Author: Kim Geiger

COVID-19 Health Alert: Michigan Tech Suspends Face-to-Face Instruction, Effective March 16, 2020.

Michigan Tech has suspended face-to-face instruction, effective March 16, 2020. The University has released a series of protocols concerning travel, remote work, and large gatherings. Emails have been sent to students and faculty. For more information & updates, visit mtu.edu/covid-19.

Message to the Campus Community
Read President Koubek’s full message to faculty, staff, and students.

Message to Students
Read Important COVID-19 Update to students from Bonnie Gorman, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs

Important Information for Students
Protocols, updates, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Michigan Tech Updates
The University is working closely with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and following the guidance of the CDC in monitoring COVID-19 developments. We have a pandemic preparedness plan in place, and six University task forces have convened to prepare for and respond to implications and impacts for the campus community. More information and updates at mtu.edu/covid-19

More about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
An outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus named “2019 Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” is affecting a large number of countries around the world, including the United States, where it has been declared a National Emergency. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring developments and travel advisories are in place.


Mechanical Engineer Turned Artist, Part 2

When it comes to the abstract, my inspiration develops as I develop the painting. I always try to utilize the design principles of good balance between geometric and curvilinear shapes, development of value change throughout the painting, and a good use of complementary colors. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, however, as to whether you like it or not. I’ve been fortunate to have had my paintings juried into Watercolor USA, a very prestigious exhibition in Springfield, Missouri. I’ve been juried in twice. I can’t wait to see if I get lucky once again this year. 

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson

Other times I get inspired by just items around the house that we’ve collected over the years. It dawned on me that I hadn’t painted a still life piece in quite a while, so I started looking at some china pieces we collected and thought they’d make a wonderful painting. 

Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson

Sometimes it isn’t so much that inspiration finds me, as much as it is that someone commissions a painting. Now that is the ultimate compliment: when someone has seen my work and trusts me to paint something they treasure. This requires a lot of careful consideration on my part to make a determination if I’m up to the task. First, I need a good photograph—not some pixelated picture, but a really good piece I can blow up as if I were right there to see it all. If I can take the photograph myself, so much the better as I like to take advantage of any shadows cast. Here’s one — a portrait of a dog named Maximus. Portraits are difficult. My advice is this: always make sure you get the eyes right. Everything else from there will work out.

Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016

People ask where I paint. We designed our home with a studio in it. This makes it so much more convenient for me as I can wander up anytime during the day or night to work on a painting.

The artist in his studio. “I’m one of the lucky ones. Many artists make do with improvised spaces. I feel God has blessed me in that regard.”

My studio is on the second floor of our house. When I decide I’m too old to walk up and down those stairs (18 in all, and yes, I counted them) it can easily be converted into a master suite or a mother in-law-suite as it has a closet and bathroom next to it. After all, watercolorists need water and a place to rinse out the brushes among other things. It’s approximately 300 square feet—a comfortable size to house my good old-fashioned drafting table, flat files, and shelving units needed to support my habit.

I’m sometimes asked about my outlook on life as an artist. Is it different than my outlook as an engineer/business executive? To be honest, it isn’t much different. I suppose now that I’m retired, I want to be sure I’m alive long enough to achieve some of my long-range goals. Goal setting is something I’ve always done, so not much change there. I don’t have a concern about what my next job or position might be now that I’m a retired artist. The only thing interfering with my art is my golf, which I love to do, as well as our travel and my teaching. Basically I’m in control of those, so no issue there. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference. Less stress today. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. That’s also a big difference from the working world. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.
Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have, and that’s when I usually put the brushes aside and start to read and study another person’s work. It’s also good to make a change in daily activity as well, to not get stuck in a rut, so to speak. Variety is the spice of life and that is true for artists as well. Change it up. Go on a trip, go fishing. You’d be surprised how quickly new ideas can pop up to jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again.

Am I a perfectionist? Not really, because if I was, I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving and if you make an error, I consider it a happy accident and work around it, as opposed to trying to do it over again, or trying to fix it. Neither work well in watercolor painting.

