Category: News

Deans’ Teaching Showcase: Jennifer Becker

Jennifer Becker
Jennifer Becker

In the midst of all of the challenges we’re facing, it’s important to continue to recognize the dedication of so many excellent instructors on Tech’s campus. That’s why Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, has selected our ninth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member: Jennifer Becker, an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department.

Becker is known by her students for her passion for hands-on learning. As an example, she seeks to create interactive learning environments for her students. CEE1001 is taught only once a year and serves all civil engineering students as well as students in other majors interested in sustainability topics. Rather than teaching a giant section of the course, which may easily exceed enrollments of 90 students, she offers two sections of the course to increase instructor-student interactions. Throughout her class, Becker employs active learning techniques to better enable her students to learn the material. This work extends beyond her own students; last spring, she received the Behind the Scenes Award for helping enterprise groups with their project.

Becker also shines at the graduate level. Many programs assume graduate students will gain the knowledge they need to be successful in their research through real-time mentoring by their advisor, making lab courses rare. She does a service for all of the environmental engineering faculty by including a wet lab component in her wastewater course to provide hands-on experience on which students can build on when they begin their research. Becker also incorporates common industry and computer tools in her classes such as Biowin, a software used to model biological, physical and chemical processes in a plant.

CEE chair Audra Morse emphasizes this connection to industry, saying “In her CEE 4502 Wastewater Treatment Principles & Design course, Jennifer offers multiple field trip sessions to the local wastewater treatment facility to make sure all class members have the opportunity to participate in this real-world learning opportunity. The field trip supports the hands-on learning and software tools Jennifer incorporates in her class. The field trip hits home how the chemical, physical, and biological processes work together in a treatment plant to achieve our design objectives. More importantly, the field trip underscores the size and complexity of the things we build.”

In these and many other ways, it’s clear that Becker’s efforts to be accessible to students are extraordinary. She makes time in the evening to offer review sessions before exams to ensure students have possible opportunities to work out misconceptions and clear up confusion before the exam. Additionally, Becker holds her office hours in the CEE Student Success Center (SSC). Surveys of students have indicated they value the group sessions that occur naturally in this space.

One of Becker’s students echoes this, saying “Becker’s dedication to her students’ learning is just one quality that raises the bar for professors everywhere. Her willingness to help students succeed extends beyond the classroom, where she responds to emails promptly and accommodates students’ needs by taking time out of her busy schedule to help them, even at odd hours, until they feel confident with the material. Becker also aids students by letting them know exactly what is expected from them and holds them to a high standard, which demonstrates true concern for her students’ education.”

Dean Callahan summarizes Becker’s contributions well, saying “It is inspiring to see faculty such as Becker who are so highly engaged with their students. Her hard work is a great help of her students’ learning, both undergraduate and graduate students alike.”

Becker will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate 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.


NSBE Students Reach Out to Detroit Schools

Six members of Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Pre-College Initiative (PCI) reached a total of 1,500 students during their 8th Annual Alternative Spring Break in Detroit March 9-11, 2020. Our students spent their spring break visiting six middle and high schools in Detroit to encourage students to consider college and a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career.

During the school day, the Michigan Tech students made classroom presentations to middle and high school students encouraging them to continue their education after high school, consider going to college or community college, and choose a STEM career path. After the school day ended, the NSBE students conducted K-8 Family Engineering events at two K-8 schools for students and their families, and at a Boys & Girls Club in Highland Park.

Participating students included:

The schools visited included:

  • Osborn High School
  • Detroit Arts HS
  • Mackenzie Middle School
  • University Prep Math & Science Middle School
  • University Prep Academy of the Arts Middle School
  • Neinas Academy Middle School

The NSBE students made a special stop at the Fauver-Martin Boys & Girls Club on the afternoon of March 10 to put on a hands-on engineering event for 30 K-12 students from across the city. This event was organized by Mike Reed from the Detroit Zoological Society, who also invited Michael Vaughn, the first president of MTU’s NSBE student chapter in 1995.

