and student performance quickly came to match those expectations. Beffel, with the help of several students, intends to show our differences as well as our common humanity through the metaphor of eye color. She is asking for people to email her pictures of their eyes for an exhibit opening March 31 in the Rozsa Gallery. Please consider volunteering!

StephanieDStephanie Dietrich, received first place presentation in the Fifth Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Her research was “Subjective and Objective Assessments of Sleep Differ in Male and Female Collegiate Athletes,” in Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology.

This is the second year in a row that KIP students have been at the top of the list in this event! And that does not exhaust the list of accomplishment from that department.

admin-ajax Kilgas-1Two KIP students- Matt Kilgas and Thomas Bye — and faculty advisor Steve Elmer received Michigan Space Grant Consortium awards in the most recent competition. But this year Tom Bye was the first undergraduate in the department to secure this type of support.

Congrats to Stephanie, Matt, Tom. Clearly, the faculty and students in the college are doing quite well – and I extend my congratulations to all of them!


The PEP Band!

Pep Band truck4Considering that Michigan Tech offers no degrees in music, the variety of quality musical groups here is quite amazing. Jazz and vocal groups, an orchestra and bands — students can participate in all of these, often in more than one venue. But for the typical student here, the Huskies Pep Band has been the face of Tech’s musical activities. The band enters every sporting on campus playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – the theme from “2001 a Space Odyssey.” And the fun only begins there, as the announcers welcome “The Cream of the Keweenaw, The Pride of Pasty Land, The Second-Best Feeling in the World!” The band has grown large enough to maintain three separate units, and every one of them has a good time!

The stories about the DaWGs (Damn, We’re Good!) are legion. I remember when Nebraska-Omaha added their Division 1 hockey team in the 1990s, they engaged Pep Band director Jeff Bell-Hanson as a consultant to tell them how to do it right! Obviously Tech knows how to do it right. How else to explain Northern Michigan’s decisions more than 2 decades ago to NOT allow the Pep Band into the ice arena in Marquette? The Northern Sound Machine simply could not compete! And for several years, the Huskies provided the official pep band for the WCHA Frozen Five hockey finals. Not bad for a unit that prides itself on volume!

Recently the band’s truck, which moves instruments from Walker to the SDC (or wherever the band is playing), got a facelift. The humor associated with everything the band does (ask Northern Women’s Basketball Coach Troy Mattson how it fells to attract the band’s attention!) is obvious on every panel. I especially like the rear door, which thanks drivers for being “behind” the Pepe Band!

Pep Band truck2

Pep Band truck1

Pep Band truck3

The decorations mark the support of alumni and friends of the band, who have long provided gifts large and small. But funds from friends and alums also support the acquisition of the instruments provided to students, notably percussion, tubas and other large bass instruments. Instrument repair and maintenance, music, and other operating expenses also are assisted through the generosity of those making annual gifts. In this day of declining state support for higher education, the importance of gifts are rarely so obvious. So let me join the band in thanking everyone whose support allows the band to be heard (and now seen!)  from in its own inimitable way!

The band will clearly help make a difference at the upcoming WCHA hockey championship at the Student Ice Arena Saturday March 18th. Go DaWGS and Go Huskies!


Chemistry in the college

While the College of Sciences and Arts is approaching 50 years, several departments here have a longer history. One is Chemistry, which only came into the college in the late 1990s — before that it was joined to the Chemical Engineering unit. It is now an integral part of the college and an number of good things are happening there.

First, several new faculty who have joined the unit in the past 8 years are making their mark. Xaiohu Xia, who arrived in 2014, recently received the prestigious NSF CAREER Award to advance his studies of bimetallic nanostructures for medical diagnostic purposes. And earlier in the fall Loredana Valenzano, who came here in 2012, attended a workshop in India during which she lectured about modeling and fundamentals of electronic structure theory.  As the chair of physics noted, “she also charmed students in her own Italian way!”

