Tag: ECE

NSBE Students Reach Out to Detroit Schools

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

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

Participating students included:

The schools visited included:

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

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

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

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

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

By Joan Chadde.


Online Science and Engineering Fair

Boy Watching Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mark Wilcox.


COVID-19 Health Alert: Michigan Tech Suspends Face-to-Face Instruction, Effective March 16, 2020.

Michigan Tech has suspended face-to-face instruction, effective March 16, 2020. The University has released a series of protocols concerning travel, remote work, and large gatherings. Emails have been sent to students and faculty. For more information & updates, visit mtu.edu/covid-19.

Message to the Campus Community
Read President Koubek’s full message to faculty, staff, and students.

Message to Students
Read Important COVID-19 Update to students from Bonnie Gorman, Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs

Important Information for Students
Protocols, updates, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Michigan Tech Updates
The University is working closely with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and following the guidance of the CDC in monitoring COVID-19 developments. We have a pandemic preparedness plan in place, and six University task forces have convened to prepare for and respond to implications and impacts for the campus community. More information and updates at mtu.edu/covid-19

More about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
An outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus named “2019 Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” is affecting a large number of countries around the world, including the United States, where it has been declared a National Emergency. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring developments and travel advisories are in place.


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

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

When it comes to the abstract, my inspiration develops as I develop the painting. I always try to utilize the design principles of good balance between geometric and curvilinear shapes, development of value change throughout the painting, and a good use of complementary colors. But it’s all in the eye of the beholder whether you like it or not.

Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson
Star Gazing, 2019, Gary Johnson

Other times I get inspired by just items around the house that we’ve collected over the years. It dawned on me that I hadn’t painted a still life piece in quite a while, so I started looking at some china pieces we collected and thought they’d make a wonderful painting.

Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson
Rhapsody in Blue, 2019, Gary Johnson

Sometimes it isn’t so much that inspiration finds me, as much as it is that someone commissions a painting. Now that is the ultimate compliment: when someone has seen my work and trusts me to paint something they treasure. This requires a lot of careful consideration on my part to make a determination if I’m up to the task. First, I need a good photograph—not some pixelated picture, but a really good piece I can blow up as if I were right there to see it all with my own eyes. If I can take the photograph myself, so much the better as I like to take advantage of any shadows cast. Here’s one–a portrait of a dog named Maximus.

Portraits are difficult. My advice is this: always make sure you get the eyes right. Everything else from there will work out.

Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016
Maximus, Gary Johnson, 2016

People ask where I paint. We designed our home with a studio in it. This makes it so much more convenient for me as I can wander up anytime during the day or night to work on a painting.

My studio is on the second floor of our house. When I decide I’m too old to walk up and down those stairs (18 in all, and yes, I counted them) it can easily be converted into a master suite or a mother in-law-suite as it has a closet and bathroom next to it. After all, watercolorists need water and a place to rinse out the brushes among other things. It’s approximately 300 square feet—a comfortable size to house my good old-fashioned drafting table, flat files, and shelving units needed to support my habit.

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

I’m sometimes asked about my outlook on life as an artist. Is it different than my outlook as an engineer/business executive? To be honest, it isn’t much different. I suppose now that I’m retired, I want to be sure I’m alive long enough to achieve some of my long-range goals. Goal setting is something I’ve always done, so not much change there.

I don’t have a concern about what my next job or position might be now that I’m a retired artist. In my working life, I wasn’t always in control of my destiny. That’s one big difference from the working world. If I don’t finish a painting today, I can always work on it tomorrow. I can take as long as I want to finish a painting.

Snack Time, Gary Johnson
Snack Time, Gary Johnson

Have I ever experienced a creative block? I sure have. That’s when I usually put the brushes aside and start to read and study another person’s work. It’s also good to make a change in my daily activity as well, to not get stuck in a rut, so to speak. Variety is the spice of life and that is true for artists as well. Change it up. Go fishing. Get outside. You’d be surprised how quickly new ideas can pop up to jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again.