The goal of the NSBE classroom presentations and Family Engineering events are to engage, inspire, and encourage diverse students to learn about and consider careers in engineering and science through hands-on activities and providing ‘hometown’ role models (most of the participating NSBE students are from the Detroit area). These programs are designed to address our country’s need for an increased number and greater diversity of students skilled in STEM (math, science, technology, and engineering). 

This MTU NSBE chapter’s outreach effort is funded by General Motors and the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and coordinated by Joan Chadde, director of the Michigan Tech Center for Science & Environmental Outreach. High school students at these schools are also encouraged to apply to participate in a 5-day High School Summer STEM Internship at Michigan Tech from July 13-17, 2020 that is specifically targeting underrepresented students. Each participating student will be supported by a $700 scholarship. The Detroit high school students are also informed of scholarships available to attend MTU’s Summer Youth Programs.

For more information about the MTU-NSBE student chapter’s Alternative Spring Break, contact NSBE student chapter President, Bryce Stallworth or Chadde.

By Joan Chadde.


Online Science and Engineering Fair

Boy Watching Video

In a classic example of turning lemons into lemonade, organizers of the Western U.P. Science and Engineering Fair are turning a disappointing situation into a new and exciting endeavor. 

The 22nd edition of the fair, which was to have been held Wednesday (March 18) in the Memorial Union Building, did not take place as planned. More than 125 students from Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties in grades four through eight were registered for the event. Due to directives to not gather in large groups and to maintain social distancing, the science and engineering fair didn’t take place. But that’s not to say it was cancelled. 

Emily Gochis, director of the Western UP MiSTEM Network and, in turn, the director of the Western U.P. Science Fair, said organizers have moved the fair to an online platform. 

“We wanted to offer this alternative method because we know how hard our students, parents and teachers have worked to develop and complete projects,” Gochis said. 

Under the new format, students as individuals or in pairs may use their assigned project numbers to submit a recorded project interview, photographs of the display board and a digital copy of the written report. The project numbers were provided to the students last week.

Gochis feels many of the students are up to this new challenge. “We are asking our students to be creative problem solvers and felt that we could do the same for them by developing a new submission process using out-of-the-box thinking and available technology in an authentic way.”

Gochis recognizes that not all students will have access to their projects or the needed technology with schools closed. “For that reason, projects can be submitted up to two weeks after K-12 classes resume,” she added. 

Students can submit projects by uploading photos, documents and a recording to a Google Drive folder identified by their assigned project number. “If needed, students can use FlipGrid, a free video capturing platform to record and submit their project interviews, up to five minutes in length,” Gochis said. 

In the face of a prolonged school closure, many parents are scrambling to find homeschooling options for their children. Gochis says participating in the science and engineering fair can certainly be of help.

“Science and Engineering Fair projects are one of the many ways for students to keep learning at home during school closures. A comprehensive student guide that includes a series of worksheets to help students and parents conduct a science investigation is located on the Western MiSTEM Network’s webpage.

Gochis said she realizes this new process isn’t ideal but she wanted to provide a mechanism for as many registered students to submit their projects as possible and felt this was better than canceling completely. 

“We have never tried this before and appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this for the first time.”

Students and parents can receive a step-by-step online submission guide or direct any questions to Gochis via email. 

By Mark Wilcox.


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.


Hello from Michigan Tech, and Parasailing on a Snowboard?

Are you, or someone you know, thinking about where you will choose to attend college? If so, I want to share my perspective, as I’m still fairly “new” to Michigan Tech (this is my second year here). I also have the perspective of having spent time at three different universities. Maybe it will help you make your decision.

First, the East Coast, where I attended the University of Connecticut (and the mascot there is also a Husky). My parents were only willing to pay for in-state tuition—that narrowed the choice pretty quickly for me! So I went to “UConn” and had a great education, majoring in chemical engineering, and then metallurgy/materials science for my master’s and PhD degrees (I didn’t set out to get those other degrees, but that is another story). UConn is in Storrs, Connecticut, about a 40 minute drive from the capital city of Hartford. So I would call it a rural campus. Because it wasn’t “too far” to get home, many students went home on weekends—so it didn’t have a strong sense of community. You can drive from one end of CT to the other in 2 hours or so.

