Author: Kim Geiger

My Story: Harley Russell, MTUengineer

Harley Russell ’26, Electrical Engineering

Making a Difference at Michigan Tech: One LEAP at a Time

Harley Russell grew up in Adrian, Michigan, a small city about 45 minutes south of Ann Arbor, near the Ohio border. At Michigan Tech she’s now in her second year, working toward her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, with a concentration in biomedical applications and a minor in Spanish. Harley also works with first-year engineering students as a LEAP Leader in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals.

What kinds of work do you do as a LEAP Leader?
I essentially facilitate and assist the Engineering Fundamentals courses offered here at Tech for first-year engineering students. They are getting exposed to coding and circuitry using MATLAB and Arduino. I work with their team to build a wide range of mini projects, so I get to help teach them and come up with fun ways to advance their skills!

What do you enjoy most about it?
It is so amazing to see the different ways students adapt to and overcome challenges. I love getting to see how creative and original the solutions are that each individual comes up with.

“It’s always great to see the “lightbulb” moment when people finally understand what they are learning.”

Harley Russell, LEAP Leader, Michigan Tech
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Read more about Harley and her fellow Huskies’ trip to the Yucatan Peninsula to study sustainable tourism.

What are the most challenging aspects?
It takes some doing to keep everyone on the same page and engaged. Some kids come to college with a large background in coding or other areas and have a ton of knowledge and experience, whereas some people have never had the opportunity to explore those skills. I make sure that everyone is learning and following along—without the work being too difficult or too easy.

Any recipes, formulas, or tips for success?
Take time for yourself! So many students fall into this hole of solely going to classes then back to their dorm to study and do homework all night then go to bed and repeat the process all over again. It is SO IMPORTANT to take the time to have fun and care for your mental health as much as you care about your grades.

How did you find out about the opportunity?
During the Spring semester last year I talked with my LEAP Leader. She encouraged me to apply, so I did, and the rest is history!

What are your career goals?
I would definitely like to do something within the medical field and electronics. It would be cool to work with robotic prosthetics that respond to neurological electrical impulses and muscle contractions and things like that in order to create moving limbs.

What made you decide to come to Michigan Tech?
Honestly, I found out about Tech from a teacher of mine in high school and when I went to the website I found the link to Winter Carnival which I thought looked sweet, so I applied and ended up committing here before I ever visited, but it all worked out in the end.

“If I could change the world, I would make quality education free and available to everyone. Being educated is an important gift that cannot be taken away.”

Harley Russell

Tell a story about how Michigan Tech has changed you.
Last spring break, I participated in the faculty-led, study abroad trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to study Sustainable Tourism. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that opened up my eyes to the different cultures and daily lives of people in other countries. It has definitely changed my outlook on life and made me much more grateful and appreciative of the opportunities I have been given.

How would you change the world if you could?
I would make quality education free and available to everyone. Being educated is an important gift that cannot be taken away.

If you could create any business/invention what would it be?
I would create windshields that never collect snow or rain or get foggy, so you wouldn’t need to heat them up or use your windshield wipers in order to see clearly!

What’s the best advice you can give/have been given?
There is no reason to stress over things out of your control or things that won’t matter in 50 years. Just chill out and take the time to enjoy the simplicities of life.

Any advice for prospective students considering engineering?
Don’t be afraid of change! It’s okay to switch your majors or switch out of classes or change habits or anything like that. It may be uncomfortable, but sometimes change is good and necessary!

Are you involved in other activities at Michigan Tech?
Along with being a LEAP Leader, I am also a TA for Frameworks for Success course and the Treasurer for MEDLIFE student org.

My Story: Ryan Schwartz, MTUengineer

Ryan Schwartz ’24, mechanical engineering

Ryan Schwartz grew up in Saline, Michigan. He’ll earn his BS in mechanical engineering this spring, and plans to earn an MS in engineering management, too. Ryan works as a LEAP Leader in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, as a good role model, effective mentor, and learning coach—all rolled into one.

As a LEAP Leader, I lead a group of roughly 20 students through the First-Year Engineering courses at Michigan Tech. I am with my students in the classroom—along with other groups and their LEAP Leaders—while they work through projects and assignments. I also lead a class once a week with just my students to reinforce the concepts taught that week in a new and interactive way.