Am I a perfectionist? Not really. I would have never taken up watercolor painting. It is extremely unforgiving. When I make an error, I consider it a happy accident and work around it, as opposed to trying to do it over again, or trying to fix it. Neither work well in watercolor painting.

Personality-wise, I’m pretty much an optimist and a fairly outgoing person. I suppose it’s because of the confidence I gained while managing companies and people. I enjoy making new contacts and I enjoy giving back to my community. That’s why I’ve become a teacher of art, and a leader in our art organization here in Fayetteville. I hope I’ve influenced people to become involved in the art scene.

People ask if I have developed a style in my art. I’m still working in it, although people are starting to recognize my abstract pieces more and more as I display them at galleries in the area. More people now say they can easily recognize a piece as one of mine.

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

Realistically, I think my style is still evolving, growing into a less-structured, photographic type of painting—a looser style that I personally love. It has taken years to break my engineer’s exacting look and feel comfortable having people see what they want to see in my work, as opposed to making it obvious.

Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson
Autumn Reflection, Gary Johnson

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

Gary

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


Michigan Tech Engineer Captures the Northern Lights

North Canal Park, April 2019. Credit: Michigan Tech Alumnus Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Some of us have waited a decade or more to see the Northern Lights since moving to Houghton, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Then there’s Venkata Rajesh Chundru, now a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. While earning his PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech from 2014 to 2019, Chundru managed to see—and artfully capture—Aurora Borealis time after time. And he has generously offered to share some of his favorite photographs with us here.

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, September 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, September 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

McLain State Park, February 2017. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Eagle Harbor, May 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Copper Harbor, March 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Calumet Waterworks Park, May 2019. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

Michigan Tech Campus, Canal Side, February 2016. Credit: Venkata Rajesh Chundru

The photographer at Copper Peak, September 2018. Thank you, Venkata! We wish you the very best of luck in your new home!

“Since moving to Texas I have been capturing cityscapes and doing some professional portrait sessions for events, while soaking in the Texan culture. These photographs bring back a lot of good memories from all those years in the U.P. I do intend to be back during summer for a week to capture some landscapes,” says Chundru. “Life in San Antonio has more of an urban feel. I miss the wide-open landscapes and warm people back in the U.P, and of course the snow.

“In my new job at Southwest Research Institute, I’m focused on developing control systems for automotive applications—specifically to control emissions from heavy-duty diesel engines, which is in line with my Ph.D. work at Michigan Tech. I also get to work on new research areas, such as connected vehicles and electric vehicle controls.”

As for COVID-19? “Stay safe out there,” he says. “Hope this passes soon.”

Want to see more beautiful photography? Be sure to visit Chundru’s photography page on Facebook, or his Instagram account.

Have some of your own Aurora Borealis images to share? Please reach out to Kimberly Geiger, kmgeiger@mtu.edu. If you like, we’d be glad to post them here on our blog.


Michigan Tech Engineering Alumni: By the Numbers

UP Blizzard, Winter, 1938. Photo courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives.

“Tenacious problem solving and critical thinking skills distinguish our alumni,” says Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech.

“And yes, there must be something about the relentless snow in Houghton that contributes to tenacity,” adds Callahan. “Like tea steeping in hot water, our alumni were soaked in snow, emerging with the flavor of tenacity.”

QUICK FACTS:

  • Engineering Alumni Total: 47,359
  • Engineering Alumni in Michigan: 17,000+
  • Engineering Alumni Abroad: 1,200+ in 88 countries
  • U.S. employers hiring our engineering graduates in 2018: 500+
  • Average engineering graduate starting salary: over $61,000/year
  • High Alumni Salaries: second highest in the state
  • Engineering Alumni by Academic Department:
  • Biomedical Engineering: 838
  • Chemical Engineering: 4,491
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering: 9,132
  • Engineering: 71
  • Electrical & Computer Engineering: 10,112
  • Engineering Fundamentals: 194
  • Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences: 3,984
  • Materials Science and Engineering: 3,246
  • Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics: 15,291

Check out all the Michigan Tech Facts and Figures here.

Have some alumni facts to share? Reach out to us at engineering@mtu.edu.


Hello from Michigan Tech, and Parasailing on a Snowboard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Callahan, Dean
College of Engineering
Michigan Tech


I Was Asked to Be a Judge for Winter Carnival

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

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

“Any questions?” I repeated?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pioneers of Progress: Michigan Tech Celebrates EWeek 2020

This week, we’re celebrating National Engineers Week (Feb. 16-22). Everyone’s invited to special events on campus sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society student chapter at Michigan Tech.

The week kicks off on Monday, Feb. 17. Ever wanted to see how molten Cast Iron is poured in the Foundry here on campus? Now’s your chance, today, in the M&M, during the lunch hour, hosted by the Department of Materials Science. If you can’t make it Monday – there are sessions this week on Tuesday and Friday, as well.)  

Safety glasses available (and required) at the door.

And there’s more. Feel free to stop by and check out Eweek events as your schedule allows:

Monday, February 17
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 11:30AM – 1PM

Tuesday, February 18 
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 2:30 – 4PM 

Wednesday, February 19
● E-Week Cake ○ Dillman 112B from 11AM – 2PM

Thursday, February 20
● Airport Planning & Design Activity ○ Dillman 204 at 5PM
● YES Drop That Thun Thun, with IGS Enterprise ○ Fisher Food Pantry from 5-6PM 

Friday February
● Pouring Cast Iron in the MSE Foundry ○ M&M 209 at 12:30 – 2PM

Yes, it’s buttercream!

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, Eweek is celebrated each February around the time of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, because Washington is considered by many to be the first U.S. engineer.

Eweek is a formal coalition of more than 70 engineering, education, and cultural societies, and more than 50 corporations and government agencies. This year’s theme: Pioneers of Progress. Dedicated to raising public awareness of engineers’ positive contributions to quality of life, Eweek promotes recognition among parents, teachers, and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science, and technology literacy, and motivates youth, to pursue engineering careers in order to provide a diverse and vigorous engineering workforce.


Mechanical Engineer turned Fine Artist: Gary Johnson ’66

In his guest blog, Gary Johnson ’66, a Michigan Tech alumnus in Fayetteville Arkansas, tells the story of his second career: “We engineers can go from practicing engineering to being artists of all things mechanical and beyond.”

Superior Storm, 2017, Gary Johnson
Superior Storm, 2017, Gary Johnson

Having grown up in Rock, Michigan⁠ (Yeah, I know, where the heck is Rock? Well, it’s smack dab in the middle of the UP. Yup, I’m a Yooper!!) I decided the best place for me to go to college was in the UP, at the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, now Michigan Technological University. Why Tech? I was influenced by a couple of neighbors, older than me, who had both started and graduated from Tech. I was pretty fair at math and science, so I did go to Tech—and would do it all over again if I had that same choice to make again today.

I got lucky and graduated in four years, then started work at General Electric Co. as a design engineer. GE was a great place to start my career. I had several promotions while at GE and the company helped finance my MBA, which I received in 1975 from Loyola University in Chicago. I left GE in 1977 when I learned they intended to sell the division I was in, and that no one would be allowed to transfer within GE after the sale. So I moved to Arizona and took my first management position.

Blue Heron, 2016, Gary Johnson
Blue Heron, 2016, Gary Johnson

From that point I guess you could say I was blessed or cursed, depending on which side of the equation your homebody instincts are on. I started in New Jersey, moved to Illinois, then on to Arizona after receiving my master’s degree. From there I moved to California and back again to Arizona after accepting a position as General Manager for a U.S. company in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. From Arizona we traversed the U.S., from Georgia to Washington state to South Carolina, where I ended my career as a Director of Engineering at Hubbell Lighting. Those 40-plus years of my working career were absolutely fantastic, interesting and challenging. The only thing I’d change is the loss of jobs occasionally due to downsizing, bankruptcies or the sale of a company. But with the skill set I developed as a result of my education and experience, I always bounced back—and for that I can thank Michigan Tech.

Alegha, 2009, Gary Johnson
Alegha, 2009, Gary Johnson

At Tech, I learned perseverance. Or, maybe it was my Finnish background, where the word sisu comes into play. Perseverance is a quality we all must possess in today’s working environment. I think I started developing that in my little old hometown of Rock, or maybe at Michigan Tech. It takes a certain strong-charactered individual to put up with the winters and the great curriculum of MTU to get a degree in four years. I wasn’t blessed with the great minds of some of my fellow graduates, but nevertheless, I made it through in fine shape.

Okay, now on to the real reason I wrote this blog. I was asked to write it —because in my retirement I found a new career as an artist.

Shadows of a Bygone Era, 2016, Gary Johnson
Shadows of a Bygone Era, 2016, Gary Johnson

Moving to art was something of a challenge my wife, Jackie, had often presented to me. It was also something I pretty much always wanted to do, especially watercolor art. While traveling with my job, I was blessed to occasionally have Jackie travel with me. While together, mostly on the weekends, we’d visit local art galleries to admire the artistic talents of many different artists. We especially loved the watercolor artists and the work they produced. My wife often would say, “Honey, can we purchase that piece, or get a print of it, at least?” My reply was often, “Hey, I could paint that for you, so why purchase something I could do myself?” Well, that didn’t fly very far, and we’d end up getting something to remember our trip.

That went on for about 20 years until all of a sudden, I found myself between positions while living up near the Canadian border of British Columbia in Bellingham, Washington. I spent countless hours scouring country looking for a new position, becoming really bored with the whole process. So, what was I going to do to overcome that boredom? The answer fell into my lap one Sunday afternoon while reading the newspaper. I spotted an ad for a watercolor workshop for beginners, offered by the local park district. Can you imagine—six classes, every Friday morning for six weeks, for only $30. Was I excited? Hell, yes, I was. It addressed two issues; the first was the challenge to prove to my wife I could do this to her satisfaction and that she’d love my work, and second, to rid myself of the boredom involved in seeking new employment and further, it would address any questions by any HR person about what was I doing during my days off.

Meet my friend, Danny, 2015, Gary Johnson
Meet my friend, Danny, 2015, Gary Johnson

I’ve always had a love of the arts, from the time I grew up. First, I became interested in music and ended up becoming an accordionist. I loved music and played the accordion for many years on into high school. Soon, however, sports and girls entered the equation, so I abandoned the accordion and concentrated on academics, sports and girls, though maybe not in that particular order………LOL. I also always liked to draw and doodle, but not necessarily paint, as good ole Rock, Michigan wasn’t the center of the visual arts back in the day. As I’ve said earlier, travel during my working years led me to loving art even further. Jackie was a very good interior designer. Together we’d pick out pieces of art we both liked for our home—mostly watercolor paintings. That’s when I knew that someday I’d like to give it a go. So, backing up to the workshop classes in Bellingham: I soon became hooked on the process of creating art with watercolor. It was not easy, and I worked very hard at it day in and day out until I felt I could actually show someone outside of our home what I’d been up to.

I went to an art gallery in Bellingham and asked the owner to evaluate what I had done to that point. He agreed to look over my body of work. What a great experience that turned out to be. The first painting he looked at he told me, “Burn It.” Can you imagine what that would do to someone? Well, before we finished looking at all of my work, he managed to find a couple of pieces he thought were just “OK”. Well, just OK isn’t good enough as we all know, so I started to study watercolor art though art journals and “How- to” books related to watercolor art. I took some additional workshops and painted with an art group to learn from others who were better than me. That helped tremendously as I learned from those who knew what they were doing and willing to share their knowledge.

Soon after I found a new position in South Carolina, and we relocated to Spartanburg in the “Upstate” as it is known. I joined an art guild and continued to paint but only sporadically on weekends. My new position of responsibility took precedence over my desire to become that world- class painter.

