Category: Students

These are posts that feed into the COE Student Stories page.

Simplicity On the Other Side of Complexity: Todd Stone at Michigan Tech Thursday (Today)

Geologic Schematic of Arena Energy’s First Drill Well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Todd Stone, co-founder and managing director of geology at Arena Energy, will visit Michigan Tech today, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 to deliver the First-Year Engineering Lecture to Michigan Tech’s incoming engineering majors.

Todd Stone is an engineer, explorer, conservationist, and entrepreneur. He is a Michigan Tech alumnus (Geological Engineering ’85), and a distinguished member of Michigan Tech’s College of Engineering Advisory Board.

Stone is on campus today to deliver the annual First-Year Engineering Lecture, “Simplicity On the Other Side of Complexity,” on Thursday, September 17 at 6 pm. Registered attendees will be provided a zoom link to attend the lecture remotely. Please register for the Zoom session at mtu.edu/ef.

“At Michigan Tech you are going to learn how to learn; learn how to solve difficult technical problems logically. And that is going to change your world.” – Todd Stone ’85

“We have a tradition at Tech of having a first-year lecture that helps students see how their technological education can help make a difference in the world,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering. “Usually the event is held at the Rozsa Center to a packed house, with every seat taken. We can’t do that this year, of course, due to the pandemic. Instead, Todd will present his lecture on Zoom, to an audience of 800-plus students. With Zoom, though, we have room for more, so please join us. Everyone is welcome.”

Stone’s lecture will outline how he learned to work smart in school and throughout his career. He plans to highlight something he feels is top priority: Learning how to learn.

When Stone arrived at Michigan Tech nearly 40 years ago, he says, “It was the best and most mature decision of my young life. At first it was not difficult for me to work hard. My folks raised me that way; it was difficult for me to work smart.”

Todd Stone majored in Geological Engineering at Michigan Tech.

More About Todd Stone

Since co-founding Arena Energy in 1999, Todd Stone has focused on opportunity generation and management of the company’s opportunity-generating staff and systems. Stone is also responsible for maintaining, managing and high-grading the company’s robust prospect inventory, and is part of a eight-person geological group that has drilled over 300 wells. Before co-founding Arena, he was a key member of Newfield Exploration’s offshore acquisition and development team. Stone began his career with Tenneco Oil Company and later served as a geological engineer at Amerada Hess Corporation. He earned his B.S. in geological engineering from Michigan Technological University in 1985.

Interested in joining the Michigan Tech First Year Engineering lecture via Zoom? It will take place Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 6 pm, followed by Q&A. Please register for the Zoom session at mtu.edu/ef.


Darian Reed: From Volunteer to New Career

Michigan Tech civil engineering student Darian Reed is Logistics Section Chief for Houghton and Keweenaw Counties, supplying PPE to hospitals, nursing homes and local organizations.

COVID-19 has changed the lives of so many. For one Michigan Tech civil engineering undergraduate student, COVID-19 shaped his life in a way never imagined. 

Originally from Monroe, Michigan, Darian Reed came to the UP to pursue a degree in civil engineering at Michigan Tech and a career in the construction industry. Feeling a strong connection to the local community, this year Reed began volunteering his time and talents near campus, with Superior Search and Rescue. His contributions gained the recognition of Chris VanArsdale, a civil engineering alumnus and current doctoral student, who serves as the emergency management coordinator for both Houghton and Keweenaw counties. 

Needing to staff emergency response activities for both counties, VanArsdale asked Reed to serve as Logistics Section Chief—and Reed jumped at the chance. In this new role he receives resource need requests from local organizations, including hospitals and nursing homes. He submits their resource requests to the State, who will approve or deny the requests for masks, thermometers and other essential resources in the fight against COVID-19. 

Day in, day out, Darian Reed says he feels highly motivated. “This work provides me with the fuel I need to keep going amid the uncertainty of this pandemic.”