L Valenzano in India 2016              JPC-120_Year_VI-12-1-axial-670x320-600x287

Second, a few days ago word reached me that Cary Chabalowski, chair of chemistry, was recognized as the coauthor on one of 25 most cited papers in the  Journal of Physical Chemistry — “Ab-Initio Calculation of Vibrational Absorption and Circular-Dichroism Spectra Using Density-Functional Force-Fields”  that appeared in 1994, volume, 98 (45), 11623-11627. (See http://axial.acs.org/2016/12/15/physical-chemistry-most-cited/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email0117&utm_campaign=Axial) Cary explained that he was neither the lead nor the corresponding author, but that he  “spent several years doing the foundational research along with my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Philip Stephens (lead author & since deceased), at USC.”  Cary added, “working with Philip gave me some of my most enjoyable years as a scientist.”  Cary’s career in administration took him away from research for many years, but his arrival here 3 years ago was supposed to allow him to get back to it.  He’s been tied up in too many things administrative, but we’ll be trying to find ways to allow him back into research.  This news from the American Chemical Society shows the quality of work that explains why we asked Cary to chair the department. Congratulations, Cary!  He’s working to help other faculty match his record of accomplishment.  The potential is certainly there!

February 16, 2017


Jazz Musicians on tour!

Every January, jazz musicians from the Department of Visual and Performing Arts visit schools around the upper Midwest to carry the word about the importance of music, while at the same time giving many people another important reason to know about  Michigan Tech.  Mike Irish, director of the jazz programs and the key inspiration to the jazz musicians here, has coordinated the January tours for many, many years. This 2017 tour spanned January 3-6 and included concerts at Munising, Newberry, Roscommon, the State Theater in Bay City, Bay City Central and Bay City Western high schools, and Harrison.  Just for good measure, the Jaztec group played an evening gig in a restaurant in Bay City.

I have had several students ask about the programs that your school has to offer outside of music clubs since this event.

The music directors and principals of the schools where our students play often tell me they were blown away by these performances. Predictably, they are impressed by the quality of music from performers not pursuing music degrees. Mike has this special knack for cultivating and guiding student musicians for whom jazz becomes a passion. Putting this outcome on display helps the local music educators make the case for the value of music in small and sometimes cash-strapped schools. The high school students see the passion and commitment of jazz musicians drawn from every major on Tech’s campus, conveying the powerful message that it is possible to be both a musician AND a great student in the demanding fields of study offered at MTU. Michigan Tech appears in an amazingly good light by showing our commitment to educate the whole person and our effort to integrate all areas of knowledge and learning.

The director of bands at Harrison captured the full impact of these visits.  He told me he was “delighted at how excited [Tech’s students] were to perform, being that our show was the last one on their tour and it was awfully early in the morning! What a special group of musicians they all are to perform so amazingly well before 9:00am!  …The entire group stayed for awhile after the performance to talk to our band students, who were so very grateful for the time with them. They answered all of the students’ questions and were very patient with students who have never been enrolled in a music course. Not one performer rushed to pack up their materials. They showed our students so much respect by carving out a great deal of time to educate them.  I have had several students ask about the programs that your school has to offer outside of music clubs since this event…. Please keep these types of programs a possibility for our area high school students! Your school has gained many fans through this wonderful experience that you have generously provided to us.”

For a long time we have known that students are Tech’s best ambassadors, but the jazz players are the best. Their dedication is outstanding, as shown by their schedule on just the first day.  They departed the SDC at 6:30AM, played a concert in Munising at 10:00, another at Newberry that afternoon, and then rode the bus south of the bridge to their overnight stay near Roscommon. It certainly helps to be young and energetic!  And that energy explains why we these tours will continue.  But we should remember that the players gain as much from the visit as their audiences.  So we owe the students and Mike a big thanks for their continued excellence and commitment.  They represent Michigan Tech and the college very well. Well done!

Bruce Seely

February 8, 2017

Photos below are courtesy of Michael Robb (Ohno Design in Bay City), father of bass player, Tristan Robb.

Picture1

Jazz lab band at the Historic State Theater in Bay City. Originally constructed in 1908 and remodeled most recently in the early 2000s, the acoustics are exquisite, as the audience of 600 discovered.

Picture2

Mike Irish in “full teacher mode” at the State Theater, Bay City. “I love sharing stories about the band, MTU, and the pieces that we are playing!  I guess it shows.”

Picture3The drummer is Libby Welton, a December 2016 MTU grad in Mechanical Engineering.  She started her first job in Wausau, WI immediately after the tour was over.

Photos from Bay City Public Schools SPOTLIGHT, January 13, 2017.

Picture5 Picture4


Building connections to and with India

BruceIndia4I’ve recently returned from a trip to India – my 6th in the past eight years.  The purpose of the trips has been to develop connections between faculty and universities there and at Michigan Tech.

