Category: Features

Tess Ahlborn: Lift Bridge—a Michigan Landmark

Tess Ahlborn shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 27 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Prof. Tess Ahlborn: Structural durability and safety are her life’s work.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 9/27 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tess Ahlborn, Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering at Michigan Tech. The Portage Lake Bridge connecting Houghton and Hancock, Michigan, more commonly known as the Lift Bridge, was named as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in late 2019 following a State Historic Landmark designation in 2018. 

During Husky Bites we’ll hear about the wonders of the Lift Bridge from the very trio who submitted its 300-page application to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Prof. Ahlborn will be joined by two of her former students, Michael Prast ’19, now a timber structural engineer at Fire Tower Engineered Timber in Calumet, Michigan; and Emma Beachy ‘19, a design engineer at Corbin Consulting in Portland, Oregon. Both earned both their BS and MS degrees in civil engineering at Michigan Tech.

Emma Beachy wearing patterned knit capstands in front of a waterfall in the wood.
Emma Beachy ’19
Michael leans at a wooden deck looking out over a harbor on Lake Superior with sailboats
Michael Prast ’18

We’ll learn about crossings prior to the current Lift Bridge, the people involved in designing and building the Lift Bridge, and what makes the Lift Bridge so unique to the region and the nation to proudly earn the National Landmark designation. 

“Emma and Michael are two of Michigan Tech’s best students,” says Ahlborn. “I mentioned the topic of National Historic Landmarks during Bridge Design class, and let the class know I would be delighted if someone wanted to work on a nomination application for the Portage Lake Bridge. It didn’t take long for Emma and Michael to speak up, and the rest is history. I can’t thank them enough for taking on this project and seeing it through the application process!”

By the way, Prof. Ahlborn is a Michigan Tech alum, too. She earned her BS and MS at Michigan Tech, then went to University of Minnesota to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy in Civil Engineering in 1998. She’s been a member of the faculty at Michigan Tech for the past 26 years, teaching structural engineering courses focusing on concrete and the design of concrete buildings and bridges. 

She has a passion for bridges, something that began when she was quite small. “Growing up, I once told my mom I loved bridges. After that, she started taking me to look at a different bridge each week. Michigan has such beautiful bridges!” 

“Bridges are structural art! A piece of art fully exposed to the elements. They involve so many people every day.”

Prof. Tess Ahlborn

As the former Director of the Center for Structural Durability within the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, Ahlborn has worked with the MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and USDOT (US Department of Transportation) to seek solutions to improve the resiliency of our nation’s transportation infrastructure. 

In 2020, Ahlborn was appointed to the American Concrete Institute Committee 318, placing her in the small group of people who establish the ACI structural concrete building code used around the world, a “Supreme Court” of concrete, if you will.

Did you know? Prof. Ahlborn is a world expert in remote sensing applications for bridge condition assessment.

“It also means her peers consider her to be one of the most knowledgeable and trustworthy among them,” says Materials Science and Engineering Professor Larry Sutter, a concrete expert in his own right, as well as associate dean of research and external relations in the College of Engineering.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. As a member of the committee, Ahlborn helps to chart the future of structural concrete—its safety, sustainability, technological advances and environmental impacts.

“We think of concrete almost as rock, but a big part of it is the steel,” Ahlborn said. “It’s a frame of steel bars encased in concrete. People the world over need to know, ‘How do I design with it?’ and ‘How does it behave?’ The code is based on over 100 years of research.”

Ahlborn knows the code inside and out. As a civil engineering student at Michigan Tech, she learned ACI Code 318 from civil engineering professor Bogue Sandberg, now a professor emeritus. “Over the years I have taught at least 1,500 students in the classroom about the 318 code requirements,” she said. 

As for her secrets to good teaching, she insists there aren’t any. “All you have to do is be fair and consistent and crack a joke once in a while,” said Ahlborn. 

She invites alumni to speak to her classes, and she regularly brings in current news articles relating to the course, not to mention chunks of concrete with stories to tell. All together, “it helps the students understand why what they are learning is important.” 

Each of these chunks of concrete has a story to tell, says Professor Ahlborn.

Prof. Ahlborn, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

As a young kid, I was always fascinated by bridges.  It wasn’t until my high-school physics teacher asked me about my future plans. I was happy to report that I was applying to cosmetology schools, but I really liked bridges. After a few conversations, it was clear where I was heading: Civil Engineering. Soon enough, I jumped onto the structural engineering route and have loved working with bridges ever since!

Izzy and Charlie!

Hometown?

Growing up in an all-American family in Kawkawlin, Michigan, followed by the real growing up as a student at Michigan Tech, I had the opportunity to watch the Zilwaukee bridge construction and land a dream job in the Minneapolis area designing dams, hydropower facilities, and bridges. When the engineering market slowed down, I jumped at the chance to complete a PhD. My husband, Mark, and I were blessed with twins, Jess and Jake, and chose the Keweenaw as the best place to settle down. I’m happy to share that we are now the proud grandparents of Charlie and Rory!

What do you do for fun?

I truly enjoy the outdoors and living in the Keweenaw, a very special place. Izzy, our Great Pyrenees, brings joy to our lives everyday and I love gardening, especially when she’s not running through the garden!

Lift Bridge in Winter. Photo credit: Michael Prast

Michael, what first sparked your interest in engineering?

I’m originally from Holly, Michigan. I had a class in high school, Intro to Engineering, that went through some basics of the different engineering disciplines like electrical, computer modeling, and building. My favorite project was designing a balsa wood tower that was then compressed to failure. I really enjoyed it and my structure ended up being the most efficient in the class history comparing self weight to weight held. So I knew I wanted to do something with engineering and leaned towards buildings. I have been correct so far and love engineering a range of structures, mostly in heavy timber. 

How do you like to spend your spare time?

While my favorite is mountain biking, I love to hike, camp, hammock, kayak, and swim. I also have a passion for history. I’m part of the volunteer board for Painesdale Mine and Shaft and give tours of the Champion Mine shaft house, hoist house, and Captain’s office.

Emma, how did you decide upon engineering?

I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. For a long time I thought I wanted to be an architect, but then, during my senior year in high school, I took classes in Physics and Calculus. I absolutely loved them! After that, structural engineering felt like the perfect middle ground between architecture, and math and physics.

Tidepooling on the Oregon Coast. Photo credit: Emma Beachy

Hobbies?

My hobbies mostly revolve around the outdoors. Living in Oregon now, I’m lucky that I can drive a short ways and get to the Pacific coast (I love looking for tide pools) or to the mountains (I also love hiking and backpacking). At home, I really enjoy cooking. Lately I’ve been trying out some vegetarian recipes, trying out some new and interesting ingredients. 


John Gierke: Drilling Wells in the Keweenaw—Needles in a (Geologic) Haystack

Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled. Pictured above: Interpolated bedrock depth map. Warm colors indicate progressively deeper bedrock (red being the deepest). Credit: John Gierke, Michigan Tech

John Gierke shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, September 20 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Michigan Tech Professor John Gierke is also alumnus. He earned both a BS and MS in Civil Engineering, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering, all at Michigan Tech.

What are you doing for supper tonight, Monday 9/20 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and John Gierke, Professor of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Tech. “The water we drink comes from geologically unique places,” he says. As a hydrogeologist, Gierke uses his expertise in teaching and research, and in places around the globe, most recently, El Salvador. Also on his own blueberry farm located about 20 minutes from campus.

“I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health, says Michigan Tech Professor Eric Seagren. “The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering appealed to me, too.”

Joining in will be fellow colleague and friend, Eric Seagren, a professor of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering who specializes in finding new, sustainable ways to clean up environmental pollution, including contaminated groundwater.

As a hydrogeologist, Gierke studies the “spaces” in rocks and sedimentary deposits where water is present. Although groundwater is everywhere, Keweenaw geology makes accessing it truly challenging.