Reed also handles regional donations, including the 3D printed face shields printed at Michigan Tech. “I get to be the Santa Claus of the area, distributing the resources to all the requesting organizations,” says Reed. “I am happy to share that the State of Michigan has been able to fulfill requests for many resources to date, with gowns and no-touch thermometers as some of the few exceptions. This is great news for our community.”

Reed is now on the last leg of a long (and sometimes slow) process of requesting supplies. A local health care provider or non-profit first requests resources from the emergency manager, the supplies they cannot find or obtain themselves. These requests are entered into the State of Michigan’s online portal called MICIMS (Michigan Critical Incident Management System). As resources become available, they are shipped to Marquette, which is the central receiving hub in the UP. From there, resources are sorted by county and shipped to a regional hub (Greenland in the case of five counties in the Western UP Health Department’s area of responsibility). The National Guard breaks down these shipments and transports them to each county. At that point, it becomes the county’s responsibility to distribute the requested resources. That’s where Reed comes in.

Best of all for Reed, the experience has illuminated an entirely new career path. Because of his experiences this summer, his career goals have changed—from construction to emergency management. He still plans to complete his degree in Civil Engineering.

“The civil engineering skills I learned from my classes at Tech and my co-op experience with Kiewit last fall served me well. Managing construction crews and working with a variety of government agencies both have helped me to develop an important skill set.”

Reed is already on his way, completing several FEMA emergency management courses in his spare time, and taking classes for his Professional Emergency Manager certification. “I’ve been doing the training real-time, by learning online and then implementing what I have learned almost immediately,” he says.

“Through this experience I value the connection I am making with my adopted home more than ever before,” he says. “I also value this opportunity for personal growth.” When asked how others could follow in his footprints, he suggests volunteering for any local community event or with your local first responders. “Volunteers are needed and the more you show up, the more you can do. Great opportunities will come your way!”


Graduate School Announces Summer 2020 Award Recipients

Michigan Tech in Summer

 The Graduate School announced the recipients of the Doctoral Finishing Fellowship, Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship, Matwiyoff & Hogberg Endowed Graduate Fellowship, and the DeVlieg Foundation Research Award. The Portage Health Foundation and the Graduate School have provided support to help students complete their doctoral studies and to those in health-oriented research areas.

The following are award recipients in engineering graduate programs:

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship Award

Portage Health Foundation Graduate Assistantship

Matwiyoff & Hogberg Endowed Graduate Fellowship

Profiles of current recipients can be found online.


Sustainable Foam: Coming Soon to a Cushion Near You

Chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn presented her research at the Michigan Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium last spring. Her lignin project was supported by Portage Health Foundation, the DeVlieg Foundation, and Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College.

Most polyurethane foam, found in cushions, couches, mattress, insulation, shoes, and more, is made from petroleum. Soon, with help from undergraduate researcher and chemical engineering major Lauren Spahn, it will also be environmentally-friendly, sustainable, and made from renewable biomass.

Spahn works in the Biofuels & Bio-based Products Laboratory at Michigan Technological University, where researchers put plants—and their lignin—to good use. The lab is directed by Dr. Rebecca Ong, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Q&A with Lauren Spahn

Q: Please tell us about the lab.

A: “Our goal in working with Dr. Ong is to develop sustainable industries using renewable lignocellulosic biomass⁠—the material derived from plant cell walls. There are five of us working on Dr. Ong’s team. We develop novel co-products from the side streams of biofuel production, and pulp and paper production. We’re trying to make good use of the leftover materials.

 

Lignocellulose, aka biomass, is the dry matter of plants. Energy crops like this Elephant Grass, are grown as a raw material for the production of biofuels.

Q: What kind of research are you doing?