After UConn, my first job was as a professor at Georgia Tech, which is in downtown Atlanta, Georgia—an urban campus in the deep South. The Atlanta metropolitan area has 5.6 million people, a vastly different experience from UConn. A great education, but, in a very big city—which comes with traffic, smog, high-priced housing, crime and safety concerns. What I really liked about Georgia Tech: it is a technologically-focused university, like Michigan Tech. I stayed 12 years at Georgia Tech, and then headed West!

Following that, I spent 14 years at Boise State University, in Idaho in various leadership roles at the university. BSU is located in downtown Boise, but the population of Boise is only about a quarter million. So a very safe campus, where the College of Engineering enrolls about 15% of BSU students. A good education for students, but nowhere near the reputation in engineering of Georgia Tech or Michigan Tech.

Now here in Midwest, in the UP, at Michigan Tech, where I serve as dean of engineering, I offer you these perspectives: It’s a strength to attend a university that is technologically focused, if your focus is engineering or related fields. This university has a very strong sense of community and belongingness. Maybe that’s because of the technological focus. And maybe it’s because it’s a long drive “home” for many. It’s beautiful here. It’s safe. And it’s fun—we’re still enjoying the snow statues, broomball, and more from our Winter Carnival. Just yesterday, in fact, I enjoyed an interesting view across the waterway, of a student and their dog, attempting to harness the wind to snowboard horizontally, pulled by the wind. Alas, the coefficient of friction was too high, or the wind was not blowing strongly enough, but they did give it a good try! And the dog was very excited about the whole operation. As was I.

I have never seen anything like this anywhere else across my years. Michigan Tech is full of interesting, engaged, curious, fun, and adventurous people.

Now, if you, or someone you know, want to know more, be sure to email me, callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech


Deans’ Teaching Showcase: Rebecca Ong

Rebecca Ong
Rebecca Ong

Janet Callahan , Dean of the College of Engineering, has selected our eighth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member: Rebecca Ong, assistant professor in the Chemical Engineering department.

Ong was selected upon recommendation by Chemical Engineering Department Chair Pradeep Agrawal for her broad innovation and use of creative teaching tools. Agrawal emphasized Ong’s efforts to “adapt to students’ contemporary learning preferences by using short videos, instant feedback, on-line quizzes, and a design expo with active learning tools like think-pair-share, iclickers, and role playing.” Agrawal also pointed out Ong’s use of a “spiral” technique where specific concepts are revisited through spaced practice, and her efforts to “connect the dots” with topics from previous classes, including statistics and data handling, computational tools, technical communications and global issues.

Ong confirms that she makes repetition —and variation—a priority. In her words, “Repetition of material is key for retention. Even with the clearest instruction, few people will completely understand a new problem the first time that they encounter it. Students need to be exposed to important points multiple times, and in different ways.” She starts each class with retrieval practice, and she attempts to bring content back with “increasingly large gaps between the reinforcement” as her quizzes often cover a mix of new and old content.

Her work to embed skills in the discipline comes from her sense that things are “most engaging and best learned when linked to a context students care about.” One excellent example of this is a recent project where students had to conduct an environmental impact assessment regarding the overseas construction of a chemical plant. She elaborates, “Students had to interview someone from another country or with many years experience living in another country to give a local community member’s perspective on the proposed construction of the facility in their hometown.” Student feedback about this project indicates that students change their analysis from whether a plant was technically feasible to consider whether it should be built, considering the environmental and social aspects.

But perhaps the biggest reason for Ong’s selection was her affinity for trying new things in her teaching. Again, her own words say it best: “I like to try new things all the time, whether teaching styles, new activities, new assignment styles, new technology or tools in the classroom. Sometimes these work well and sometimes they don’t. I always tell the students when I’m experimenting and try to get feedback about specific things I’m trying for the first time.” One recent example was creating video interviews of other on-campus faculty to use as “guest-lecturers” in a course because scheduling them live was impractical.