“Drilling productive wells in the Keweenaw is like finding needles in (geologic) haystack,” he says. “Groundwater supplies for many communities are in ancient bedrock valleys that were carved by glaciers and later backfilled with sands, gravels, and, sometimes, boulders left by the melting glaciers in their retreat. In the Midwest, groundwater exists almost everywhere, but in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, the close proximity of ancient bedrock makes drilling trickier.”

During Husky Bites, Prof. Gierke will show us the inside of some especially interesting aquifers and wells—how they are found and developed, and why some rock formations yield water, and others don’t yield very much.

“Community water wells in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula tap places ancient glaciers carved and filled.”

Prof. John Gierke

“Imagine a 400′ deep glacial tunnel scour back, filled with sands, gravels, silts and clays and capable of yielding 400-some gallons per minute,” says Gierke. “Wells located just outside that ‘trough’ are stuck in bedrock, only capable of giving up hardly 20 gpm, only enough for a single household.”

“The replenishment rate of groundwater in the Copper Country, like much of the northern Midwest, is sufficient that groundwater exists almost everywhere,” adds Gierke. “The challenge in terrains like the Keweenaw, where bedrock is often near the surface, is not whether groundwater exists at depth, but rather where the geology is sufficiently porous and/or fractured to allow water wells to produce at rates sufficient for communities.”

This photo from Prof. Seagren’s lab shows the release of a blue dye, simulating the release of an amendment from a well.

For Prof. Seagrean, at Michigan Tech his major research focus is the bioremediation of contaminated groundwater, especially contaminants like petroleum products and chlorinated solvents. He studies the release of remedial amendments, such as oxygen, added to stimulate the biodegradation of contaminants.

“An amendment is added to a well, and then just released into the natural flow of groundwater without pumping,” he explains. Much of this work involves the use of lab-scale model aquifers. Seagren believes it can be very effective, affordable, and safe way to solve the problem. According to the USGS, more than one in five (22 percent) groundwater samples contain at least one contaminant at a concentration of potential concern for human health.

Seagren also develops and tests low-impact, bio-geoengineering practices to stabilize mine tailings and mitigate toxic dust emissions. “These approaches mimic and maximize the benefits of natural processes, with less impact on the environment than conventional technologies,” he says. They may also be less expensive.” 

Seagren and his research team zeroed in on a natural process, microbially-induced calcium carbonate precipitation —an ubiquitous process that plays an important cementation role in natural systems, including soils, sediments, and minerals.

Prof. Gierke, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

“Here I am on Bering Glacier in 2007, unfurling a Michigan Tech flag (that’s one of the University’s former logos).” Dr. Gierke is standing next to Dr. Josh Richardson (left), now a Geophysicist at Chevron. Josh earned all his degrees at Michigan Tech: a BS in Geophysics ’07, an MS in Glacier Seismology and Geophysics ’10, and a PhD in Volcano and Glacier Seismology, Geophysics ’13

I began studying engineering at Lake Superior State College (then, now University) in the fall of 1980, in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. In those days their engineering program was called: General Engineering Transfer, which was structured well to transfer from the old “Soo Tech” to “Houghton Tech,” terms that some old timers still used back then, nostalgically. I transferred to Michigan Tech for the fall of 1982 to study civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering, which was aligned with my love of water (having grown up on the St. Mary’s River).

Despite my love of lakes, streams, and rivers, my technical interests evolved into an understanding of how groundwater moves in geological formations. I used my environmental engineering background to develop treatment systems to clean up polluted soils and aquifers. That became my area of research for the graduate degrees that followed, and the basis for my faculty position and career at Michigan Tech, in the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences (those sciences are Geology and Geophysics). My area of specialty now is Hydrogeology.

Prof. Gierke and his grandson went fishing together on the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste. Marie.

Hometown?

I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where I fished weekly, sometimes daily, on the St. Mary’s River. Sault Ste. Marie is bordered by the St. Mary’s River on the north and east. In the spring, summer and fall, I fished from shore or a canoe or small boat. In the winter, I speared fish from a shack just a few minutes from my home or traveled to fish through the ice in some of the bays. I was a fervent bird hunter (grouse and woodcock) in the lowlands of the Eastern UP, waterfowl in the abundant wetlands, and bear and deer (unsuccessfully until later in life). 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Prof. Gierke designed and built the solar-powered drip irrigation system at the Gierke Blueberry Farm in Chassell, Michigan.
“We had a bumper crop this year,” says Prof. Gierke. “Despite the heat and drought, the irrigation system worked!”

I live on a blueberry farm about 20 minutes from campus in Chassell, Michigan. It’s open to the public in August for U-Pick. For the farm, I used my technical expertise to design, install, and operate a drip irrigation system that draws water from the underlying Jacobsville Sandstone aquifer. 

How do you know your co-host? 

Eric Seagren and I have been disciplinary colleagues for over 2 decades. Our expertise overlaps in terms of how pollutants move through groundwater. 

“Me cooking while camping with my family on Isle Royale two summers ago,” says Prof. Seagren.

Prof. Seagren, how did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I was attracted to environmental engineering because of my interest in protecting human and environmental health. The use of a broad range of sciences within environmental engineering also appealed to me. Growing up we had a family friend who was a civil engineer, and my Dad had a cousin who was an electrical engineer. My Dad himself had wanted to be an engineer, but he had gone to a one-room country school and a small-town high school, and when he got to college they told him he did not have an adequate background in math and science to pursue engineering, something we would never tell a student today! 

“This microphoto is from my work on the biomodification of the engineering properties of soil. It shows a calcium carbonate crust formed via bacterial activities.” Prof. Seagren will explain more of what can be seen here during Husky Bites.

Anyway, that might have influenced me some, but more importantly was my interest in protecting the environment. I had always spent a lot of time outdoors, either at my grandparents’ farm, or hunting and fishing with my Dad and friends and camping in Scouts. I took an environmental studies class in high school and that’s where I first learned about environmental engineering.

Hometown, family?

 I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Currently I live in Hancock, with my family, which includes my wife Jennifer Becker, who is also a faculty member at Michigan Tech, and my two teenage children, Ingrid and Birk. We have a cat named Rudy.

Any mentors in your life who made a difference?

Back when I was in college, most people got an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and then pursued a graduate degree in environmental engineering, and that is the path I took. While I was doing my undergraduate work at the University of Nebraska there was a young professor named Dr. Mohamed Dahab who really influenced me and took an interest in me and my career path to this day. He was a great mentor and example for me, and that’s contributed to how I try to mentor students, too.

Dr. Seagren’s ’53 Chevy.

Any hobbies? 

In my spare time I like to garden, do home repairs, hike, fish, boat, run, and Nordic ski. I’m also fixing up a ‘53 Chevy pick-up from my grandpa’s farm. We used to use the truck to haul grain from the farm to the elevator in town. It’s a nice shade of blue. Next summer we hope to fill the back with blueberries from John’s farm and enter it into a local parade.

Read more:

How the Rocks Connect Us

Keweenaw Geoheritage: Glaciers

Field Trip to Alaska (Bering Glacier)


Auris Wins! Michigan Tech is Launching Into Space—with Ears

The team’s spacecraft, Auris, is a small satellite, a 12U cubesat. Its size in centimeters is just 20 x 20 x 30; its mass is 20 kg (about 44 pounds). Image credit: Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise

With Auris, the student-run Aerospace Enterprise at Michigan Tech has done it again.

Earlier this month, 10 Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise team members, all undergraduates, traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico August 13-15 for the culminating event of the University Nanosatellite Program, a three-year design competition funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory – AFRL.

The Michigan Tech team won, along with teams from the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M. The three will now move to Phase B of the program, where they have AFRL funding for a multi-year development program to bring the spacecraft to flight maturity—and a guaranteed launch opportunity from the US Department of Defense. No launch date is set yet, but could happen as soon as 2024.

With Auris, the student-run Aerospace Enterprise at Michigan Technological University will have three working satellites. One of the team’s satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2023. Now, Auris will be the third to launch.

“It’s hard to say, but a conservative estimate is that at least 250 students have worked on the Auris mission since its inception, says Michigan Tech electrical and computer engineering student Matthew Sietsema, the team’s chief engineer and student lead.

