Category: Alumni

Did You Sign Your Name on This Door?

Now, I live close to campus, in a stately banker’s home on Houghton Avenue.

We bought Mrs. Frim’s house (Mrs. Frimodig) in 2018. At one point, the home had been famously rented out to Michigan Tech alumni, many who signed their names on the attic door. Widowed after Mr. Frim unexpectedly passed at an early age, Mrs. Frim earned a living in this way.

Roger Smith, an engineering alumnus who grew up in Houghton, weeded for Mrs. Frim as a young man. I met him at Reunion 2018; he relayed to me that “She had a nice side garden in the south-east backyard – with lots of gladiolas. I spent a lot of hours toiling there…at 15-25 cents an hour!”

Sadly, that poor side garden has turned into goutweed heaven—an invasive species. I started attacking it yesterday. I read that I can “exhaust it,” or dig it up! So I exhausted myself digging it up and only made a small start; it will take the next two years to recover that patch of garden. Ha-ha, says the goutweed…. 

Did any of you happen to carve your name on the attic door? If so, please let me know! Take a look at all five panels, for a closer look. Maybe you’ll see someone you know!

If you find your name, or know more about this door, please email me. I would love to hear the stories; callahan@mtu.edu.

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech




Earth Day Continues! All are Welcome at these Copper Country (social-distance friendly) Special Events

Historical sign once hung on posts at the entrance to the city of Houghton, Michigan that says, Welcoome to the Copper country. You are now breathing the purest most vitalizing air on earth!
Courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives

There are still many Earth Day events coming up in Copper Country, and no matter where you live on this Earth, you’re invited. All are welcome.

  • Get Some Fresh Air: Nature is Open for Business
    Now through May 10 — Self-guided walk featuring Earth Day artwork from Houghton Elementary 4th grade students at Keweenaw Land Trust Paavola Wetlands. Can’t get there in person? Here’s the video tour.
  • Planet of the Humans
    April 21 and beyond: View “Planet of the Humans” (90 min.)  The film takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and giving in to corporate interests of Wall Street.
  • Invasive Plant Removal Challenge
    Now through June 20 — Stewardship Network Spring Invasive Plant Removal Challenge. Pull invasive species from your yard, natural area, anywhere. Submit location, number of people, and weight of invasive plants removed.
  • Great Lakes Bioblitz!
    Now through – May 20 — Great Lakes Bioblitz in your Backyard. Community members, families, and students across the Great Lakes states and Ontario are invited to participate in finding and identifying as many wild, living things as possible in a specific area (backyards and other outdoor spaces) during the next month
  • How Some are Turning the Stay at Home Order into a Positive Experience
    Saturday (April 25) from 6-8 p.m. — UPEC 2020 Celebrate the U.P. Presentations will be available later on YouTube. Speakers include Monica Lewis-Patrick, We The People of Detroit; Sarah Green, International Climate Action; Angie Carter, Western UP Food Systems Council, and several more. The event will wrap up with short videos on how some have turned the Stay at Home order into a positive experience.
  • What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables
    April 28, 7-8 p.m. — “What Happens to Houghton County Recyclables?” with Eagle Waste & Recycling owner, Alan Alba, and sponsored by Copper Country Recycling Initiative.
  • Native Plant Symposium: Monarch Butterflies
    April 30, 7 p.m. Native Plant Symposium Part 2, Sue Trull, botanist for the Ottawa Nat. Forest, will present “Monarchs & Milkweeds—All Hands-on Deck,” and “Using Native Plants to Support Pollinators” by Jackie Manchester-Kempke, of Houghton, an extension master gardener. Register here.
  • Book Club: Nature’s Best Hope
    May 7, 7 p.m.— Keweenaw Land Trust’s Natural History. Book Club discussion of Doug Tallamy’s “Nature’s Best Hope” via Zoom. (Password: 703851)
  • Five things you can keep out of the landfill:
    June 27  — (Stay tuned) The previously scheduled Waste Reduction Drive for Earth Day, sponsored by Michigan Tech’s student-run Sustainability House, will be rescheduled. In the meantime, keep collecting Styrofoam containers, plastic bottle caps, batteries and foil lined granola and energy bar wrappers. Read how they can be recycled here.


Mechanical Engineer Turned Fine Artist: Gary Johnson (Part 2)

Gary Johnson, a Michigan Tech alumnus in Fayetteville Arkansas, tells the story of his second career: “It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look, and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work.”

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. But it’s all in the eye of the beholder whether you like it or not.

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson
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
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 with my own eyes. 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
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.

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.

The artist in his studio.
The artist in his studio.

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. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference from the working world. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.

Snack Time, Gary Johnson
Snack Time, Gary Johnson

Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have. 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 my 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 fishing. Get outside. 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. I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving. When I 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 suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while managing 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. I hope I’ve influenced people to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. 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. More people now say they can easily recognize a piece as one of mine.

A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson
A Day In the Park, Gary Johnson

Realistically, I 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 my engineer’s exacting look and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work, as opposed to making it obvious.

Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson
Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson

I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me at garyj357@yahoo.com.

Gary

Coming soon: Part 3 of Gary’s guest blog. Learn how to make your own beautiful watercolor pigments (from rocks), and read his sage adviceboth to young people starting out, and those about to move into retirement. Did you happen to miss Part 1? Here’s the link. Want to see more of Gary’s paintings? Find them at garyjohnsonfineart.com


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

“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.


