Category: Education

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.


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.


Deans’ Teaching Showcase: Aneet Narendranath

Aneet Narendranath
Aneet Narendranath

Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, has selected our fifth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member—Aneet Narendranath, senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics department.

Narendranath received his PhD in mechanical engineering from Michigan Tech in 2013. Prior to starting as a lecturer at Michigan Tech in 2015, he worked on a research problem as part of a one-year professional development opportunity through a collaboration with the French Nuclear Commission as an Engineer-II.

Since his return to Tech, Narendranath has built a reputation as a creative and inspiring teacher. He is passionate about exposing his students to the latest advances in research in the courses he teaches. His efforts have resonated with the students, as evidenced by his selection as a finalist for the ME Teacher of the Year award for the past two years.

This selection is especially notable considering that he’s been asked to teach a wide variety of courses from sophomore to graduate-level. Narendranath has taught statics, thermodynamics, mechanics of materials, heat transfer, ME Practice 2 and 3, finite element methods, computational fluids engineering, advanced fluid mechanics, and has served as a senior design project advisor.

Callahan selected Narendranath, however, for his “work on integrating big data into the mechanical engineering curriculum and his eagerness to share his teaching innovations by regularly publishing at conferences.” In the fall of 2018, the ME-EM department started a curriculum innovation to determine the knowledge and critical skills for the ME undergraduate and graduate curriculum of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence for our students to use in the solution of engineering design problems. This 3-year effort includes choosing topics and determining courses, and Narendranath immediately took the challenge.

As he implements these curricular innovations, Aneet has begun publishing and presenting them in premier engineering education journals and conferences. He made presentations at the national ASEE conferences in 2016 and 2017 with another pending review in 2020, and has publications pending in 2020 with IEEE and the International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education.

Narendranath has also innovated and published in his long standing role as the coordinator of the ME-EM Engineering Learning Center (ELC). Here, he designed, wrote the source code, and implemented a Raspberry Pi-based Learning Center usage tracking system for optimal resource allocation. The system uses data gathered from the operation of the ELC to show trends in usage, which can be used to indicate which courses are using the centermost frequently, enabling the ELC to arrange for cost effective staffing. This work was published in IEEE Frontiers in Education in 2018.

William Predebon, Narendranath’s chair, summarizes by saying “Narendranath has a passion for learning, and that passion comes through in his teaching. He is a thoughtful and dynamic instructor with groundbreaking and inspirational ideas that serve to enhance the educational experience of the students in his classes.”

Narendranath 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.


Greek Life Honor Society Recognizes Gretchen Hein

Gretchen Hein
Gretchen Hein

Last Sunday (Jan. 26), more than 300 students gathered for the 14th Annual Fraternity and Sorority Life Awards Ceremony held in the Memorial Union Ballroom. In addition to the many student awards presented, Order of Omega, the Greek Life Honor Society that coordinates the awards, took the time to recognize some exceptional faculty and staff members.

There are more than 460 students in fraternities and sororities at Michigan Tech, and Order of Omega wanted to emphasize that these awards were coming directly from the students.

The following faculty and staff members were nominated by members of the Greek community and recognized at the 2020 Fraternity and Sorority Life Awards Ceremony (winners are in bold type):

Faculty

  • Jeana Collins (Chemical Engineering)
  • Karyn Fay (Medical Laboratory Science)
  • Gretchen Hein (Engineering Fundamentals)
  • John Jaszczak (Chemistry and Physics)
  • Roger Woods (College of Business)

Staff

  • Nancy Byers Sprague (Graduate Degree Services)
  • Joseph Cooper (Student Financial Services)
  • Julie Ross (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
  • Rochelle Spencer (Student Leadership & Involvement)
  • Travis Wakeham (Biological Sciences)

Advisors

  • Danielle Cyrus (Financial Services and Operations)
  • Nathan Manser (Engineering Fundamentals)
  • James Schmierer (College of Forest Resources)

These nominations were written by individual students and were supported by an entire fraternity or sorority. 

Congratulations to all of these faculty and staff members who were nominated and thank you for inspiring and motivating students.

A complete list of all the award winners can be found on the Student Leadership and Involvement web page.

By Student Leadership & Involvement.


Judges Needed for Design Expo 2020

You are invited to be a judge for the 2020 Design Expo on Thursday, April 16. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Design Expo! The Expo highlights hands-on projects from more than 1000 students on Enterprise and Senior Design teams.

Although special expertise is appreciated, judges are not required to be technological specialists or engineers. If you like engaging with students and learning more about the exciting projects they are working on, please consider judging.

Who should judge?

  • Community members
  • Michigan Tech faculty and staff
  • Alumni interested in seeing what today’s students are accomplishing as undergrads
  • Those looking to network with Michigan Tech faculty and students
  • Industry representatives interested in sponsoring a future project

Design Expo is co-hosted by the College of Engineering and the Pavlis Honors College. If you would like to serve as a judge at this year’s Design Expo, register as soon as possible to let us know you’re coming. 

By Pavlis Honors College.


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.


Design Expo 2020 Registration Now Open

Michigan Tech’s 20th annual Design Expo will highlight hands-on, discovery-based learning. More than 1,000 students on Enterprise and Senior Design teams will showcase their work and compete for awards.

Student registration is now open. Senior Design and Enterprise teams must visit the Design Expo website to register and review important instructions, deadlines and poster criteria. All teams must register by Monday, Feb. 10.

The Design Expo takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 16 in the MUB Ballroom and all are welcome to attend.

A panel of judges made up of distinguished corporate representatives and Michigan Tech staff and faculty will critique the projects at Design Expo. Interested in judging at Design Expo? Sign up here.

Design Expo is co-hosted by the College of Engineering and the Pavlis Honors College. Learn more at mtu.edu/expo.

By the College of Engineering and Pavlis Honors College.


Engineering Supports SnowBots at Yeti Cup

First Tech Challenge logoThe SnowBots Middle School Robotics teams competed in Kingsford last weekend for the Yeti Cup U.P. FIRST Tech Challenge robotic qualifier competition. All three teams were in the finals and brought home awards from the competition. SnowBots teams are open to area sixth-eighth grade students, and meet at Houghton Middle School.

SnowBots teams are sponsored by: Michigan Department of Education, GS Engineering, Destination Unstoppable, Boundary Labs, ThermoAnalytics, IR Telemetrics, Michigan Tech Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Michigan Tech Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics Department, Monte Consulting, and Houghton Portage Township Schools. The Kingsford event was sponsored in part by Michigan Technological University College of Computing. The Copper Country was also well represented with 18 community volunteers supporting the event.

Read more at the Mining Gazette.

States bound: SnowBots qualify for state championship

The SnowBots Middle School Robotics teams reached a first-ever milestone at the Pellston regional FIRST Tech Challenge qualifier on Nov 23rd. All three teams, identified by the colors Blue, Red, and Silver, have now qualified to compete at the state championship Dec. 13-14 in Battle Creek. SnowBots Blue and Silver qualified on Nov. 9 and the Red team will be joining them after their great performance in Pellston.

Read more at the Mining Gazette.