These undergraduate students in Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise traveled to New Mexico for the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program Flight Selection Review. Back Row (Left to Right): Jonathan Joseph, Thomas Ziegler, Nolan Pickett, Matthew Carey, Kyle Bruursema. Front Row (Left to Right): Emi Colman, Samantha Zerbel, Zoe Knoper, Rachel Mellin, Matthew Sietsema

Lyon (Brad) King is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech. As the founder and faculty advisor of the University’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft. 

Professor Lyon Brad King

“Michigan Tech’s winning spacecraft is called Auris, which is Latin for ‘the ear,’ King explains. “Auris will fly in low-Earth orbit and will point its antenna ‘up’ to higher geostationary Earth orbit.” (Geostationary satellites are located 22,237 miles above the earth’s surface.)

“The spacecraft will listen to the signals broadcast from communications satellites as it flies through their transmission beams, and be able to map the spatial extent and shape of the transmission beams,” adds King. “Auris will also determine the location of the transmitting satellite.”

Auris signal trace. Image credit: Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise

This is the second time the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise student team has won the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program competition. The first time, in 2011, Michigan Tech was the sole winner with Oculus-ASR, which was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Space-X Falcon Heavy in June 2019. Oculus-ASR now serves as an imaging calibration target for ground-based observatories tasked with characterizing spacecraft. 

In 2020 NASA slated Michigan Tech’’s second student-built satellite, Stratus, for a deployment from the International Space Station (ISS). That launch is expected in 2023. Stratus is a pathfinder mission funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. The Stratus vehicle is a three-axis-stabilized thermal infrared telescope that will be used to image atmospheric clouds.

“I am so incredibly proud of our Aerospace Enterprise team.” 

Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering

At the University Satellite Program’s recent Flight Selection Review event in Albuquerque, a total of ten university student teams competed for the chance to advance their satellite design project to the next phase and launch: Missouri S&T, Minnesota, SUNY Buffalo, Texas A&M, Saint Louis, Western Michigan, Alaska Fairbanks, Michigan Tech, Auburn, and UT Austin.

Judges from Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), United States Space Force (USSF), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Space Dynamics Lab, Missile Defense Agency, and NASA were present to evaluate the missions.

The MTU students staffed a booth, briefed their mission to the judges and other schools, and performed technical demonstrations for the judges.

“Michigan Tech will soon have no less than 3 student-designed and built satellites in outer space—it’s amazing.”

Bill Predebon, Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise Program, with more than 25 teams working on projects and products with researchers and companies, provided the overarching framework for the Aerospace Enterprise. 

Like all Enterprise teams at Michigan Tech, Aerospace Enterprise is open to students in any major. “It’s important for students to learn how to work in an interdisciplinary group,” says King. “In the workplace, they will never be on a team where every member has the same expertise. To design, build, manage and operate a satellite requires mechanical, electrical, computer science, physics, materials, everything— it really crosses a lot of boundaries and prepares them for a career.”

Last, but not least: “Aerospace Enterprise has a leadership and management hierarchy that is self-sustaining,” says King. “Current leaders are constantly working to mentor their successors so we have continuity from year-to-year.”

Matthew Sietsema ’22

Q&A with Matthew Sietsema, Chief Engineer and Student Lead, Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise Team

Matthew Sietsema is an aspiring Space Systems Engineer working toward a Michigan Tech double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. He’ll be graduating next December 2022. As Chief Engineer of the Aerospace Enterprise team’s two spacecraft programs, Auris and Stratus, Sietsema serves as the technical lead of 100+ undergraduate students. He’s head of all assembly, integration, and testing activities, requirements management and verification for the two satellites. “The dual purpose of the Auris mission,” he explains, “is both Space Domain Awareness (SDA), and Space Visualization.”

Q: How does it feel for Auris to win the AFRL University Nanosatellite Program along with the University of Minnesota and Texas A&M?

A: It feels incredibly gratifying and I’m extremely proud of our team and our mission! Auris has been in the works for more than five years at this point, and to be able to finally close the loop and push forward to the next phase is an electrifying prospect. My congratulations also go out to both UMinn and Texas A&M—the motivations behind each of our missions are very similar, so it’s validating to see the fundamental concepts of our mission being lauded all around.

Q: It sounds like Phase B is about building the actual Auris satellite. What all goes into that?

A: In part, yes. Phase A was about designing and building the prototype version of the spacecraft, known as the Engineering Model (EM). One of the primary focuses of Phase B, among many other things, is to construct the final spacecraft meant to go to space⁠—the Flight Model (FM). We must first finish our build-up of the prototype, taking care to ensure that all of the individual components are working together properly and that the design itself is sound. From there, we move into building the FM spacecraft. This involves four distinct phases of build-up, or ‘integration stages’. The first is Component-Level Testing, where we ensure that each of the individual parts and circuit boards function as intended. Second is Subsystem-Level Testing, where we group components with similar jobs together and ensure that they can communicate with each other and correctly interoperate. Next is System-Level Testing, where we combine each of the discrete subsystems and make sure that the entire spacecraft works as designed. Last is Behavioral Testing, where we do an end-to-end verification of the function of the spacecraft and essentially ‘pretend’ to operate it like we would in space. The idea is to simulate and/or test everything that the spacecraft can possibly do, to make sure there are no unintended behaviors or nasty surprises once it gets on orbit.”

Q: Is it challenging for the team to manage several ongoing satellite missions?

A: At the moment, we only directly manage two missions: Auris and Stratus. Stratus is still under development, for another two years. Management of the Oculus mission was handed off to the Air Force when we delivered the satellite. But yes, the sentiment remains: it is incredibly challenging to manage a single spaceflight mission, let alone two at the same time. We have a strong core of leaders in our team, and do our best to foster an environment of learning and self-motivation. Our group is structured very closely to actual aerospace companies, so we rely on the tools of the industry and the experience of our members to catalyze progress and keep both missions on track.

Read More

Brad King: Space, Satellites, and Students

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student-built Satellite, Set to Launch

Michigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit


Autonomy at the End of the Earth

Michigan Tech’s student team, Prometheus Borealis, designs, builds, and tests a fully autonomous vehicle, “Borealis Prime” for the SAE Autodrive Challenge.

Jeremy Bos and Darrell Robinette, mentors and advisors of Michigan Tech’s SAE Autodrive Challenge (and both Michigan Tech alums) share their knowledge on Husky Bites Live, on campus in the Rozsa Center at Alumni Reunion 2021. The session takes place Friday, August 6 at 1:30 pm ET. Everyone in attendance will learn something new, with time after for Q&A. 

Can’t make it in person? Join us remotely. We’ll share a link to join the Zoom webinar on the Alumni Reunion website as the event draws near. Afterwards (weather permitting) you’re invited to join us out on the Walker Lawn. Meet the students of Prometheus Borealis and Robotics Systems Enterprise, get a close look at their autonomous vehicles—and be sure to bring your questions.

It’s a wild ride.

Starting with a Chevy Bolt, Michigan Tech students outfit it with sensors, control systems and computer processors to successfully navigate an urban driving course in automated driving mode. And, test it in blizzard conditions!

It’s also an ambitious project with an equally ambitious goal: Three years of the competition, with increasing levels of autonomy and more difficult challenges in each successive year. 

Michigan Tech’s team is Prometheus Borealis, after Prometheus, the Greek deity responsible for bringing technology to people, and Boreas, the purple-winged god of the north wind.The SAE Autodrive Challenge competition is jointly sponsored by General Motors (GM) and the Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE).

Credit: Photographer Tim Cocciolone and fellow prankster John Marchesi (both Michigan Tech alums).

“The competition focuses on the electrical engineering, computer engineering, robotics engineering, and computer science skills needed to implement the sensors, signal processing and artificial intelligence needed to make the car drive itself,” says team co-advisor, ECE Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos. “Mechanical engineers and a wide range of other disciplines are represented on the teams, as well.”