A: My particular research project involves plant-based polyurethane foams. Unlike conventional poly foams, bio-based foams are generated from lignin, a renewable material. Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together. It has the potential to replace petroleum-derived polymers in many applications. In the lab, we purify the lignin from something called “black liquor”⁠. It’s not what sounds like. Black liquor is a by-product from the kraft process when pulpwood is made into paper. Lignin is collected by forcing dissolved lignin to precipitate or fall out of the solution (this is the opposite of the process of dissolving, which brings a solid into solution). By adjusting the functional properties of lignin during the precipitation process, we hope to be able to tailor the characteristics of resulting foams. It’s called functionalization.

Typically in the lab process, functionalization occurs on lignin that has already been purified. What we hope to do is integrate functionalization into the purification process, to reduce energy and raw material inputs, and improve the economics and sustainability of the process, too.

Purified lignin, used to make bio-foam. The resulting foam will likely be light or dark brown in color because of the color of the lignin. It would probably be used in applications where color does not matter (such as the interior of cushions/equipment).

Q: How did you get started in undergraduate research?

A: I came to Michigan Tech knowing I wanted to get involved in research. As a first-year student, I was accepted into the Undergraduate Research Internship Program (URSIP), through the Pavlis Honors College here at Tech. Through this program I received funding, mentorship, and guidance as I looked to identify a research mentor. 

Q: How did you find Dr. Ong, or how did she find you?

A: I wanted to work with Dr. Ong because I found the work in her lab to be very interesting and relevant to the world we live in, in terms of sustainability. She was more than willing to welcome me into the lab and assist me in my research when I needed it. I am very thankful for all her help and guidance. 

Q: What is the most challenging and difficult part of the work and the experience?

A: Not everything always goes according to plan. Achieving the desired result often takes many iterations, adjustments, and even restructuring the experiment itself. After a while, it can even become discouraging.

Lignin is like a glue that holds wood fibers together, giving trees their shape and stability, and making them resistant to wind and pests. Pictured above, a biofuel plantation in Oregon.

Q: What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you persevere?

A: I start thinking about my goals. I enjoy my research—it’s fun! Once I remind myself why I like it, I am able to get back to work. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about research?

A: I enjoy being able to run experiments in the lab that directly lead to new designs, processes, or products in the world around me. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to think up new product ideas, then go through the steps needed to implement them in the real world. 

Q: What are your career goals and plans?

A: I plan to go to graduate school for a PhD in chemical engineering, to work in R&D for industry. I am very passionate about research—I want to continue participating in research in my professional career.


Lignin at the nanoscale, imaged with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Raisa Carmen Andeme Ela, a PhD candidate working in Dr. Ong’s lab, generated this image to examine the fundamental mechanisms driving lignin precipitation.

Q: Why did you choose engineering as your major, and why chemical engineering?

A: I chose chemical engineering because the field is so large. Chemical engineers can work in industry in numerous areas. I liked the wide variety of work that I could enter into as a career. 

Michigan Tech translates research into the new technologies, products, and jobs that move our economy forward.

Did you know?

  • Michigan Tech has more than 35 research centers and institutes
  • 20 percent of all Michigan Tech patent applications involve undergraduate students
  • Students in any engineering discipline are welcome to give research a try
  • Research expenditures at Michigan Tech—over $44 million-—have increased by 33% over the last decade, despite increased competition for research funding. 
  • Michigan Tech research leads to more invention disclosures—the first notification that an invention has been created—than any other research institution in Michigan.



Brad King: Space, Satellites and Students

Pictured: the Auris signal trace, soon to be explained by Dr. Lyon (Brad) King on Husky Bites.

Lyon (Brad) King shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, May 18 at 6 pm. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Oculus deployed! In June 2019 Michigan Tech alumnus and Air Force Research Laboratory Space Systems Engineer Jesse Olson, left, celebrates with Aerospace Enterprise advisor Brad King. King’s son Jack was also on hand for the momentous occasion of the launch.

Turning dreams into reality is a powerful motivator for Lyon (Brad) King. He’s the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Space Systems in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, and leader of Michigan Tech Aerospace—a collection of research, development, and educational labs dedicated to advancing spacecraft technology.