Personality-wise, I’m pretty much an optimist and a fairly outgoing person. I engage people fairly easily and I suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while in management of companies and people. I enjoy making new contacts and I enjoy giving back to my community. That’s why I’ve become a teacher of art, and a leader in our art organization here in Fayetteville. It’s put me in front of a lot of people. I hope I’ve influenced them to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. I don’t really think I have yet. I guess I’m still working in it, although people are starting to recognize my abstract pieces more and more as I display them at galleries in the area for people to see. More people now say that when they see a piece of mine, they easily recognize it as one of mine. I realistically think my style is still evolving, growing into a less structured photographic type of painting—a looser style that I personally love. It has taken years to break the engineers exacting look at something and feel comfortable in having people see what they want to see in my work as opposed to making it obvious. A couple of pieces I completed this year were looser in nature, with colors that go well together, but that you probably won’t see in a natural setting, “Homestead” and “Homestead II”.

Because of my engineering background, some people have asked if I ever took an art course at Michigan Tech. The answer to that is yes and no. Back in the day, we mechanical engineers took a drafting and sketching course. It wasn’t exactly art, but we did make black and white drawings that were completely shaded, 3-dimensional drawings of recognizable objects like gears, pistons, or some other mechanical object. It was a great class and it helped me immensely as an engineer to translate a sketch into a real product. This was in the day before CAD, when drafting was done manually. We really needed the ability to sketch out our thoughts in order to communicate with each other, and especially marketing. I suppose that experience has helped me in my art, to understand perspective, and to create 3-dimensional objects that actually look pretty close to the real thing.

I went into engineering without knowing too much about what it was all about. Rock, Michigan was in the middle of the boonies without a lot of manufacturing around to relate what an engineer really did, and what it was all about. I learned the academic side at the Tech, and the practical side while at General Electric and other companies. Although I have my name on of a few patents from back in the day when I did design work, it turns out that I was probably a better manager than an engineer.

 My advice to young people? Pursue what you think you love, be it engineering, art, teaching, medicine, computer technology, programming or something else, with passion and vigor. Study hard and become the best you can be. You may find after a few years that your thoughts about what you are doing might change. Be flexible, as you aren’t going to be the same person 10 years down the road as you are today. You may find you want to switch fields completely. 
I remember a senior level manager at GE who was in materials management who one day decided that he wanted to be a medical doctor. He had earned enough money, was frugal and saved a lot, and quit his position to pursue his dream of going to medical school. Wow. He gave up a really solid position in a very good company to take on a new challenge pretty late in his life. So, just because you get a degree in one discipline, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up there for the rest of your life. Flexibility is really the key and getting a well-rounded education is also important. Study something completely out of your field to get a different perspective on life in general. For those not ready to pursue a college education, look into the trades. It might be better to enter the trades today than other types of white-collar opportunities for employment. Companies are screaming for trades people of all types as there is a shortage of individuals qualified to do those jobs, especially technical trades. It may not always be that way—in that what is needed today might not be needed tomorrow. So again, the old adage of staying flexible is something everyone needs to strive for. The other thing I would advise is to never stop learning.

Speaking of learning, my next venture into watercolor art is the making a watercolor pigment from Ozark native stone. I am taking a workshop to learn more about making my own paint. I also plan to bring back some stone from Arizona this spring to develop more different colors The Geology majors would love this if they had an interest in art. Find your own rocks, grind them up into a very fine slurry and mix with water, gum arabic and glycerin to make your own paint. Sounds like a possible chemistry class to me. LOL. Anyway, that’s the next step in my continuing education into watercolor.

People who are about to leave the workforce and move on into retirement also need to think about what they are going to do while retired. Yes, many want to start with travel. That is a great idea and do it as often as you can afford to do it, however, at some point, travel starts to wear on you, and you might run out of potential places you really want to go and visit. For those who traveled for a living, they may think about public service, volunteer work at any of a variety of places, perhaps run for public office while they still have the energy to take on that important role. If you live in a University town, consider taking courses at the local university or junior college in something that will help fulfill your lifelong dream, like becoming an artist. Find workshops or individuals who have similar likenesses who might be willing to help you. It’s up to you not to become a couch potato, unless that is your goal. Far be it from me to lecture someone on what to do with their golden years, but I would suggest doing something you have never done and/or have always had a hankering to do.