ME-EM Assistant Professor Darrell Robinette is the team’s other co-advisor. Robinette worked as an engineer at GM for 9 years before joining Michigan Tech in 2014, with roles in transmission, NVH, electrification and calibration engineering groups. He is a longtime First Robotics Competition mentor, too.

Bos earned his BS at Michigan Tech in 2000, and returned to earn his PhD in 2012, both in Electrical Engineering. Robinette earned a BS in 2004 and a PhD in 2007, both in Mechanical Engineering.

A section of the mapping of Michigan Tech’s campus as seen from the road by Borealis Prime’s Velodyne LiDAR VLP-16 using Intel Internet of Things HW. Mapping done with Iterative Closest Point (ICP).

Student-driven Autonomy

On the student side, the AutoDrive Challenge project is spearheaded by Robotic Systems Enterprise (RSE), also advised by Bos and Robinette. RSE is part of Michigan Tech’s award-winning Enterprise program. “It’s one of the best places on campus to learn robotics,” says Bos. The team’s many projects come in many shapes and sizes, from designing a vision system for work with a robotic arm, to an automatic power management system for weather buoys. Clients include Ford Motor Company and Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center.

Jonathon Beute ’21 served as project lead for the VISSION subteam focused on Borealis Prime as part of the Robotic Systems Enterprise. He graduated in June and now works as an electrical engineer at Williams International in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

SAE Autodrive Challenge Final Results

The four-year challenge wrapped up on June 14 with Michigan Tech’s Prometheus Borealis team earning 3rd place overall, bringing home the second most trophies. Teams from University of Toronto and University of Waterloo earned first and second overall. Read the full results on the SAE Autodrive Challenge website.

Teams from eight North American universities competed:  Michigan Technological University, Michigan State University, Kettering University, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina A&T State University

“We’re going to need a bigger trophy case.”

Dr. Jeremy Bos, Michigan Tech co-advisor, Prometheus Borealis

Next Up: Autodrive Challenge II

Also in June, SAE International and General Motors (GM) announced 10 collegiate teams selected to compete in AutoDrive Challenge II. Michigan Tech was on the list. 

The start of Michigan Tech’s dynamic run at M-City for the 99% Buy Off Ride, part of the SAE International Autodrive Challenge. The team placed third in this event and third overall. See the full results here.

The competition continues the strong collaboration between GM and SAE in STEM education and will build on the groundbreaking success of the first iteration of AutoDrive Challenge. Teams will develop and demonstrate an autonomous vehicle (AV) that can navigate urban driving courses as described by SAE J3016™ Standard Level 4 automation.

The following 10 university teams will participate in AutoDrive Challenge II:

Kettering University, Michigan Technological University, North Carolina A&T State University, The Ohio State University, Penn State University, Texas A&M University

University of Toronto, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Queens University and Virginia Tech.

“At General Motors, we envision a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion, and we have committed ourselves to leading the way toward this future,” said Dan Nicholson, GM vice president, global electrification, controls, software and electronics and executive sponsor of the competition. 

“The AutoDrive Challenge is a great way to give students the hands-on experience they need to find success,” he adds. “We are very excited to work with these talented students over the course of the competition and know they will make an immediate impact on the automotive industry upon graduation.”

“Michigan Tech’s SAE AutoDrive Challenge team has proven our students innovate to succeed.”

– Dr. Janet Callahan, Dean, College of Engineering

Dr. Robinette, how did you first get started in engineering? What sparked your interest? 

Sage advice from ME-EM Assistant Professor Darrell Robinette: “Be a doer and a thinker at the same time.”

When I was 5, my dad took me for a tour at his place of work, Detroit Edison’s Belle River Powerplant. It was awe inspiring seeing all the equipment and getting an explanation of how it worked and what it did. Pretty amazing that they hang the boilers from the ceiling, eh? Everything at the plant was just so cool, especially the controls and control room. 

My dad introduced me to all the engineers he worked with, and all of them were MTU grads. They played a part in encouraging me where to go for engineering, even though I was only 5 years old. My dad gave me a Babcock & Wilcox Steam book after the visit. Even though I didn’t understand all the engineering in it at the time, pictures of the power plant equipment, construction, assemblies all caught my interest. 

Also, like most engineers, l played with Legos during childhood. Lots and lots of Legos to build whatever my imagination could create.

Family, home, hobbies?

I go mountain biking whenever I can, also wake surfing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing. My wife, Tara, is an MTU alumna (Pre-Med/Biology ‘07). She is one of the Emergency Room physicians at Portage Health Hospital. We have two daughters: Adelyn, 3, and Amelia, one. I like building, tinkering and fixing (typical mechanical engineer stuff), and trying to be a super dad for my girls.

Dr. Bos, how about you? When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

ECE Assistant Professor Jeremy Bos likes to ask new students: “What are your affinities? Knowing those, I can help point you in the right direction.”

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems.

I really liked these new things called ‘personal computers’ and spent quite a bit of time programming them. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math).

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I live in Houghton with my wife and fellow alumna, Jessica (STC ’00). We have a boisterous dog, Rigel, named after a star in the constellation Orion, who bikes or skis with me on the Tech trails nearly every day. When I have time I also like to kayak, and stargaze.

Learn More About Husky Bites


Everyone’s welcome at Dean Janet Callahan’s free interactive Zoom webinar, Husky Bites. Get the full scoop at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Launched by Dean Janet Callahan in 2020 near the start of the pandemic, Husky Bites is an interactive Zoom webinar that takes place each fall and spring.


“Feel free to invite a friend,” says Dean Janet Callahan about her Zoom webinar series, Husky Bites. “Everyone is welcome. It’s free, and it’s edifying.”

During the semester, every Monday at 6, rach “bite” is a suppertime mini-lecture, presented by a different Michigan Tech faculty member, who weaves in a bit of their own personal journey, and brings a co-host, as well—an alum or a current student who knows a thing or two about the topic at hand.

The Husky Bites weekly Zoom webinar series resumes starting Monday, Sept. 13.

“We’ve had attendees from nine countries, and a great mix of students, alumni, our Michigan Tech community and friends,” says Dean Callahan, who mails out prizes for (near) perfect attendance.

Get the full scoop at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Read more:

What’s Next After First

I Saw the Sign (End of the Earth)


Michigan Tech Students Form New Chapter of SASE

Civil engineering student Isaac Fong is the founding president of Michigan Tech SASE.

When Isaac Fong arrived at Michigan Tech as a student in 2019, he took note of the professional societies on campus with cultural identities: The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE); Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE); Society of Women Engineers (SWE); and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

None existed, yet, for students of Asian heritage. But that was about to change.

“Some friends at other schools encouraged me to start a Michigan Tech chapter of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE). I started asking around my circles to find people who might want to join an interest group for SASE. I found a staff member who was willing to advise the chapter, and then a faculty member,” Fong says. “From there on, we found enough members, and SASE just took off.”

SASE was officially approved through Michigan Tech’s office of Student Leadership and Involvement in March, 2021.

Founded in 2007, SASE is the national go-to organization for talent and leadership development in science, engineering and technology. It’s also a community where students representing all of the pan Asian cultures connect and support each other.

“Any student at Michigan Tech is welcome to join SASE,” Fong says. “Faculty members can be honorary, non-voting members of SASE, too.”

Fiona Chow, a third year student in the College of Business, is a founding member of SASE.

“Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by many other Asian individuals, other than family. So the opportunity to be a part of a supportive, relatable community is really appealing to me. In SASE we will help each other advance, both professionally and personally,” adds Chow.

“Isaac reached out, asking if I would be interested in joining and helping get SASE on its feet,” says Michigan Tech student Fiona Chow.

She looks forward to possibly attending the SASE national convention and regional conferences in the future. “These events will not only be a great networking opportunity but also a huge learning opportunity.”

“Our first meeting at Michigan Tech was a Zoom meeting with a handful of people,’ she adds. “The engagement and the excitement to be in one space, and to be starting something new, was so exciting and fantastic. I left the meeting filled with anticipation, for getting to know these people more, developing career skills with them, and seeing how the club will grow.”