King specializes in spacecraft propulsion — and the launching of student careers. He mentors a large team of graduate students in his research lab, the Ion Space Propulsion Lab, where teams develop next-generation plasma thrusters for spacecraft. Off campus, at the MTEC SmartZone, King is cofounder and CEO of the fast-growing company, Orbion Space Technology.

As the founder and faculty advisor of Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise, King empowers undergraduate students to design, build, and fly spacecraft, too. One of the team’s student-built satellites (Oculus) is now in orbit; their second small satellite (Stratus) is due to launch in March 2021, and a third (Auris) now in process.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies.”

Professor Lyon (Brad) King, Michigan Tech

King has served as the Enterprise advisor ever since a couple of students came to him with the idea to form a team nearly two decades ago. “My current role now is more that of an outside evaluator,” he says. “The team has taken on a life of its own.”

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.”

Adds King: “Michigan Tech has a history and reputation for hands-on projects, particularly its Enterprise Program. Our students don’t just write papers and computer programs. They know how to turn wrenches and build things. That’s been deeply ingrained in the University culture for years.” 

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.” 

“Dr. King provides excellent mentoring and high-level direction, but does not give students all the answers. It’s up to the students to figure it out. We work in small teams, which forces us to take on more responsibility. We’re thrown off the deep end. It’s hard, but worth it.”

Sam Baxendale, spoken as a former student. He’s now an engineer at Orbion Space Technologies
The Aerospace Enterprise team at Michigan Tech enjoys some well-deserved downtime at McLain State Park on Lake Superior.

The New Space Era

Commercialization is driving aerospace expansion in Michigan and across the nation. “We were ahead of it,” says King. “We certainly were feeding it and played a part in causing it. MTU’s products — which are our graduates — are out there, making this happen.” Aerospace Enterprise alumni are engineers, managers, technology officers and research scientists in a diverse array of aerospace-related industries and institutions, from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and NASA to SpaceX, both startups and major manufacturers. King himself has hired several of his former students at Orbion Space Technology.

“The desire to explore space is what drives me,” says Lyon (Brad) King, Henes Professor of Space Systems at Michigan Technological University

Q: When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

A: I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Q: Can you tell us more about your growing up? Any hobbies?

A: I was born and raised just north of Houghton (yes, there actually is some habitable environment north of Houghton). I received my BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Michigan. I spent time traveling around the country working at NASA in Houston, NIST in Boulder, and realized that all of my personal hobbies and proclivities were centered around the geography and climate of northern Michigan. I returned in 2000 and began my career as a professor at MTU. I enjoy fishing, boating, hockey, and spent more than 15 years running my dogsled team all over the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Michigan Tech’s Three Student-Built Satellites

OCULUS-ASR, a microsatellite now in orbit, provides new info to the Air Force. “It is the first satellite mission dedicated to helping telescope observatories understand what they are imaging using a cooperative target. “It’s a very capable little vehicle. There’s a lot packed into it.”

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of Stratus, a miniaturized satellite developed by the team. It will be launched from the International Space Station in March 2021.

Not hard to see how CubeSats get their name. Stratus is a 3U spacecraft, which means it’s composed of three units. This photo was taken in fall 2019.

STRATUS, a miniaturized satellite, will image atmospheric clouds to reconcile climate models. It’s funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Program and the CubeSat Launch Initiative. STRATUS will be carried to the International Space Station inside the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule by a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon will dock to the ISS where STRATUS will be unloaded by the crew. STRATUS will then be placed in the Kibo Module’s airlock, where the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System robotic arm will move the satellite into the correct position and deploy it into space. All this on March 21. Stay tuned!

Aerospace Enterprise rendering of its newest microsatellite, Auris, now in the works.

AURIS, a microsatellite, is designed to monitor and attribute telecommunications signals in a congested space environment. Funding comes from the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL)’s University Nanosatellite Program.

Huskies in Space

Michigan Tech’s Aerospace Enterprise team designed their own logo.

Learn more about the team and its missions on Instagram and Facebook.