The primary connections so far have centered on computer science – a natural area of common interest given the strong information technology foundation there – and also physics.  The latter orientation grows from the fact that Ravi Pandey, chair of Tech’s physics department, is from India and has worked hard to facilitate my visits.BruceIndia5

This time I attended a conference on the Interface of Physical, Chemical and Biological; Sciences at Dr. Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya (University) in Sagar (Ravi’s hometown), and then visited the Noble College in Sagar, AISECT University in Bhopal, IIT Bombay in Mumbai, and the National Institute of Technology in Calicut (NITC).

BruceIndia2At each place, I was warmly received, as has been true during each stop in my earlier visits.  Normally I deliver a seminar on a topic appropriate to the university; typically I have talked about the societal implications of nanoscale science and engineering. This subject matches the world-wide interest in nanotechnology, but often the audience hears for the first time the perspective of a historian of technology on this topic. The resulting discussions have been useful and interesting – and provide a springboard to examine ways in which Tech’s faculty and research activities might align with faculty and students at the universities in India. There are many other areas where the research interests of faculty in India and the U.S overlap, and developing collaborative arrangements built from that common intBruceIndia3erest are the primary target of these visits. This trip, Michigan Tech and NITC signed an agreement to strengthen shared research programs in atmospheric science and applied physics. Similar linkages seem very likely to emerge from the visits to AISECT and IIT Bombay as well.

Also on this trip I had two opportunities to address middle and high school students.  The Noble Public School in Deori (Sagar District in Madhya Pradesh) serves a rural community that until five years before had no school.  Most of the 1,000 students currently enrolled come from families in which no other person had ever attended school. As I walked through a number of classes, I found students who were amazingly confident, clearly hard-working, and possessing strong English language skills (they begin English in the first grade). The dedicated teachers (45 of them) werBruceIndia1e so proud of the students — as they should have been! The students had prepared a science fair for me, as well as crafts exhibit. And after a short talk from me, they asked questions for an hour about all kinds of topics. It was a wonderful experience, as was the second school visit, this time to the Government Girls High School in Balussery in Kerala State. I met with a group of 10th graders from a gifted and talented program – and they certainly lived up to that billing! Self-assured and confident, these young women asked me about the differences between India and the U.S., about inequality, democracy and technology, and about the differences and similarities between our two countries. I was honored to be the first American to visit them, and urged them to never let anyone suggest they could not do something simply because they were women. Impressive!

Given these two snap shots, I have to think that the future of India will be in good hands!   Students like these are the reason I keep returning to India to build bridges from there to Michigan Tech.

Bruce Seely
January 26, 2017


Happy New Year!

I write with new year’s greetings from Houghton as we are about to embark upon another year. The campus is quiet this week before the students flock back to Houghton, although preparation for spring semester is underway everywhere.

Two bits of news caught my eye this week; signals of the excellent work that Tech students and faculty produce. The first concerns an alumna of the Humanities Department, Roxane Gay. She has become an award winning author since graduating, and also contributes regularly to the New York Times opinion page. Recently, Roxane published a new collection of short stories with the provocative title “Difficult Women.” You can read her interview with National Public Radio. You’ll find that her time at Michigan Tech is a clear influence on her continued writing efforts.

The second new item concerns a faculty member in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, Myunghoon Jeon (Philart to everyone here). He’s deeply engaged in studies at the intersection of cognitive psychology and computer science, with special attention to sound and human responses. His Mind Music Machine Lab is the subject of an article in the January/February issue of “Interactions,” a leading journal in the area of human-computer interaction.

I remain deeply impressed by the accomplishments of our students and faculty and am sure you will share my feelings. What a great way to start out the new year! Best wishes, everyone!

01/6/2017


2016 Inductees to Academy of Sciences and Arts

In September 2016, the College of Sciences and Arts inducted three new distinguished alumni into the Academy of Sciences and Arts.  Academy members must meet two primary criteria. They must have graduated from a program of the College or one of its predecessors and they must have brought distinction to themselves, their academic department, the College of Sciences and Arts, and Michigan Technological University through participation, commitment, and outstanding leadership in their profession and through public service.  The Academy, established in 1995, now numbers 61 members.  These exemplary individuals include distinguished academics, leaders of industry, members of the National Academy of Sciences, a Hollywood executive, and the University’s sole Nobel Prize winner, Melvin Calvin (1964).