Liz Fujita, academic advisor and outreach specialist in Michigan Tech’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, serves as co-advisor of SASE. She’s also a Michigan Tech alumna. “I was so excited to hear about the formation of this group,” she says. “It’s one that I wish had been here when I was in college.” Fujita earned two bachelor degrees at Michigan Tech in 2012, Mathematical Science and Social Sciences.

“SASE is open to all students who are interested in the success of professional networking, development, and community among Asian and Asian American students,” says chapter co-advisor Liz Fujita.

SASE’s goal this fall is to have at least one event per month, adds Fujita. “We’ll host guest speakers, internal resume workshops, and social events, including events in partnership with other affinity-based organizations on campus.”

In the meantime, SASE members formed a summer book club, reading two books: Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong and Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu.

“When I was a student in college, I enjoyed being in various student organizations,” says Distinguished Professor Zhanping You, Michigan Tech SASE co-advisor. “As a faculty member, it has been my great interest to support them.”

Zhanping You, a Distinguished Professor of Transportation Engineering in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geospatial Engineering, serves as the other Michigan Tech SASE co-advisor. “After years of service in various professional groups at Michigan Tech, I believe an organization of Asian students involved in science and engineering is really needed,” he says. “I am very happy to help the start of this new chapter of SASE.”

Dean of the College of Engineering, Janet Callahan, affirms her support of Dr. Zhanping You, Liz Fujita, and SASE. “This will provide a way for our students to connect, and build—and keep building upon these connections,” she says, adding: “And, I am reading Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu, this summer, in support of SASE and their summer reading project!”

Within the Michigan Tech new chapter of SASE, an Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) relations committee will work to amplify APIDA voices on campus and educate others through planned events. For students and working professionals alike, Fong says he hopes SASE activities and efforts will help educate and support students.

“We were all first supported and educated by others,” Fong says. “Now, through SASE, we have the chance to give back.”

Want to learn more about SASE? Contact Michigan Tech SASE co-advisor Liz Fujita.

ISAAC FONG

President, Michigan Tech SASE
Major: Civil Engineering
Hometown: Canton, Michigan (Metro Detroit)
Campus Involvement: Husky Swim Club, ASCE, Success Center ExSEL Peer Mentor, RA
Summer 2021: LEAPS Project Engineer Intern at Barton Malow
How did you first get interested in STEM?
“I grew up playing with Lego sets. I was obsessed with airports and subway systems from a young age. I didn’t really consider a career in STEM until late in high school, when I learned how I could incorporate buildings and infrastructure into my career. Classes in physics, calculus, and humanities all helped pique my interest in civil engineering.”

FIONA CHOW

Founding Member, Michigan Tech SASE
Major: Management Information Systems
Campus Involvement: SENSE Enterprise (“Cool people. Cool projects. Cool advisors,” notes Chow.)
Hometown: Eagan, Minnesota (Twin Cities area)
Summer 2021: Data Engineer Intern at Polaris Inc.
How did you first get interested in STEM?
“It all began in third grade when I switched to a STEM elementary school with opportunities to explore various areas, from engineering to computer science. I started college majoring in Software Engineering and just recently switched to Management Information Systems. It’s a better fit and combination of things I am passionate about—combining people and technology.”


Michigan Tech Students Win 2021 NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge

This award-winning fluid-powered bike was designed, built and tested by a Michigan Tech student team in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology (MMET).

Earlier this month a team of students from Michigan Technological University was declared the Overall Champions of the 2021 National Fluid Fluid Power Association Vehicle Challenge, a national competition.

The contest, dubbed “Hydraulics Meets the Bicycle,” combines human-powered vehicles along with fluid power and consists of three races—sprint, endurance, and efficiency.

The Challenge is hosted each year by Norgren, a respected world leader in motion control and fluid technology based in Littleton, Colorado. This year the competition was expanded into two separate virtual competitions hosted by Norgren plus a second company, Danfoss Power Solutions, in order to reach a wide range of students and industry members all over the country. 

The winning team! Left to right, Andrew Ward, Jake Lehmann, John Kurburski, and Alexander Provoast

John Kurburski, Andrew Ward, Alexander Provoast, and Jake Lehmann made up the winning team. All are students in Michigan Tech’s Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology. The fluid-powered bike project also served as their senior design project, required for graduation.

MMET Senior Lecturer David Wanless advised the team, and MMET Lecturer Kevin Johnson contributed to their understanding of pneumatic and hydraulic circuits in his fluid power class. 

Competing with twenty-two schools from all over the country, the Michigan Tech team placed first in efficiency, second in endurance, and third in the sprint race. After race results, two design reviews, conference participation and a final presentation the Michigan Tech team was awarded Overall Champion of the Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge for 2021.

close-up of the bike mechanism

They powered their bike using a hydraulic circuit—transferring pedal power through a hydraulic pump and motor to drive the rear wheel. “The circuit can also be powered with stored energy in an accumulator, which can be recharged mid-race through regenerative braking,” Wanless explained.

“A pneumatic circuit is also used to actuate the controls of the hydraulic circuit through the use of two switches,” added Alexander Provoast, MMET team member.

The competition was helpful to the students in several different ways, said MMET senior John Kurbuski. “The best part of competing was being introduced to members of the industry and the learning that came with it. I definitely gained a lot of knowledge relevant to my career.”

Due to Covid, NFPA organizers decided it would be best if each university created their own bike course according to the guidelines and rules. The Michigan Tech team first built their bike in the MMET Machine Shop on campus while following MTU Covid guidelines. To compete, teams then recorded their results and submitted them to NFPA. Reviews and mentor interactions were done via Zoom.

According to Kurbuski, the greatest challenge was figuring out how to create a fluid powered bike in such a short amount of time.

“There was a huge learning curve for our team. We had little knowledge about fluid power prior to the competition.”

MMET senior John Kurbuski

Most members of the team will be graduating soon, either this spring or summer. Kurbuski will graduate in April. His job hunt is now underway, with “NPFA Fluid Vehicle Challenge Grand Champion” as a great new addition to his resume. 

“I look forward to finding a career in the manufacturing industry,” adds Kurbuski.

Be sure to check out the team’s final presentation here


Jared Wolfe: “Molti-Colored” Migratory Birds

Jared Wolfe shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, April 19 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites

Dr. Jared Wolfe

What are you doing for supper this Monday 4/19 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Jared Wolfe, Wildlife Biologist and Assistant Professor in the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech. Joining in will be Wolfe’s longtime colleague and friend, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana. 

Dr. Erik Johnson

During Husky Bites, get ready for a wide-ranging, free-wheeling conversation about wild bird research, education and conservation. Be sure to bring your questions for these two world experts. 

“Here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there is an incredible diversity of birds that show up to breed in the summer, but many of these birds are decreasing in abundance—they are diminishing,” says Wolfe. “We’ve lost 2.5 billion birds in North America over the past 30 years,” he adds. “Why?” 

For Wolfe and Johnson, much of their life and work has become dedicated to finding both why, and how. The two began collaborating at Louisiana State University, where they both earned their PhDs. Among their many joint projects is a book, Molt in Neotropical Birds; Life History and Aging Criteria. The volume, published in collaboration with the American Ornithological Society, describes molt strategies for nearly 190 species based on information gathered from a 30-year study of Central Amazonian birds.

Wolfe has spent 15-plus years working with tropical birds in Africa, Central and South America where he studies effects of climate and habitat change on sensitive bird species and wildlife communities. In North America, he works with managers to integrate wildlife management and conservation into sustainable forest stewardship.

Molt in Neotropical Birds, by Erik Johnson and Jared Wolfe, CRC Press, 2017, 412 pp.

Wolfe joined Michigan Tech in 2018, Determining how birds adapt lifecycle events to climate change and subsequent shifts in food resources is a central facet of his research. He uses monitoring data from California, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Brazil to measure changes in breeding and molting phenology, and survival relative to climate. He also studies bird communities within human dominated landscapes and adjacent habitat patches. 

Bird migration is an important focus in the Wolfe Lab at Michigan Tech. “Seasonal movements of birds have captured the imagination of naturalists for millennia,” he says. “The advent of diminutive tracking devices ushered in an era of discovery, where connectivity between breeding and wintering grounds are continually being revealed.” 