When I was a student in the First-Year Engineering courses, I had a fantastic LEAP Leader that made my experience fantastic. I wanted to be able to provide that same experience to others, so I became a LEAP Leader.

“The thing I enjoy most about being a LEAP Leader is helping my students grow and find their place here at Michigan Tech.”

Ryan Schwartz
Ryan has seen the Northern Lights during his time at Michigan Tech
“I love exploring the Keweenaw. My friends and I will often go out adventuring and have great times along the way.”

In my future career, I want to do something in the realm of sustainability and alternative energy. I don’t know yet what form that will take, but I want to do my part to reverse climate change.

I also want to be a manager and leader, wherever I may end up. I’ve developed strong leadership skills, many by serving as a LEAP Leader, that I would love to apply throughout my career.

“Classes are only a part of college.”

Advice to incoming students, from Ryan Schwartz, LEAP Leader

The best advice I can give is that classes are only a part of college. College is also about discovering yourself and making friends and memories along the way. Michigan Tech is a great place to do that while getting a quality education.

I am currently the Vice President and a Captain for the MTU Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Club – DiscoTech. My first year at Michigan Tech, I made literally every single one of my friends on Walker Lawn throwing a frisbee, and then our whole group joined the Ultimate team.

Read More

Michigan Tech LEAP Leaders: Assist Fellow Students

My Story: Kasandra Waldi, MTUengineer

First-year engineering student Kasandra Waldi ‘27

I am from Shelby Township, but I grew up in Warren, Michigan until 6th grade, and those are both in the Metro-Detroit area. I chose to come to Tech because of the great community and its strong mechanical engineering degree program, which is what I chose as my major.

When I was younger, I originally wanted to be a veterinarian but, I eventually realized that it wasn’t my calling. Then, I settled on being a computer science major because I liked the small coding projects we did in middle school. In high school, I discovered that I did not want to code any more than I had to. Fortunately, another degree was calling my name. Since I had always loved building things, including in FIRST Robotics, I realized that mechanical engineering was the path I truly wanted to follow.

“Remember to breathe.”

Kasandra Waldi

My advice for incoming students? I would recommend creating a schedule. I use Google Calendar, and set up deadlines and tasks that need to be completed. I even make sure to schedule in my meals and sleep!

My favorite part of Engineering Fundamentals is the first-year engineering class. I love doing small but fun projects!

My biggest challenge thus far is finding a way to resist hanging out with friends. I must do this in order to make sure I can get all of my homework done on time.

I am not exactly sure what my future path holds, but I would like to be in charge of a project and take it from concept to completion.

The best advice that I have been given is, “Remember to breathe.” This is important as I often will spend way too much time on homework and forget to just take a break and relax.

My Story: Nick McCole, MTUengineer

Nick McCole ’23, Systems Engineering

Nick McCole landed an electrical/systems engineer internship with Milwaukee Tool over the summer. But first, the BSE/systems engineering major traveled to Houston with his fellow students and faculty advisors, to meet with members of the Johnson Space Center systems engineering and project management group.

Last year Nick led a senior design team of seven students who worked on a 5-month project given to them by JSC/NASA, part of its massive effort to envision and facilitate the next phase of continuous human presence on the moon. 

The Michigan Tech team was given a mission:  figure out how to deal with moon dust. Everything NASA would like to accomplish on the lunar surface requires a solution to this very dusty and sharp regolith.  

After one semester—about 5 months—of hard work, the Michigan Tech team successfully developed a systems engineering framework, analysis techniques, and verification methods, all derived from mission requirements. Then the team presented their project and results to NASA engineers.

“As systems engineering team leader, I enjoy making sure others around me succeed. I try to create value for my team members.” 

Nick McCole

How did you come to choose your major?

Not long after I arrived at Michigan Tech, I went to an evening event about systems engineering. I heard Professor Jon Sticklen speak and met some systems engineering students. I knew it was a group of people I wanted to be associated with. This choice has opened many doors for me. Systems Engineering is a field I plan on staying in for the foreseeable future. The people in Michigan Tech’s Department of Engineering Fundamentals are great role models and have been nothing but helpful to me in my career.