Robert Lane and Cary Chabalowski, Department Chair of Chemistry

The first inductee in 2016 was Robert W. Lane, who enrolled in Tech’s chemistry program (then part of the chemical engineering department) in 1968. After taking almost every chemistry course offered, he graduated with high honors in chemistry in 1972.  Bob moved on to MIT, earning his PhD in Chemistry in 1976, exploring macromolecules and simple models of the redox centers in iron-sulfur electron transport proteins. A postdoc at IBM’s Central Research Lab in San Jose followed before Bob joined the Shepherd Chemical Company as a research chemist in 1977.  Promoted to the position of Technical Director in 1979, he combined managerial and research activities and both developed and oversaw the introduction of many new products that keyed the company’s growth. By 1988, he was General Manager of Shepherd Color Company and went on to become President and CEO. Bob’s technical background was essential in helping move the “color business” from art to science, and the Shepherd Color Company grew to be one of the world’s largest manufacturers of complex inorganic pigments. From 2007 until 2011, Bob served simultaneously as the president of the Shepherd Chemical Company and the Shepherd Color Company but in 2011 returned exclusively to the Shepherd Chemical Company as its President and Operations Manager until his retirement in 2013.  He continues to serve on the board of directors of both companies.

Otha Thornton and Ronald Strickland, Department Chair of Humanities, and Otha Thornton
Otha Thornton and Ronald Strickland, Department Chair of Humanities, and Otha Thornton

The second inductee in 2016 was Otha E. Thornton, Jr.  Otha came to Michigan Tech as a Captain in the U.S. Army to join and then lead the Army ROTC unit in 1999. Although he initially asked the Army to send him anywhere else (hoping to avoid the winter weather), Otha took full advantage of his time at Tech by enrolling in the Humanities Department’s graduate program in Rhetoric and Technical Communication.  He received his MS in 2001, but a further indicator of his contribution to Tech came in 2009, when he received  an honorary doctorate in 2009. All the while, Otha remained in the Army, completing his service at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel assigned to the White House Communications Agency and to United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad, where he earned the Bronze Star for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010. Now retired from the United States Army, Otha is a committed volunteer for numerous agencies related to communities and schools throughout the country and the world. Most significantly, he is the Immediate Past National President of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and member of the organization’s Board of Directors.  He also has worked closely with state-level PTA’s in Georgia and Maryland. Other educational activities have included service on an Advisory Group for Georgia’s Partnership for Excellence in Education; similarly, he served on the Maryland Education Task Force. In addition, as a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association, he has devoted more than 25 years to that organization. Otha also is principal consultant and owner of the Thornton Consulting Group, and also serves as a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Hugh Gorman, Department Chair of Social Sciences, Sarah Cowie, and Suan and Pat Martin, Sarah's advisers in Industrial Archeology
Hugh Gorman, Department Chair of Social Sciences, Sarah Cowie, and Susan and Pat Martin, Sarah’s advisers in Industrial Archeology

The third inductee, Sarah E. Cowie, is recognized as a Distinguished Young Alumna, a category reserved for Tech graduates who have begun to bring distinction upon themselves and to their department and the university at early stages of their careers.  Sarah graduated in 1996 with a MS in Industrial Archaeology from the Department of Social Sciences. She worked initially as a professional archaeologist in cultural resource management before pursuing graduate work and earning her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 2008.  Currently Sarah is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Nevada-Reno, where she specializes in industrial and historical-period archaeology of the American West.  Her research and teaching interests fall on the archaeology of working communities such as mining towns, social theories of power relations, and collaborative archaeology with American Indian communities.  Her first book, entitled The Plurality of Power: An Archaeology of Industrial Capitalism, is based on research conducted at Michigan Tech on the company town of Fayette, Michigan.  Other projects have included historic Creek Indian farmsteads, heritage management practices in the US, and the industrial archaeology of mines and grist mills. Sarah is now collaborating with American Indian stakeholders in publishing an edited book on the archaeology and heritage of the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada. This record has earned Sarah recognition among her peers, including the early career award in 2013 from the Society for Historical Archaeology, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the archaeology of the modern world. Even more significant came in early 2016, when Sarah received a Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which the White House describes as the “highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.” There are few more prestigious awards for faculty to receive.   Indeed, in Michigan Tech’s history, a total of four faculty have earned this distinction! Clearly, Sarah is on the road to academic success and leadership!

In their remarks, all three Academy inductees for 2016 emphasized how the courses they took and the faculty and students they interacted with at Michigan Tech prepared them wonderfully for their careers. These new members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts clearly are bringing distinction to the college and their programs, and inspiring us to continue to do our best.

Bruce Seely

12/16/2016