Wolfe and Johnson both employ geolocators and other technologies to study migration to better understand the movements of temperate birds. Photo credit: Erik Johnson

​Johnson has over 15 years of applied ornithological research experience in five countries. He completed his dissertation work studying the effects of forest fragmentation on avian communities at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP) in coordination with the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA). His primary focus now at Audubon Louisiana involves avian conservation challenges along the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Prof. Wolfe, how did you first get into Wildlife Biology? What sparked your interest?

Jared Wolfe and his crew from Central Africa. Wolfe co-founded the Biodiversity Initiative in 2013. It seeks protect all wildlife–including forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and hundreds of bird species – and conserve the rainforest across central Africa.

Growing up in downtown Sacramento, there wasn’t much opportunity to recreate in nature or see wildlife outside the city. There was a strip of riparian forest bordering the American River which served as a refuge from the city. Just a short bike ride from my house I would see coyotes, migratory birds, waterfowl, and beavers all seeking refuge, like me, from the city. These formative experiences helped develop a passion for wild places and wild things which led to a lifelong fascination with plants and animals. Luckily, I learned about the profession of wildlife ecology when I was 18, and never turned back!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to go fishing, birding, hiking, camping, hunting, anything that gets me away from social media and my computer!

Wolfe founded a banding station at Michigan Tech’s Ford Center and Forest in Alberta, Michigan. “High capture rates and diversity make this a wonderful location to study bird populations,” says Wolfe.

Could you tell us a little about your family?

Sure, I am from Sacramento, California. My wife, Dr. Kristin Brzeski is a conservation geneticist who is also a professor at CFRES. We have one son, a covid baby, 7 month old Lawrence. We went into the pandemic barely pregnant, and to the surprise of our colleagues, are emerging with an infant! 

Prof. Johnson, how did you first get into Wildlife Biology? What sparked your interest?

Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

I suppose I’ve always been into birds. My parents tell stories of me when I was little, being more interested in the pigeons than the lions, elephants, and zebras when we visited zoos. I started really picking up binoculars when I was about 10 and starting keeping bird lists when I was 11. My mom and aunt are casual bird watchers, and my whole family was an outdoorsy sort of family, so they embraced my interest from the beginning. From there I became focused on wildlife biology, ecology, and conservation more broadly.

What do you like to do for fun?

I really love to do anything outdoors—travel, hike, bike, garden. And of course, bird watching. Lately, I’ve been interested in photographing insects, with a particular interest in leafhoppers, planthoppers, and treehoppers. I dabble in guitar and violin, and used to really be into snowboarding, which is much harder to do in Louisiana!

Family and growing up?

On this Downy Woodpecker, can you spot it? Differences in coloration provide valuable information about a bird’s age. Find out how on Husky Bites this Monday 4/12 at 6 pm ET. Photo credit: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana.

I live in Sunset, Louisiana, but grew up in Pittsburgh and was born in Boston. I have family all over the eastern US—my parents are still in Pittsburgh, my younger brother is in New Hampshire, and I have aunts, uncles and cousins in Ohio, North Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts, and more distant connections to Germany, where my mom was born. My wife, Ceci, is from Metairie, Louisiana (just outside of New Orleans), and we’ve been married 15 crazy years.

Read more

Fine Feathers: Migration and Molt Affect How Birds Change Their Colors

Watch

Where Research Goes Outdoors


Kit Cischke: Students Boldly DOING Where No One Has Done Before

Kit Cischke and three graduating seniors from Michigan Tech’s Wireless Communications Enterprise team share their knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, April 12 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday 4/12 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Kit Cischke, senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at  Michigan Technological University. He’s also longtime advisor to Wireless Communications Enterprise (WCE), part of the University’s award-winning Enterprise Program.

“I can’t lie,” says Kit Cischke. “Part of the reason I got excited about Enterprise way back in 1999 (as a student) was because the name of the program was the same as my favorite fictional ship.”

Joining in will be Abby Nelson, Ken Shiver, and Michael Patrick:  all three are ECE students and senior members of WCE. During Husky Bites, they’ll walk us through their projects and share what it’s like for college students to serve industry clients—and think, work and operate like a company.

Part of the university’s award-winning Enterprise Program, WCE is focused on technology—wireless, optical, renewable energy and biomedical. The student-run enterprise works as a think-tank for companies looking to push their product lines to a higher level. And WCE members also work as entrepreneurs, taking their own ideas to a level where they can be useful for industry and consumers alike. 

A student sits in the lab, soldering another LED onto the printed circuit board she designed herself and fabricated on equipment sitting not two feet away. A group puts the finishing touches on a setup for an experiment to detect water leaks in washing machines. Two students are at a computer, debugging code. A 3D printer hums away as yet another prototype is fabricated. Amid all this are students just sitting on the couch, discussing events of the day. It’s 10:00 PM on a Tuesday in the middle of the semester. Nobody has made these students come; they are here by their own volition. This is the Wireless Communications Enterprise.

“There’s no shortage of interesting and meaningful projects,” says Cischke. “Just a sampling: Android tablet programming with machine learning algorithms; machine vision algorithms; estimating the power contribution of anaerobic digester systems; and establishing a Bluetooth connection to a smart power tool. Some are explicitly wireless, others are not. Regardless, student leadership abounds.”

As an ECE instructor and WCE advisor, Cischke has the fantastic ability to make complex topics easy to understand. He does this through analogies, humor, and being open and approachable to students. He strives to be a “complete human being” with his students, sharing stories about his family and life.

During Husky Bites, Nelson, Shiver and Patrick, along with Cischke (WCE faculty advisor) will walk us through their projects and share what it’s like for college students to serve industry clients—and think, work and operate like a company. 


“This is a Differential Amplifier Circuit used to sense the voltages of 4 cells in a battery pack,” says WCE team member Abby Nelson. “Version 5. It will be connected to an arduino so that we can remotely find out the charge of those cells in the battery.”

Cischke first came to Michigan Tech as a student in 1997. During his studies, he worked as an intern for IBM, verifying hard drive controllers in VHDL, and helped found one of the original Enterprise teams—the Wireless Communications Enterprise. He graduated in 2001 with a BS in Electrical Engineering, went to work for Unisys for about four and a half years and completed a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.

“When I gathered in a classroom in 1999 with 40 fellow students to found a new Enterprise team, WCE, we couldn’t have imagined how it is today,” he recalls. “We had no space to call our own. We had no equipment. We had no clear projects. Over time, we found our footing and established our course,” says Cishke.

“I graduated into the ‘real world’ and found that the structure we were striving toward in WCE was the very structure found in industry,” he adds. “It was a considerable shock when I returned to Michigan Tech in order to teach—and found WCE had become an engineering company, composed entirely of students, only five years later.”

I watch the final presentation of a student who has been in WCE for four semesters and heading off to the “real world” now. There is no comparison to the student he was before WCE. He is older, wiser and more experienced. He has worked in a team and led a team himself. He is ready to make his mark on the world. This is the Wireless Communications Enterprise.

“When I was first asked to advise WCE students, I was intimidated,” Cishke admits.”The previous advisor had nursed the group through the formative years and had them operating at a state I couldn’t imagine sustaining. My fears were unjustified.

“It takes active effort on the part of an advisor to upset the momentum the students have. Student leadership abounds. Turns out it’s not intimidating to be their advisor—it’s a pleasure.”

Kit Cischke

How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Actually, it was Star Trek. Some friends got me watching it in high school and my hero was Geordi LaForge (the chief engineer on the Enterprise). I don’t know that I expected “real” engineering to be like a day in deep space, but I loved the technology and problem solving. I first came to Michigan Tech as a budding chemical engineer, but realized that I liked playing with computers more than chemistry and switched into electrical and computer engineering. It’s a field that I enjoy and is constantly changing. 

The Star Trek character Geordi LaForge, portrayed by LeVar Burton.

What was the best part of taking part in WCE?