I hope you enjoyed my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me through my website at: garyjohnsonfineart.com or through my email at: garyj357@yahoo.com. Thanks MTU for reaching out to me for my story.

Gary


Michigan Tech Engineer Captures the Northern Lights

North Canal Park, April 2019. Credit: Michigan Tech Alumnus Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Some of us have waited a decade or more to see the Northern Lights since moving to Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Then there’s Venkata Rajesh Chundru, now a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. While earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech from 2014 to 2019, Chundru managed to see—and artfully capture—Aurora Borealis time after time. And he has generously offered to share some of his favorite photographs with us here.

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, September 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

McLain State Park, February 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, May 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Copper Harbor, March 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, May 2019. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Michigan Tech Campus, Canal Side, February 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

The photographer at Copper Peak, September 2018. Thank you, Venkata! We wish you the very best of luck in your new home!

“Since moving to Texas I have been capturing cityscapes and doing some professional portrait sessions for events, while soaking in the Texan culture. These photographs bring back a lot of good memories from all those years in the U.P. I do intend to be back during summer for a week to capture some landscapes,” says Chundru. “Life in San Antonio has more of an urban feel. I miss the wide-open landscapes and warm people back in the U.P, and of course the snow.

“In my new job at Southwest Research Institute, I’m focused on developing control systems for automotive applications—specifically to control emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which is in line with my Ph.D. work at Michigan Tech. I also get to work on new research areas, such as connected vehicles and electric vehicle controls.”

As for COVID-19? “Stay safe out there,” he says. “Hope this passes soon.”

Want to see more beautiful photography? Be sure to visit Chundru’s photography page on Facebook, or his Instagram account.

Have some of your own Aurora Borealis images to share? Please reach out to Kimberly Geiger, kmgeiger@mtu.edu. If you like, we’d be glad to post them here on our blog.


Michigan Tech Engineering Alumni: By the Numbers

UP Blizzard, Winter, 1938. Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives.

“Tenacious problem solving and critical thinking skills distinguish our alumni,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech.

“And yes, there must be something about the relentless snow in Houghton that contributes to tenacity,” adds Callahan. “Like tea steeping in hot water, our alumni were soaked in snow, emerging with the flavor of tenacity.”

QUICK FACTS:

  • Engineering Alumni Total: 47,359
  • Engineering Alumni in Michigan: 17,000+
  • Engineering Alumni Abroad: 1,200+ in 88 countries
  • U.S. employers hiring our engineering graduates in 2018: 500+
  • Average engineering graduate starting salary: over $61,000/year
  • High Alumni Salaries: second highest in the state
  • Engineering Alumni by Academic Department:
  • Biomedical Engineering: 838
  • Chemical Engineering: 4,491
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering: 9,132
  • Engineering: 71
  • Electrical & Computer Engineering: 10,112
  • Engineering Fundamentals: 194
  • Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences: 3,984
  • Materials Science and Engineering: 3,246
  • Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics: 15,291

Check out all the Michigan Tech Facts and Figures here.

Have some alumni facts to share? Reach out to us at engineering@mtu.edu.


Pioneers of Progress: Michigan Tech Celebrates EWeek 2020

This week, we’re celebrating National Engineers Week (Feb. 16-22). Everyone’s invited to special events on campus sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society student chapter at Michigan Tech.

The week kicks off on Monday, Feb. 17. Ever wanted to see how molten Cast Iron is poured in the Foundry here on campus? Now’s your chance, today, in the M&M, during the lunch hour, hosted by the Department of Materials Science. If you can’t make it Monday – there are sessions this week on Tuesday and Friday, as well.)  

Safety glasses available (and required) at the door.