I grew up in Kingsford, Michigan (yes, I am a Yooper). I actually failed my first chemistry exam. That was kind of the turning point for me. I knew I needed to change the way I handled my career for the better. From that point, I have excelled academically. I’m now on track to graduate Summa Cum Laude from Michigan Tech in December 2023. 

This summer I worked as an electrical/systems engineer intern at Milwaukee Tool. In addition to Milwaukee Tool, I’ve been fortunate to have internships at Ford, Mercury Marine and Boss Snowplow.

I don’t know yet where I will start my full time job. My only goal is to be working on something that is fulfilling and provides value back to society in one way or another. Technology will only advance as time goes by. I want to be a part of making the world a better place.

One particularly nice aspect of the NASA project was watching others on my team come up with great ideas and seeing the excitement in their eyes, especially towards the end. It was a time-consuming project but the investment of time and energy was far worth it for the results.

What is Systems Engineering?

Systems engineers seek to understand, design, and manage complex systems over their life cycles They cross disciplinary boundaries, learn new topics quickly, and manage complex, engineered networks that are embedded in social and natural systems.

At Michigan Tech, students can earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering (a BSE) with a systems engineering pathway, or add a minor in systems engineering to any engineering degree. Learn about the Michigan Tech BSE program.

New Faculty Spotlight: Gabriel Draughon

Dr. Gabe Draughon

Assistant Teaching Professor Gabriel Draughon grew up in Metro Atlanta. He comes to Michigan Tech from the University of Michigan, where he earned an MS and PhD in Civil Engineering (Intelligent Systems). He earned his BS in Biosystems Engineering at the University of Kentucky. “I keep moving more north!”

What drew you to Michigan Tech? 

I was drawn both by the area and by the University—specifically the Michigan Tech Department of Engineering Fundamentals, where the energy and passion for making engineering more welcoming and less daunting for first year engineers is unmatched!

What is your primary area of research and what led you to it?

My research area involves Smart Cities, and how sensing technologies in urban settings help us better understand how people move through, interact with, and derive benefits from social infrastructure.

I love working with sensors and smart infrastructure, which led me to the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIST) at University of Michigan during my graduate studies. More importantly, I was drawn to the idea of how incorporating sensing technologies could improve the lives of people and better manage our resources. 

“We live in a shared world.
How can we make it better?”

Gabriel Draughon

Can you share a little more about your research and what you like about it? 

Specifically I focus on social infrastructure (public parks, squares, markets, bus stops, etc.). I write deep learning-based software to ingest image streams taken by cameras in public parks to autonomously generate usage reports, in order to quantify performance of the space. Where people are entering/exiting? Which assets do they interact with most? What activities are they engaged in? How social is the space? This helps park managers, owners, and operators better design, manage, and plan their spaces. It enables data-driven decision making. With this data park owners can understand where to invest funds, what assets drive social interactions, and when to run different social programs. 

I like writing the software and working with cool things like convolutional neural networks, but most importantly I like the application. When I am “out in the field” I am usually in public parks—which is quite nice! I also am drawn to the idea of understanding how our infrastructure can help build a community’s social capital and impact community members’ mental and physical health. 

What do you consider an important long-term goal for your research, teaching, or outreach?

I would like to engage undergraduate students with my research and show them the types of impact we can have as engineers. Specifically I hope to engage students from under-represented groups in STEM (first generation students, minorities, women). I want to help build students’ sense of self-efficacy. Measurable long-term goals would be to increase retention rates of underrepresented groups.

What do you hope to accomplish, as an educator and as a researcher, over the next few years?

I want to instill a passion in our student base for using their skills to help others. We live in a shared world; how can we make it better?

What do you like to do in your spare time?

 Lots of things! Outdoor: Mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing. Indoor: Video games, movies, and board games.

One great spot to relax near Michigan Tech: the shore of Lake Superior.

What’s your favorite book?

“Lord of the Rings,” by JRR Tolkien.

Any favorite spots on campus, in Houghton, or in the UP?

Mine are the Tech Trails, KC Bonkers, and the Porkies (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park).

“Try not to get overwhelmed with school work and be sure to set aside time to invest in friends, family, and hobbies.”

Dr. Gabriel Draughon’s advice for incoming students