Find out how to join.

Read more about Aerospace Enterprise in Michigan Tech News:

And Then There Were Two: MTU’s Next Student Satellite Set to Launch in 2021

Enterprise at MTU Launches Spacecraft—and Careers

Countdown. Ignition. Liftoff. Huskies in Space!

Mission(s) AccomplishedMichigan Tech’s Pipeline to Space

Winning Satellite to be Launched into Orbit


Husky Bites: Join Us for Supper This Summer (Mondays at 6)!

A real Husky Dog sitting at a table covered with a white tablecloth, with a plate and bowl full of dog biscuits in front of it The dog is wearing a red and black checked flannel shirt, and wearing black horn-rimmed glasses

Craving some brain food? Join Dean Janet Callahan and a special guest each Monday at 6 p.m. EST for a new, 20-minute interactive Zoom webinar from the College of Engineering at Michigan Technological University, followed by Q&A. Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity). All are welcome. Get the full scoop and register⁠—it’s free⁠—at mtu.edu/huskybites.

The special guests: A dozen engineering faculty have each volunteered to present a mini lecture for Husky Bites. They’ll weave in a bit of their own personal journey to engineering, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Callahan. “We’re aiming to make it very interactive, with a “quiz” (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. “Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. We are hoping entire families will enjoy it,” she adds. “We have prizes, too, for near perfect attendance!”

Topics include: Space, Satellites, and Students; Shipwrecks and Underwater Robots; A Quieter Future (Acoustics); Geospatial Wizardry; Color-Changing Potions and Magical Microbes; Scrubbing Water, There’s Materials Science and Engineering, in my Golf Bag, Biomedical Engineering the Future, How Do Machines Learn, Robotics, Math in Motion, and more. Get the full scoop and register (it’s free) at mtu.edu/huskybites

The series kicks off on Monday, May 11 with a session from GMES professor and chair John Gierke, a self-professed “Yooper graduate of the school of hard rocks.”

In his Husky Bites session, “How the Rocks Connect Us,” Gierke will talk about how the geology of the Keweenaw is more exposed and accessible. “The experience of spending time in the Copper Country is enhanced if you understand more about the forces of nature that formed this beautiful place,” he says. “The processes that led to the geological formations that lie beneath us and shaped our landscapes are what dictated many of the natural resources that are found where each of us live.” Gierke was born in the EUP (the Soo, aka Sault Sainte Marie) and graduated from Michigan Tech. He will provide practical explanations for why the mines are oriented as they are, where water is more prevalent—and the geological features that lead to waterfalls. You can read all about it here.

Other guests on Husky Bites include engineering faculty L. Brad King, Gordon Parker, Rebecca Ong, Guy Meadows, Andrew Barnard, Tony Pinar, Daisuke Minakata, Jeremy Bos, Joe Foster, Smitha Rao, and Steve Kampe.

Want to see the full schedule? Just go to mtu.edu/huskybites. You can register from there, too.


Michigan Tech Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Seth A. Kriz in the lab.
Seth A. Kriz does undergraduate research on gold nanoparticles interacting with different viruses.

Three Michigan Tech students, Greta Pryor Colford, Dylan Gaines and Seth A. Kriz, have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships. The oldest STEM-related fellowship program in the United States, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a prestigious award that recognizes exceptional graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines early in their career and supports them through graduate education. NSF-GRFP fellows are an exceptional group; 42 fellows have gone on to become Nobel Laureates, and about 450 fellows are members of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Graduate School is proud of these students for their outstanding scholarship. These awards highlight the quality of students at Michigan Tech, the innovative work they have accomplished, the potential for leadership and impact in science and engineering that the county recognizes in these students, and the incredible role that faculty play in students’ academic success.