Callahan summarizes her nomination by saying “Rebecca’s philosophy of meeting students where they are at intellectually keeps students engaged with the material and really improves their learning. It is impressive that Dr. Ong keeps trying new things in her classes, trying to keep them fun for the students while figuring out the best way for students to learn the material.”

Ong will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with other showcase members, and is also a candidate 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.


I Was Asked to Be a Judge for Winter Carnival

Riley Simpson wears formal attire, a silver crown, and holds flowers and an award on stage at Michigan Tech Rozsa Center.
Asked to be a judge for Carnival Queen this year, I accepted with alacrity. And probably became the first judge ever to ask all the candidates a metallurgical question involving the lever rule—a question I knew no-one would know the answer to (none were materials science and engineering majors, who would have the best shot at knowing the answer). The object of the question was focused on critical thinking.

The Saturday morning before Carnival Week was day one of my judging. In my training, I was told I could ask any questions I wanted, and was given a set of standard questions to choose from. 

“Any questions?” I repeated?”

“Yes, anything you want—just ask everyone the same questions.” 

I warmed them up with a few standard questions: “Why do you want to be Carnival Queen,” and “Why did you choose to come to Michigan Tech,” and then stepped right into it, by going to the board and drawing a banana-shaped phase diagram, labeling the axes, temperature versus component (we used a gold/silver phase diagram).

I warmed them up to it by talking about how a pure component below its melting point was solid, and then after it was heated past its melting point, it was liquid. And then I explained how with a binary alloy with soluble components, the extra component adds a degree of freedom to the system. And that in turn gives such alloys a range of temperatures over which both liquid and solid are present. Then, I identified a state point in this two-phase region, just below the liquidus for a 50/50 alloy, and asked: “At this temperature and composition, we see there is both liquid and solid present. My question is: Do you think the mixture will be mostly liquid, or mostly solid?”

A few candidates asked clarifying questions, a few reasoned out loud. And, as I had hoped, given how we really stress critical thinking across all majors, all got the answer right. When I followed up and asked them why they thought it would be mostly liquid, the reasoning was sound—they tied it in with proximity to the liquidus or to the point being at a higher temperature. Very proud of all the Queen’s Finalists!  
Riley Simpson is shown smiling in her AFROTC uniform.
Congrats to Riley Simpson ⁠— 4th year mechanical engineering student, future commissioned second lieutenant (pending) in the United States Air Force, pilot/aviation enthusiast ⁠— and now, 2020 Winter Carnival Queen at Michigan Tech
Riley Simpson: Impeccable and inspirational at the Michigan Tech Winter Carnival Queen Coronation.

The second judging event took place the following Saturday night, during the Coronation. That evening, I enjoyed seeing all the candidates again, this time formal attire. They answered questions up on stage with last year’s Queen—a much higher pressure situation than I think I put them under! All of the finalists did a great job, and I am pleased to report that this year’s Carnival Queen is a Guardian of the North, Riley Simpson, whose passion is for flying, and whose musical talent was evidenced by an elegant and lively performance on the xylophone.

Riley is a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student and member of the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise who will be commissioned as an Air Force officer when she graduates, and I’m confident she will go far in her career.

It was my great honor to meet all these confident, intelligent, talented, and service-oriented Winter Carnival Queen’s finalists. My last interview question, back on that first Saturday, was, “Do you have any questions for me?” It was immediately evident that they had not anticipated being asked to ask a question (I was mimicking a job interview). And, they all rallied, and with a variety of questions, such as, “Why did you come to Michigan Tech,” and “What does a dean do?” My favorite question came from one candidate who asked me, “Did you ever do anything like this (meaning, run to be Carnival Queen)? “Oh my goodness no!” I exclaimed. “It took me many years to get the confidence to be in the public eye.” It took me about an additional two decades!

Now, if you’re interested in learning the answer to the question I asked the Winter Carnival Queen contestants, “mostly liquid or mostly solid”—or want to hazard a guess, feel free to contact me, callahan@mtu.edu.
Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech