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.


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.






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!


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