I Was Asked to Be a Judge for Winter Carnival

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


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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Retired in Eureka Springs, Gary Johnson
Retired in Eureka Springs, Gary Johnson

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.

I hope you enjoyed reading my story as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it in writing. Feel free to contact me at garyj357@yahoo.com.

Gary

In part 2 of his guest blog post, Gary shares more about what his life is like as an artist. Do you want to embark on a similar adventure? Here’s that link. Want to see more of Gary’s paintings? Find them at garyjohnsonfineart.com


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.


Engineering Alumni Activity Spring 2020

Steve Durkee
Steve Durkee

Michigan Tech alumnus Steve Durkee was the subject of the article “Legrand Appoints Steve Durkee to Lead Legrand | AV,” in Mondodr. The story was also covered by AV Network. Steve has been with the company since 2004, joining when it was just Chief Manufacturing. He has held a wide range of leadership roles, most recently as Senior Vice President & General Manager of Commercial AV. Earlier in his career, Steve spent 10 years at Graco in Engineering, Product, Marketing and Sales leadership roles. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech and an MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota.

Dhaval Lodaya
Dhaval Lodaya

Michigan Tech alumnus Dhaval Lodaya was featured in the article “SAE International Announces Winners of Second Annual Student and Young Professional Technical Paper Competition,” in Yahoo Finance. Lodaya, Senior Project Engineer, Gamma Technologies LLC, works in system and component level modeling and controls of hybrid electric and electric vehicles. He earned his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Electrified Powertrain Controls from Michigan Tech.

Marty Lagina
Marty Lagina

Michigan Tech alumnus Martin Lagina ’77, was featured in the article “How Marty Lagina achieved a net worth of $100 million,” in Money Inc. Lagina is a reality television personality, engineer and entrepreneur. His most noteworthy work remains to be in the Curse of Oak Island series where he is not only the producer but also one of the people who fund it. Lagina has a BS in mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech.

Huaguang Wang
Huaguang Wang

Michigan Tech alumnus Huaguang Wang was featured in the Central New York Business Journal. Wang has joined Indium as a research metallurgist. He is responsible for the research and development of high-reliability, low-temperature solders and bonding materials for use in electronics assembly applications. Wang earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in metallurgical engineering from Central South University and his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Lisa Larsen
Lisa Larsen

Lisa Larsen, a civil engineer with the U.S. Economic Development Administration, is spotlighted in a guest blog post of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Her position involves projects related to the construction of public infrastructure in communities that are economically distressed. Larsen holds a BS from Michigan Tech in civil engineering.

Julie Fream
Julie Fream

Michigan Tech alumna Julie Fream ’83, a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees, was quoted in the article “Who is an ‘essential’ employee under order for nonessential workers to stay home?” in Crain’s Detroit Business. Fream holds a BS in chemical engineering. She earned several awards from Michigan Tech, such as the Distinguished Service Award, the Outstanding Service Award, and the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Shannon Tait
Shannon Tait

Michigan Tech alumna Shannon Tait was quoted in the article “Building a better future: Three women on why they chose the construction industry,” in Epicenter, Mt. Pleasant. Tait works as the Manager of Commercial Projects for Three Rivers Corporation (TRC) and has been with the company for eight years. She attended Michigan Technological University graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Rick Smith
Rick Smith

Michigan Tech alumnus Rick Smith ’81 was the subject of the article “Canyon Resources strengthens team with appointment of leading bauxite executive,” in Proactive. Smith, a bauxite expert, was named chief development officer of Canyon Resources Ltd. Smith holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in geological engineering from Michigan Tech.

Stuart Pann
Stuart Pann

Michigan Tech alumnus Stuart Pann has been named chief executive officer of Bossa Nova, a leading data service provider for global retailers. The store was featured in Benzinga. Pann holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a BS in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Darryl Babbitt
Darryl Babbitt

Michigan Tech alumnus Darryl Babbitt ’08, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Crawford County (Michigan) Road Commission. He has a BS in civil engineering from Michigan Tech. The story was covered in the Crawford County Avalanche.

Jamie Archambeau
Jamie Archambeau

Civil Engineering alumna, Jamie Archambeau ’02, was selected as one of 2020 Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Archambeau is the Director of Transportation Planning West at Atkins.

Jacob Hakkola
Jacob Hakkola

Michigan Tech alumnus Dr. Jacob Hakkola recently joined the vascular and interventional radiology team at UP Health System-Marquette. The story was covered by the Mining Journal. Dr. Hakkola, an Escanaba native, attended college at Michigan Technological University to major in electrical engineering. As an engineer, he worked to develop MRI-compatible pacemakers and was introduced to the field of radiology.

Dan Heldt
Dan Heldt

Michigan Tech alumnus Dan Heldt has been named Chief Financial Officer of LHB in Duluth, Minnesota. The story was covered by Business North. He holds a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

Shawn Vij
Shawn Vij

Michigan Tech alumnus Shawn Vij ’05, was featured in the article “Author, Shawn Vij hits ‘rewind’ on Old Bollywood Values,” on Yahoo.com. He holds an MBA from Purdue University, MS in Engineering from the University of Michigan and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Vij was featured in the article, “Global Business Leader, Shawn Vij Talks About Conscious Capitalism as a New Movement for India Inc.” in Outlook India.

Jacob Heck
Jacob Heck

Michigan Tech alumnus Jacob Heck ’05 surveying engineering, was listed in Outlook 2020s 40 under 40. The list was featured in the Dec. 31 issue of xyHt.com.