And there’s more. Feel free to stop by and check out Eweek events as your schedule allows:

Monday, February 17
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 11:30AM – 1PM

Tuesday, February 18 
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 2:30 – 4PM 

Wednesday, February 19
● E-Week Cake ○ Dillman 112B from 11AM – 2PM

Thursday, February 20
● Airport Planning & Design Activity ○ Dillman 204 at 5PM
● YES Drop That Thun Thun, with IGS Enterprise ○ Fisher Food Pantry from 5-6PM 

Friday February
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 12:30 – 2PM

Yes, it’s buttercream!

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, Eweek is celebrated each February around the time of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, because Washington is considered by many to be the first U.S. engineer.

Eweek is a formal coalition of more than 70 engineering, education, and cultural societies, and more than 50 corporations and government agencies. This year’s theme: Pioneers of Progress. Dedicated to raising public awareness of engineers’ positive contributions to quality of life, Eweek promotes recognition among parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science, and technology literacy, and motivates youth, to pursue engineering careers in order to provide a diverse and vigorous engineering workforce.


Mechanical Engineer-turned-Fine Artist: Gary Johnson ’66

In his guest blog, Gary Johnson ’66, a Michigan Tech alumnus in Fayetteville Arkansas, tells the story of his second career: “We engineers can go from practicing engineering to being artists of all things mechanical and beyond.”

Superior Storm, 2017, Gary Johnson

Having grown up in Rock, Michigan⁠ (Yeah, I know, where the heck is Rock? Well, it’s smack dab in the middle of the UP. Yup, I’m a Yooper!!) I decided the best place for me to go to college was in the UP, at the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, now Michigan Technological University. Why Tech? I was influenced by a couple of neighbors, older than me, who had both started and graduated from Tech. I was pretty fair at math and science, so I did go to Tech—and would do it all over again if I had that same choice to make again today.

I got lucky and graduated in four years, then started work at General Electric Co. as a design engineer. GE was a great place to start my career. I had several promotions while at GE and the company helped finance my MBA, which I received in 1975 from Loyola University in Chicago. I left GE in 1977 when I learned they intended to sell the division I was in, and that no one would be allowed to transfer within GE after the sale. So I moved to Arizona and took my first management position.

Blue Heron, 2016, Gary Johnson

From that point I guess you could say I was blessed or cursed, depending on which side of the equation your homebody instincts are on. I started in New Jersey, moved to Illinois, then on to Arizona after receiving my master’s degree. From there I moved to California and back again to Arizona after accepting a position as General Manager for a U.S. company in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. From Arizona we traversed the U.S., from Georgia to Washington state to South Carolina, where I ended my career as a Director of Engineering at Hubbell Lighting. Those 40-plus years of my working career were absolutely fantastic, interesting and challenging. The only thing I’d change is the loss of jobs occasionally due to downsizing, bankruptcies or the sale of a company. But with the skill set I developed as a result of my education and experience, I always bounced back—and for that I can thank Michigan Tech.

Alegha, 2009, Gary Johnson

At Tech, I learned perseverance. Or, maybe it was my Finnish background, where the word sisu comes into play. Perseverance is a quality we all must possess in today’s working environment. I think I started developing that in my little old hometown of Rock, or maybe at Michigan Tech. It takes a certain strong-charactered individual to put up with the winters and the great curriculum of MTU to get a degree in four years. I wasn’t blessed with the great minds of some of my fellow graduates, but nevertheless, I made it through in fine shape.

Okay, now on to the real reason I wrote this blog. I was asked to write it —because in my retirement I found a new career as an artist.

Shadows of a Bygone Era, 2016, Gary Johnson

Moving to art was something of a challenge my wife, Jackie, had often presented to me. It was also something I pretty much always wanted to do, especially watercolor art. While traveling with my job, I was blessed to occasionally have Jackie travel with me. While together, mostly on the weekends, we’d visit local art galleries to admire the artistic talents of many different artists. We especially loved the watercolor artists and the work they produced. My wife often would say, “Honey, can we purchase that piece, or get a print of it, at least?” My reply was often, “Hey, I could paint that for you, so why purchase something I could do myself?” Well, that didn’t fly very far, and we’d end up getting something to remember our trip.