The best part is working with the students and watching them do cool things. When I started as a student, there was a sense that we didn’t know exactly what we were doing. What was our purpose? What was our value-add to the department and university? Now, the program and the students practically sell themselves. They accomplish so much and are so driven to do it. I have the “grade stick” to hold over them, but most of the students are internally motivated. 

Any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?

Yes! I love bikes and the riding of bikes! I ride on mountain bike trails, paved roads, and gravel roads. I commute to the campus year-round on my bike—it’s far more possible than most people think. I’m a USA Cycling official too. When I’m not on a bike, I referee hockey, run, and I’m also learning how to do cross-country skate skiing and play guitar at my church.

Meet These Three Wireless Communications Enterprise Members at Husky Bites

Abby Nelson had two internships at John Deere, and accepted a job upon graduation. She’ll be taking part in the company’s development program for new engineers, with three 8-month rotations, all in different jobs and locations.

Abby Nelson ’21, Computer Engineering

Growing up I was always interested in how things worked. I caught onto computers pretty quickly. When I had to choose a college major, I chose computer engineering off the cuff. It turned out to be the right choice.

As soon as I walked on campus at Michigan Tech and saw the buildings and the people, I immediately knew that this was where I was going to go. In WCE, I’ve worked hands-on so much more than I would have in the classes I’ve taken in my major alone. I’ve met business connections and learned from other people, as well. WCE projects are student led (faculty advised), so there is a lot of problem solving involved in completing projects.

In my spare time, I enjoy biking, kayaking, and hiking around the UP. There are so many outdoor adventure opportunities, I wouldn’t trade this place for anywhere else. I will be graduating April 30th, 2021, and I am literally counting the days! Then I’ll move to Moline, Illinois to work at John Deere starting in May.

Kenny Shivers takes a break during a hike near Hungarian Falls.

Kenny Shivers ’21, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (Double Major)

During high school I took part in FIRST robotics. For those who aren’t familiar, every year a new game and game rules are released on the first Saturday of the year. Teams have six weeks during the “build season” to prototype, design, and build 120-pound competition robots to play against each other in 3v3 teams. After that come district, regional, state, and world championship competitions. All that fast-paced environment and creative problem solving got me interested in engineering. I ended up here at Michigan Tech as a result.

The best part about WCE are the people. This may sound a bit odd, since senior design or Enterprise are required to graduate. In WCE, those of us working on similar projects group together, which forms a sense of camaraderie. We’re all at Michigan Tech together and mostly dealing with similar problems. When it gets closer to the end of the semester, it’s crunch time, with more and more things to do on deadline. It’s a lot like a real job out in industry.

Like most Tech students I enjoy spending time outdoors and working with my hands. Last summer I stayed here in the Keweenaw because of the pandemic. I got an old, broken bike and fixed it up. It’s not a bike I would necessarily let someone else ride, but I know it well enough to trust it for myself. I also play piano and read a bit. Lately I’ve been focused on trying to make sure I have everything together to graduate and find a job. I’m actively looking for employment in embedded systems in Southeast Michigan.

Michael Patrick and his son, Charlie. “He’s an adorable little man.”

Michael Patrick ’21, Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering (Double Major)

I first became aware of engineering from my mother, a Michigan Tech chemical engineering graduate. She homeschooled me during my early education years. Then, in my FIRST Robotics team in high school, I was on the controls and electrical team (FRC Team 1718, The Fighting Pi). From that experience I knew I wanted to pursue electrical and computer engineering.

The best part of WCE, for me, have been the lab space and the community. I have made good friends in WCE, and the lab space has allowed me to tinker with electronics using tools I normally wouldn’t have access to. Right now I’m using it to repair a bluetooth speaker for a friend of mine.

Outside of school and becoming a new parent, I have a passion for cooking and healthy eating. I began a plant-based pescatarian diet 3 weeks ago, and never felt better. I also enjoy teaching and tutoring. I’m looking forward to having a side job as an online tutor once I graduate. Right now I’m still on the job hunt, looking ideally for an embedded software engineering position. Once I establish employment, I intend to start my loan payoffs and take a few years off from education, before pursuing a graduate degree.


Adam Meckler: Making it in the New Music Economy

The Adam Meckler Orchestra (AMO)

Adam Meckler shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, April 5 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 30 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing this Monday, April 5 at 6 pm ET? Join Dean Janet Callahan and special guest Adam Meckler, assistant professor of Visual and Performing Arts and director of Jazz Studies at Michigan Technological University. He’s also a trumpeter, composer, bandleader, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist—and owner/co-founder/CEO of Gig Boss, a handy app for organizing a freelance gig/business. 

Assistant Professor Adam Mecker, Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan Tech

During Husky Bites, Prof. Meckler will be talking about the shift of the music economy from selling albums to streaming, tools for young musicians looking to build a career in music, and ways for musicians to carve out passive income so they can focus on the music.

Joining in for Husky Bites on Monday will be Jared Anderson, chair of Michigan Tech Visual and Performing Arts. Prof. Anderson conducts conScience: Michigan Tech Chamber Singers, and the internationally-touring Michigan Tech Concert Choir. 

During Husky Bites we get learn from Prof. Meckler how the app he co-created, Gig Boss, came to be.

Meckler joined the faculty at Michigan Tech Fall of 2019 as Director of Jazz Studies, after a decade-long career as a freelance trumpeter, composer, and educator in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Adam Meckler Orchestra (AMO), is the 18-piece big band that plays his original compositions. AMO’s debut album, ‘When the Clouds Look Like This’ was listed among the Best 2014 Jazz Releases by iTunes. 

In 2019 AMO released ‘Magnificent Madness’ just before Prof. Meckler packed up his family to move to Houghton. Though the band is founded in the traditions of jazz, it blends soul, R&B, hip-hop, and pop music to achieve a unique and grooving sound. (Listen to a song from Magnificent Madness here.)

Another thing Meckler offers online are instructional videos for the trumpet. This light, fun, easy to follow video, “How to Play the Trumpet – First Five Notes,” will get you off to a great start, at any age.

Adam Meckler plays along during the Michigan Tech Jazz Lab Band’s performance at the Fulton Street Collective in Chicago

Prof. Meckler, how did you first get involved in music? What sparked your interest?

“My dad sang in choirs when I was growing up. My mom was a violinist before I was born. She broke her pinky, so never got to hear her perform. I grew up hearing a lot of orchestral music, plus Motown, R&B, Soul, and 50s doo-wop. At around age 7 or 8 I took guitar lessons with my church pastor. Once I turned 10, I picked up a trumpet. I’ve always loved music. In fact I used to hum myself to sleep at night. My younger brother even moved out of our bedroom to sleep on the basement couch, just to get away from the sound!”

Family and hobbies?

Adam Mecker peforms with the Michigan Tech Jazz Band.

“I collaborate and write music with my wife, Jana Nyberg. She’s a vocalist, flautist, and band director. Jana appeared on Season 10 of American Idol and has released four full-length albums to date. She was a longtime music teacher in the Twin Cities, too. 

“Together we have two sons, Auggie is almost 6 and Hobbes is 3. Both our kids love to play the trumpet. They both have great rhythm. They both can sing. Music is fun for just about everything in life. We make up songs. We have one for taking our vitamin gummies, a song for taking a bath, and one for wiggling off our snow clothes. We are constantly singing. It’s a fun house to grow up in. 

“Auggie and Hobbes listen to me practice the trumpet, all the fundamental boring parts, every day. They see my microphone setup here at home, and see me collaborating with other artists. My philosophy is: don’t force your dreams on your children. Still, I’m living my dream, and Jana, too, so they experience a lot of music with us.

Be sure to check out Prof. Adam Meckler’s full bio and all his links here: https://linktr.ee/AdamMeckler

“There was a time I was practicing for West Side Story at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. I played both the main role and a sub, so I had to learn two parts, with some real screaming on my horn. That was no problem for them. Oggie and Hobbs are used to hearing me playing full volume, even at bedtime. But just the other night, Jana texted me at about 11 pm while I was practicing in the basement, to say: ‘Adam could you please keep it down? I need to get some sleep!'”