Dylan Gaines is currently a master of science student in the Computer Science Department at Michigan Tech, he will begin his doctoral degree in the same program in Fall 2020. Gaines’ research, with Keith Vertanen (CS), focuses on text entry techniques for people with visual impairments. He also plans to develop assistive technologies for use in Augmented Reality. During his undergraduate education at Michigan Tech, Gaines was a member of the cross country and track teams. Now, he serves as a graduate assistant coach. “I am very thankful for this award and everyone that supported me through the application process and helped to review my essays” said Gaines. Commenting on Gaines’ award, Computer Science Department Chair Linda Ott explained “All of us in the Department of Computer Science are very excited that Dylan is being awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This is a clear affirmation that Dylan is an excellent student and that even as an undergraduate he demonstrated strong research skills. It also is a tribute to Dylan’s advisor Dr. Keith Vertanen who has established a very successful research group in intelligent interactive systems.”

Seth A. Kriz is pursuing his doctoral degree in chemical engineering, with Caryn Heldt (ChE). He completed his undergraduate education, also in chemical engineering, at Michigan Tech and has previously served as the lead coach of the Chemical Engineering Learning Center. His research focuses on developing improved virus purification methods for large-scale vaccine production so as to provide a timely response to pandemics. “I am extremely proud to represent Michigan Tech and my lab as an NSF graduate research fellow, and for this opportunity to do research that will save lives. My success has been made possible by the incredible family, faculty, and larger community around me, and I thank everyone for their support. Go Huskies!” said Kriz. Commenting on the award, Kriz’s advisor, Heldt said “Seth embodies many of the characteristics we hope to see in our students: excellence in scholarship, high work ethic, and a strong desire to give back to his community. I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments and I can’t wait to see what else he will do.” In addition, Kriz sings with the Michigan Tech Chamber Choir.

Greta Pryor Colford earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in aerospace engineering from Michigan Tech in spring 2019. She is currently a post-baccalaureate student at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she previously worked as an undergraduate and summer intern. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, Colford is part of the Test Engineering group (E-14) of the Engineering, Technology and Design Division (E). At Michigan Tech, she was a leader of the Attitude Determination and Control Team of the Michigan Tech Aerospace Enterprise, a writing coach at the Multiliteracies Center, and a member of the Undergraduate Student Government.

The fellowship provides three years of financial support, including a $34,000 stipend for each fellow and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for the fellow’s institution. Besides financial support for fellows, the GRFP provides opportunities for research on national laboratories and international research.

By the Graduate School.


Engineering Graduate Students Elected to Executive Board

Nathan Ford
Nathan Ford

The Graduate Student Government (GSG) has elected its Executive Board for the 2020-2021 session. The new Executive Board members are:

  • Nathan Ford (MEEM), President
  • Michael Maurer (ECE), Vice-President
  • Aaron Hoover (Humanities), Secretary
  • Laura Schaerer (Biological Sciences), Treasurer
  • Sarvada Chipkar (Chemical Engineering), Research Chair
  • Yasasya Batugedara (Mathematical Sciences), Professional Development Chair
  • Eric Pearson (Chemical Engineering), Social Chair
  • Marina Choy (Humanities), Public Relations Chair

The new Executive Board will assume office on May 1 and is looking forward to serving the graduate student body and the community at large.

By Apurva Baruah, GSG President.


COVID-19: At Michigan Tech, How One Big Ship is Turning Itself Around.

R.L Smith Building, home to the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. “Like so many universities, we have a great culture of kindness here at Michigan Tech, says Chair William Predebon. “We’re all going through this together.”

Bill Predebon, longtime chair of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech, recently sent an email to all the students in his department. He asked three questions: “What went right? What went wrong?” And then, “Are you having any issues with tools?”

“Almost immediately I received 80 responses from undergraduates,” he said. “It’s important to solicit feedback directly from students while they are still in the midst of it.”

As universities across the state of Michigan and across the nation moved their courses to remote instruction to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Predebon had to act fast. Getting 1,736 students, and 55 faculty members entirely online in just four days was no small task.

“We’re a large ME department, one of the largest in the nation, but because of our strong sense of community of Michigan Tech, our culture of kindness, there was an immediate sense of responsibility to respond in a coordinated way—the best possible way,” says Predebon.