That went on for about 20 years until all of a sudden, I found myself between positions while living up near the Canadian border of British Columbia in Bellingham, Washington. I spent countless hours scouring country looking for a new position, becoming really bored with the whole process. So, what was I going to do to overcome that boredom? The answer fell into my lap one Sunday afternoon while reading the newspaper. I spotted an ad for a watercolor workshop for beginners, offered by the local park district. Can you imagine—six classes, every Friday morning for six weeks, for only $30. Was I excited? Hell, yes, I was. It addressed two issues; the first was the challenge to prove to my wife I could do this to her satisfaction and that she’d love my work, and second, to rid myself of the boredom involved in seeking new employment and further, it would address any questions by any HR person about what was I doing during my days off.

Meet my friend, Danny, 2015, Gary Johnson

I’ve always had a love of the arts, from the time I grew up. First, I became interested in music and ended up becoming an accordionist. I loved music and played the accordion for many years on into high school. Soon, however, sports and girls entered the equation, so I abandoned the accordion and concentrated on academics, sports and girls, though maybe not in that particular order………LOL. I also always liked to draw and doodle, but not necessarily paint, as good ole Rock, Michigan wasn’t the center of the visual arts back in the day. As I’ve said earlier, travel during my working years led me to loving art even further. Jackie was a very good interior designer. Together we’d pick out pieces of art we both liked for our home—mostly watercolor paintings. That’s when I knew that someday I’d like to give it a go. So, backing up to the workshop classes in Bellingham: I soon became hooked on the process of creating art with watercolor. It was not easy, and I worked very hard at it day in and day out until I felt I could actually show someone outside of our home what I’d been up to.

I went to an art gallery in Bellingham and asked the owner to evaluate what I had done to that point. He agreed to look over my body of work. What a great experience that turned out to be. The first painting he looked at he told me, “Burn It.” Can you imagine what that would do to someone? Well, before we finished looking at all of my work, he managed to find a couple of pieces he thought were just “OK”. Well, just OK isn’t good enough as we all know, so I started to study watercolor art though art journals and “How- to” books related to watercolor art. I took some additional workshops and painted with an art group to learn from others who were better than me. That helped tremendously as I learned from those who knew what they were doing and willing to share their knowledge.

Soon after I found a new position in South Carolina, and we relocated to Spartanburg in the “Upstate” as it is known. I joined an art guild and continued to paint but only sporadically on weekends. My new position of responsibility took precedence over my desire to become that world- class painter.

I joined a second art organization, the South Carolina Watermedia Society (SCWS), whose membership consisted mostly of watercolorists. Through this organization I really became a solid weekend painter. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be from an artistic perspective, but I took the gamble and started to enter juried competitions, to see if I could get into their exhibitions. Well, guess what? I didn’t get picked the first three times I entered a competition. This bruised my ego, because I thought I had done some pretty darned good work. Then I finally had a breakthrough, and made it into my first exhibition. I was thrilled! And it gave me even more inspiration to continue developing my craft. I was selected for three consecutive years and received my Signature Membership in the society—a huge resume enhancer when seeking gallery representation. Since then, I’ve added the “Member in Excellence” moniker to my membership, which means I’ve been in at least five juried competitions.

Stormy Seas, 2016, Gary Johnson

People often ask how many years I’ve been painting, and how many paintings I’ve produced. Well, the span of time covers 18 years since those first watercolor workshop days in Bellingham. Needless to say, I didn’t paint during many of those years due to work obligations. Further, after I retired, I chose to do some consulting for a while, 18 months, flying back and forth from Spartanburg, Minneapolis and Osceola, Wisconsin to work with a company who was looking to relocate some of their manufacturing to Mexico. Because I had done similar work in the past, they asked me to develop a strategic plan for the movement of their manufacturing facilities through the startup phase of their operation. Yes, I was one of those guys who helped facilitate that kind of movement. Anyway, after about a year and a half of that gig, I told the company they no longer needed me to help support their strategic plan. We parted ways in July 2011.

Now fully retired, Jackie and I decided we’d love to relocate from South Carolina to our current home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, near my daughter and her family. It turned out to be a really great choice. Not only do we get to see my daughter and her husband, but also our two grandchildren. It also turns out that Fayetteville has a thriving arts community, which has proven to be both challenging and wonderful at the same time.