Dr. Jared Anderson is chair of Michigan Tech’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts

Prof. Jared Anderson is a strong advocate for the transformative power of ensemble singing in building caring communities. As Director of Choral Activities at Michigan Tech, he conducts Michigan Tech choirs and teaches courses in music theory, group voice, and basic musicianship. He also coaches singers in Tech theater productions.

Anderson has conducted ensembles in Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, ensembles of all sizes and voicing, with singers of many different ages and backgrounds. An active choral himself singer himself, Anderson has performed in venues and festivals worldwide.

Prof. Anderson, how did you first get involved in music? What sparked your interest?

“I grew up in Orem, Utah, and come from a big family. My mom played in dance bands, and so each of us, me and my brothers and sisters, had to play an instrument and do things. I played piano and she insisted that I not quit until graduating from high school, but that was never a question—I always loved it. One of my fondest memories is when my dad played William Tell overture and we’d all run around like The Lone Ranger in the house.”


Life is a song: “Jane and I are the proud parents of three children,” says Prof. Anderson.

I always thought I’d be a doctor like my dad. In college I studied piano. I thought, no problem—I’ll major in piano and then go to med school. But I never ended up taking any pre-med courses, not even one!” From there, I moved into singing and choirs. There’s just something about being in a community and conducting that got me hooked.  

Michigan Tech Concert Choir Director Jared Anderson poses with a new friend during a visit to a South African school. The choir spent two weeks in South Africa in May 2017.

What is your most meaningful and memorable choral experience thus far?

While earning my master’s degree, I conducted the Utah State Prison choir on Tuesday nights. Sometimes there’d be 20 guys and other times just a few, depending on lockdown. I’d enter the prison by going through all the checkpoints, and then I’d be alone, walking over to the prison chapel where we rehearsed. We sang a lot together, and they loved to sing. It was a medium security prison, so I’d joke – ‘Hey, I know you’re all here because you forgot to pay your taxes in 1984!’ But it was a hardened environment. I could see how singing made a difference in their lives, by how they interacted with each other after a few songs.

Be sure to check out Prof. Anderson’s full bio here.


Tim Schulz: Anatomy of a Fishing Season

A digital self portrait sketch by Tim Schulz. “I was fishing down at the Pilgrim River near town. I ended up using this for the cover of my book.”

Tim Schulz shares his knowledge on Husky Bites this Monday, March 29 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes (or so), with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Tim Schulz, University Professor, Michigan Tech

What are you doing for supper this Monday 3/29 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Tim Schulz, University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Prof. Schulz teaches electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, fishes for trout throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and plays guitar and writes songs in his spare time. He is the author of The Habits of Trout: And Other Unsolved Mysteries, a collection of essays about fishing. 

Will Cantrell, Dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Tech

Joining in will be Will Cantrell, associate provost and dean of Michigan Tech’s graduate school. Dean Cantrell is also a professor of Physics. His research focuses on atmospheric science, particularly on clouds. In the summer, he goes fly fishing, occasionally tying some of his own flies.

During Husky Bites, Schulz will share the story of how he came to write his book, The Habits of Trout. It all began with a quest to explore the rugged backwoods environs where another author, John Voelker, found an abundance of wild trout and a dearth of crowds.

Schulz first came to Michigan Tech in 1992 as an assistant professor. He earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and then served as chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Schulz was appointed Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2007, then returned to the ECE department five years later as a professor. In 2019 Schulz was named a University Professor, a title recognizing faculty members who have made outstanding scholarly contributions to the University and their discipline over a substantial period of time.

“When my eye doctor asks if I ever see spots,” says Schulz, “I say ‘all the time.'” 

As a teacher, Schulz is widely acknowledged as one of the ECE department’s best, with his friendly, humorous style and his devotion to his students’ learning. He’s also a leader in using technology to deliver technical material in electrical and computer engineering. 

“There was a time when I believed I could solve the mysteries of trout in particular and of life in general. But now I think we sometimes need to get skunked. We need to break our line on a good fish every now and again, and sometimes we need to cast all day without a take. We need to be grounded by the humility of failure so we can be lifted by the hope of success.”

Excerpt with permission from The Habits of Trout and Other Unsolved Mysteries, by Timothy Schulz (Uptrout Press, 2018). All rights reserved.

Starting in 2012, Schulz created a series of videos collectively titled “Electric Circuits” and posted them on YouTube. Though he created them with his EE2111 (Electric Circuits 1) class in mind, they are reaching a much wider audience.  All combined, his educational videos have had over one million views on YouTube. One, “Thevenin Equivalent Circuits” has gotten more than 162,763 views. Since that time, Schulz developed a phone app of randomized electric circuit problems to use in this course, too. 

The Habits of Trout and Other Unsolved Mysteries is Schulz’s first book.

As a researcher, Schulz applies statistical signal-processing techniques to computational imaging and signal analysis. His methods have been used to clarify images from the Hubble Space Telescope and to miniaturize high-quality cameras for military surveillance and commercial applications. Shortly after the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, Schulz applied image processing methods to de-blur and improve images taken with the flawed telescope.

When and how did you discover a love of fly fishing? Did anyone teach you how?

Tim: One of my mom’s friends gave me a cheap fly rod when I was a kid, and I used that for bluegill. But I didn’t get serious about fly fishing in general, and fly fishing for trout in particular, until about 25 years ago when my wife Roxanne bid on fly fishing lessons that Ray Weglars donated to benefit a local art gallery. She has second guessed that ever since. 

Will: I helped my neighbor down the street, Lou Owen, with something. I think maybe it was his garage door opener. He insisted that I “take something” for my trouble. He ended up taking me fly fishing. That was my first experience with it. He showed me the basics. After that, I was self taught, and have no doubt taught myself some bad habits, especially with casting.

Rainbow Trout. Credit: Tim Schulz

Do you ever find yourself thinking about your research while you are out fishing? 

Tim: Sometimes, but not a lot. Mostly, I think about the flora, the fauna, and the fish. 

Will: Usually, when I’m fishing, I am thinking about the fish that’s rising, or where it might be if there’s not a fish rising, or how to get a fly to drift without dragging despite the three crosswise currents between me and where I want the fly…I am more likely to think about research problems when I’m walking the river to get where I will be fishing.

For those who have never ever tried it, what’s a good way to get started?

Tim: Go to a good fly shop and have them set you up. A good guide is invaluable for helping you get started. And read all you can on the subject. If you have a friend who fly fishes, take them to dinner, buy them beer, whiskey, or anything else they like. Fly anglers are secretive, but they have weaknesses, and they can be bought.

Will: Most fisherpeople will show you one or two spots that everyone knows about. What Tim suggests is probably the most reliable way.

“Here’s a brown I caught a couple of summers ago on
the Uncompahgre in Colorado,” says Cantrell.

How do you deal with the mosquitos and the biting insects?

Tim: From my chest down, I’m protected by waders. I always wear long sleeve shirts, and my wide-brim hat has been sprayed with bug-dope so much that the EPA has classified it as a minor environmental hazard. Also, if you do this long enough, you’ll learn to extend your lower lip in front of your upper lip and blow the bugs off your face. It really works.

Will: Badger Balm. Long sleeve shirt. If the bugs are biting you, there are also bugs on the water. Trout feed on bugs. I am much less bothered by biting insects when I’m casting to a rise that I think might be grandfather trout!

Brown Trout. Credit: Tim Schulz

In terms of fly fishing, what is your greatest strength? Your greatest weakness?

Tim: My greatest strength? Patience. I’m really good at sitting on a log or a rock and waiting for a fish to start feeding. I can do it for hours. Most of the big fish I’ve caught have been because of that. My greatest weakness? Patience. I’m really good at sitting on a log or a rock and waiting for a fish to start feeding. I can do it for hours. Most of my fishless days have been because of that. 

Will: My greatest weakness? Patience, lack thereof. I almost never do what Tim describes!

Word to the wise: Be careful if you decide to check out Madness and Magic, Prof. Schulz captivating blog. You may easily become hooked!