Predebon turned to ME-EM Associate Chair Jeff Allen, who quickly became the department’s conduit for using online tools.

“Jeff investigated the technology, so our faculty wouldn’t have to do that,” Predebon explains. “The majority had never taught online before—only about a dozen of our faculty had taken Michigan Tech’s online learning certification course.”

ME-EM Department Chair Bill Predebon stands in an empty lab classroom in the R.L. Smith Building on campus, with some equipment in the backround.
“Dealing with open-ended solutions, where there isn’t one right answer, is a key part of the design of our Mechanical Engineering Practice courses,” says Predebon. “I hope those problem-solving skills are helping our students, as they adjust to learning from home.”

“The first thing I did was to rephrase the information,” says Allen. “It had been presented by type of software, but not by function.” ME-EM faculty with online teaching experience also started helping, making phone calls and emailing back and forth with their colleagues.

“It’s really hard to give a lecture in an empty room. There’s zero feedback,” says Allen. “We were showing our faculty how to use the online lecture tools on campus. But then, within a day or two, as we realized what might be coming, I began urging faculty to gather all they’d need to teach their courses from home.”

Allen quickly bought webcams for faculty, along with headsets and microphones. “Everyone seemed to have a different kind of technology at home. Webcams sold out very fast online. All around the country, everyone was doing the same thing,” he said.

Four years ago, the Department eliminated traditional mechanical engineering labs and replaced them with hands-on Mechanical Engineering Practice (MEP) courses I, II, III and IV. The MEP courses are designed to be adaptable so that new subjects can be embedded as technologies advance. But how to virtualize these intensive hands-on courses?

“Our Graduate Teaching Assistants really went above and beyond. Udit Sharma and JJ Song recorded a half semester’s worth of video demonstrations in less than a week for the second MEP. There were similar efforts by faculty, staff and graduate students for the other three MEP courses,” said Allen. “They did an amazing job.”

Meanwhile, another group was busy virtualizing the ME-EM department’s Engineering Learning Center, an idea suggested by academic advisor Ryan Towles. Aneet Narendranath, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, spearheaded the effort.

“Our learning center supports our core courses—Thermodynamics, Statics, Dynamics, and Mechanics of Materials,” says Predebon. “Students taking these fundamental courses can now access peer tutoring online, from home.”

“Michigan Tech’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) shipped out document cameras to all our peer tutors. Then Dr. Narendranath coordinated a trial run—trying out the system as we put it into place,” says Allen. “Several faculty volunteered as guinea pigs, to let student tutors practice the system. We found subtle, odd things we weren’t expecting. Aneet and Ryan practiced together quite a bit more before we sent a message about it to all our students.”

Allen’s emphasis now has switched almost entirely to students. “At home, just like our faculty, their technology and tools vary. Some things really surprised us. For instance, very few students actually have a printer.”

Jeff Allen is the John F. and Joan M. Calder Professor in Mechanical Engineering. He is also the Associate Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the ME-EM Department.

“One of our students had no computer at home,” adds Predebon.”When I found out, I was able to get a computer into her hands, but it took a few days. I thought it took a long time. She said she thought it was fast.”

“Most students are doing well now, especially those with a strong internet connection,” says Allen. “Other students relied much more on our university system. We’ve been going back and forth to iron out the bugs. Faculty are very flexible with student deadlines,” says Allen.

“The situation has shown the tenacity and caring of our faculty,” says Predebon. “One faculty member herself lives in an area with poor internet access. She tried many things to improve it, to no avail. To solve the problem she drives to a university building and parks in front to upload lessons for her students, and download their work. The building is closed, but she can still log in to the internet from her car. She can get back to her family faster that way, too. She has young children at home.”

“It has been a fantastic effort. Now we want to get through this semester. We’ll see what the summer holds, and this coming year,” adds Predebon. “We’ll take it as it comes.”


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.