Jackie and Gary Johnson

It took us fully two years to get our house built and landscaped to our specs, although one is never really done tinkering with both. Our new home was designed with an art studio so I could continue painting. It took a little bit of time to get back into the saddle and get back to producing good work again, but painting is a little like riding a bike. Once you know how, it doesn’t take long to work through the cobwebs and get back to where you were before. I’ve now joined two Arkansas-based arts organizations: Artists of NW Arkansas where I have served as Chairman of the Board the past two years; and Mid-Southern Watercolorists (MSW), out of Little Rock. Both are great organizations that put on juried art exhibitions. I’ve been blessed with having my work in each of their exhibitions over the past six years. I won the MSWBronze award, and earned my Signature membership there, as well. 

As for how many paintings I have produced, it’s in the order of hundreds. I probably consistently produce between 30 – 50 per year. Many are very small sketches that I use to teach. Yes, I am now doing workshops based on the abstract process I use. I also teach art to people ages 60 and up once a month at the Schmieding Foundation in Springdale, Arkansas, a place where they can come and paint for a couple of hours for free. I supply all materials and teach them the basics of watercolor. It’s really a fun experience for me, and hopefully for them, too.

Mr. Bees Pumpkins, Gary Johnson

I’m asked occasionally if being a Mechanical Engineer has any influence on the type of art I produce. Well, yes it does occasionally. One painting I did was of an old steam- driven device that I discovered in Eureka Springs, Arkansas at an old railroad yard. I photographed it from many different angles and selected one in which the sun had cast a great many shadows onto it, and turned that into a piece of art. It’s titled “Shadows from a Bygone Era”. After winning the Bronze award with this painting at the MSW exhibition in Little Rock this past spring, I was recently invited to an International show in Barcelona, Spain this coming April and May.

So, we engineers can go from practicing engineering to being artists of all things mechanical and beyond.

People wonder where I find my inspiration. My wife will tell you that everywhere I go, I find something that fascinates me. In California once, I slammed on the brakes after seeing an old Chevy pickup truck sitting on the side of the road, exclaiming “There’s a painting waiting to happen!” It turned into one of my best old rusty truck paintings yet, titled “Mr. Bees Pumpkins”.

I found an old tractor near that same railroad yard in Eureka Springs and did a painting titled “Retired in Eureka Springs”. I loved the way the vines and other plant life had engulfed this old tractor left out to return to the earth.

I’ve painted a lot of old rusty cars abandoned or left to return to the Earth. I enjoy that challenge, of being able to capture their beauty after their useful time as machines, be they tractors, cars, steam engines, etc. However, I also love painting in the abstract, landscapes, and portraits, so I don’t limit myself to one genre. It keeps me motivated to explore new territory in my art. Doing so teaches me more new techniques that I can pass on to those taking my workshops.

In part 2 of his guest blog post, Gary tells more about his life as an artist, shares instructions on how to make your own beautiful watercolor pigments (from rocks), and offer sage adviceboth to young people starting out, and those about to leave the workforce and move into retirement.


Michigan Tech student team advances in National Mine Design Competition

The very first Michigan Tech team has advanced to Phase 2 in the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) / National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA) Student Design Competition. Phase 2 occurs at the upcoming SME Conference. Michigan Tech was among the top six in the nation to advance.

The competition is a grueling two-phase, team-based, problem-solving activity involving a technical design and an oral presentation. The problem highlights the challenges and opportunities associated with operating a sand and gravel quarry, developing an overall design plan, and optimizing the operating methods and economics. Students work on the problem from the perspective of an engineering consulting team, responsible for the development of the pit and mineral processing plant configuration.

The Michigan Tech team is interdisciplinary and includes mining engineering majors Ben Neely, Shawn vanDoorn, and Garrett Singer, geological engineering senior Ian Gannon, and chemical engineering senior (mineral processing minor) Erin Bowers.

Nathan Manser, GMES faculty member and Michigan Tech ’01 mining engineering alumnus, is mentoring them exceptionally well,” says John Gierke, chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

The competition’s Phase 1 design took place during fall semester on campus over a 21-day period. The top six teams were selected based on their design reports.

“Our team will now compete in Phoenix, throughout the weekend of Feb. 21-23, culminating with an oral presentation,” adds Gierke. “They will be asked to modify their design in response to a change that is provided at the start of the competition. Students will be interviewed by industry practitioners during the course of their work.”

Follow the Student Design Competition at the MineXchange 2020 SME Annual Conference & Expo website.



LEAP Leaders: The Power of Near-Peer Mentoring

Just an ordinary day for the LEAP Leaders in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at Michigan Tech. AJ Hamlin (far left) and Amber Kempppainen (second from left) are both in the front row.

AJ Hamlin and Amber Kemppainen have been recognized for their leadership in designing LEAP, a highly successful, best practice program for first-year engineering students at Michigan Tech.

by Michael R. Meyer, Director, William G. Jackson CTL

LEarning with Academic Partners (LEAP) co-directors AJ Hamlin and Amber Kemppainen have been selected by College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan for the Spring 2020 Deans’ Teaching Showcase. Both are Principal Lecturers in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals (EF) and alumnae of Michigan Tech.

Both are broadly versed in methods and implementations for active learning and have practiced active learning methods in their classrooms for nearly two decades.

In 2015, EF started considering an approach to first-year engineering that would be effective and scalable. The selected approach used flipped content delivery in a studio environment in which students would have ready access to near-peer mentoring. As soon as the mentoring component was included, Hamlin and Kemppainen stepped up as the two co-directors of the program. Working collaboratively, they learned the principles and implementations of two existing approaches: Supplemental Instruction (SI) (usually associated with the University of Missouri, Kansas City) and Learning Assistants (LA) (usually associated with the University of Colorado). From study and attending on-site workshops and conferences, the two developed a composite approach to near-peer mentoring that became the LEAP program.

In general, SI does not include a mandatory session for students. By contrast, the model pioneered by AJ and Amber did include a mandatory LEAP session between the near-peer leader and a group of not more than 24 students to augment instruction in the EF first-year engineering courses. This was a significant departure that proved very beneficial; first-year students often do not see value in a situation that augments what they do in “regular class.” In effect, the innovation by the LEAP CoDirectors made the LEAP lab section meeting a “regular class meeting.” Once LEAP was experienced by the students over time, they appreciated the nearness of a near-peer to help them.

First-year engineering students meet with near-peer mentors in a LEAP section at Wadsworth Hall, on campus at Michigan Tech.

Hamlin and Kemppainen also adapted the LA model, embedding LEAP Leaders as mentors for the work to be done in the larger flipped classrooms of the first-year engineering courses. The EF major classrooms are in Wadsworth Hall (capacity of 5 LEAP sections, or 120 students) and in Dillman Hall (capacity of 3 LEAP sections, or 72 students).

Dean Callahan’s nomination emphasizes this insight and innovation at Michigan Tech. “Using near-peer mentors is a best practice in teaching—AJ and Amber’s work as co-directors of the LEAP program has been an outstanding demonstration of how to engage students with their learning,” says Callahan.

The LEAP Leader training program was designed almost from scratch by Hamlin and Kemppainen. The training prepares the LEAP Leaders to be learner-centered, but to emphasize that the weight of learning is always the student’s. The LEAP Leader is taught how to mentor students, and the training emphasizes practical learning concepts such as effective scaffolding for a student. It also gives them opportunities to practice the needed pedagogical techniques.

After the rollout of the revised first-year engineering program in Fall, 2017, it became clear that the LEAP leader training and experience was highly educational for those near-peer leaders as well. With that realization, Amber and AJ embarked on developing and teaching leadership courses under the Pavlis Honors College heading. Three courses are now offered: a 2000 level course that Amber and AJ developed and teach collaboratively, and 3000 and 4000 level courses that were designed and taught by Amber. The three courses taken together form the required set of courses in the Leadership Minor, which is offered through Pavlis.

Hamlin and Kemppainen have recognized the power that near-peer mentoring has to engage first-year students in their own education. They designed and implemented a program that is now seen as essential for first-year engineering students.

Jon Sticklen, chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals summarizes: “AJ and Amber have definitely gone above and beyond in their positions as CoDirectors of our LEAP Program. LEAP has become the cornerstone of the First-Year Engineering Program, largely because the undergraduate students who are our LEAP Leaders are well trained and genuinely connected to their first-year engineering students. LEAP works because of the leadership and content training, as orchestrated by Amber and AJ.”

Dean Callahan confirms their exceptional impact, both for the first year students and the LEAP leaders. “Michigan Tech can rightly be proud of the work of AJ Hamlin and Amber Kemppainen. As CoDirectors of the LEarning with Academic Partners program, they have shown a true engineering viewpoint in addressing the needs of first-year students: to have a good role model, an effective mentor, and a learning coach—all rolled into one sophomore student to whom they can relate. They had the vision as a goal, they sought out how existing near-peer mentoring programs addressed the issues, and they developed a near-peer mentoring program that is a critical part of what makes of first-year engineering program ‘tick’. I am very proud of Hamlin’s and Kemppainenm’s work in support of our students.”

AJ Hamlin’s experience in teaching first-year engineering students dates from 2001. In this time, she has done research in and developed an assessment of spatial visualization skills and measured the effectiveness of inverted and blended courses. Among other awards, Hamlin won the 2010 Editor’s Award from the Engineering Design Graphics Journal, and in April 2015 the Michigan Tech Canvas Creative Course Contest (C4). She has served in various offices of the ASEE Multidisciplinary Division, including Secretary/Treasurer, Program Chair, and currently the Division Chair.

Amber Kemppainen, who began teaching in 2005, is now in the final phases of completing a PhD in applied cognitive science and human factors (ACSHF). Through her work for her degrees in the learning sciences, Kemppainen has been supported in part by a King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellowship (a State of Michigan program). Her areas of research have included qualitative and quantitative analysis and assessment skills in educational settings, and development, deployment, and assessment of online training programs. She won a C4 award in 2015.

Hamlin and Kemppainen will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with other showcase members, and, as a team, are candidates for the CTL Instructional Award Series (to be determined this summer) recognizing introductory or large-class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.

Learn more about Michigan Tech’s LEAP program here.


Girls Scouts Learn How to “Think Like an Engineer” at Michigan Tech

Girl Scouts gathered at Michigan Tech this week, to learn about electrical engineering from members of Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Saturday afternoon, nearly 90 Girl Scouts learned what it means to be an engineer. It came through trying and failing. Then trying again and failing. Then eventually, trying and succeeding. “Seeing that look on their face when they finally get something to work, that’s the most rewarding part of it — to see them say, ‘Yes, I did this. I can do it even though it was hard to do,’” said Zoe Wahr, outreach director for Michigan Tech’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter, which organized the event.  Read more about the event in the Daily Mining Gazette.

The Girl Scouts, from kindergartners through 10th grade, arrived at Michigan Tech from across the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. The event, called “Think like an engineer” encouraged attendees to think about careers in science, engineering, technology and math. Read more at TV6 Upper Michigan Source.

The scouts first enjoyed brunch at Michigan Tech’s Wadsworth Residence Hall before breaking out into activity groups by age. Kindergarten (Daisies); 2-3 grade (Brownies); 4-5 grade (Juniors); and 6-10 grade (Cadettes and Seniors). The younger groups made paper circuits,  “squishy” circuits made out of dough, and mini wiggling “bots.” Older students visited Blue Marble Security Enterprise headquarters in the EERC building, where they learned to solder holiday-themed LED circuit boards.

At the end of the activities, all of the students gathered for a Q&A panel of SWE members. The scouts also developed a”Take-Action Plan” based on all they learned in their workshops.

“We’re excited to be a partner and to share the fields of electrical and computer engineering with these bright young people,” said Liz Fujita, ECE academic advisor and outreach specialist, who helped coordinate the event.

“The vast majority were from out of the area – only 14 girls are from Houghton County,” said SWE faculty advisor Gretchen Hein, a senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals. “The furthest away is Green Bay, Wisconsin.”