I joined a second art organization, the South Carolina Watermedia Society (SCWS), whose membership consisted mostly of watercolorists. Through this organization I really became a solid weekend painter. I still wasn’t where I wanted to be from an artistic perspective, but I took the gamble and started to enter juried competitions, to see if I could get into their exhibitions. Well, guess what? I didn’t get picked the first three times I entered a competition. This bruised my ego, because I thought I had done some pretty darned good work. Then I finally had a breakthrough, and made it into my first exhibition. I was thrilled! And it gave me even more inspiration to continue developing my craft. I was selected for three consecutive years and received my Signature Membership in the society—a huge resume enhancer when seeking gallery representation. Since then, I’ve added the “Member in Excellence” moniker to my membership, which means I’ve been in at least five juried competitions.

Stormy Seas, 2016, Gary Johnson
Stormy Seas, 2016, Gary Johnson

People often ask how many years I’ve been painting, and how many paintings I’ve produced. Well, the span of time covers 18 years since those first watercolor workshop days in Bellingham. Needless to say, I didn’t paint during many of those years due to work obligations. Further, after I retired, I chose to do some consulting for a while, 18 months, flying back and forth from Spartanburg, Minneapolis and Osceola, Wisconsin to work with a company who was looking to relocate some of their manufacturing to Mexico. Because I had done similar work in the past, they asked me to develop a strategic plan for the movement of their manufacturing facilities through the startup phase of their operation. Yes, I was one of those guys who helped facilitate that kind of movement. Anyway, after about a year and a half of that gig, I told the company they no longer needed me to help support their strategic plan. We parted ways in July 2011.

Now fully retired, Jackie and I decided we’d love to relocate from South Carolina to our current home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, near my daughter and her family. It turned out to be a really great choice. Not only do we get to see my daughter and her husband, but also our two grandchildren. It also turns out that Fayetteville has a thriving arts community, which has proven to be both challenging and wonderful at the same time.

Jackie and Gary Johnson
Jackie and Gary Johnson

It took us fully two years to get our house built and landscaped to our specs, although one is never really done tinkering with both. Our new home was designed with an art studio so I could continue painting. It took a little bit of time to get back into the saddle and get back to producing good work again, but painting is a little like riding a bike. Once you know how, it doesn’t take long to work through the cobwebs and get back to where you were before. I’ve now joined two Arkansas-based arts organizations: Artists of NW Arkansas where I have served as Chairman of the Board the past two years; and Mid-Southern Watercolorists (MSW), out of Little Rock. Both are great organizations that put on juried art exhibitions. I’ve been blessed with having my work in each of their exhibitions over the past six years. I won the MSWBronze award, and earned my Signature membership there, as well.

As for how many paintings I have produced, it’s in the order of hundreds. I probably consistently produce between 30 – 50 per year. Many are very small sketches that I use to teach. Yes, I am now doing workshops based on the abstract process I use. I also teach art to people ages 60 and up once a month at the Schmieding Foundation in Springdale, Arkansas, a place where they can come and paint for a couple of hours for free. I supply all materials and teach them the basics of watercolor. It’s really a fun experience for me, and hopefully for them, too.

Mr. Bees Pumpkins, Gary Johnson
Mr. Bees Pumpkins, Gary Johnson

I’m asked occasionally if being a Mechanical Engineer has any influence on the type of art I produce. Well, yes it does occasionally. One painting I did was of an old steam- driven device that I discovered in Eureka Springs, Arkansas at an old railroad yard. I photographed it from many different angles and selected one in which the sun had cast a great many shadows onto it, and turned that into a piece of art. It’s titled “Shadows from a Bygone Era”. After winning the Bronze award with this painting at the MSW exhibition in Little Rock this past spring, I was recently invited to an International show in Barcelona, Spain this coming April and May.

So, we engineers can go from practicing engineering to being artists of all things mechanical and beyond.

People wonder where I find my inspiration. My wife will tell you that everywhere I go, I find something that fascinates me. In California once, I slammed on the brakes after seeing an old Chevy pickup truck sitting on the side of the road, exclaiming “There’s a painting waiting to happen!” It turned into one of my best old rusty truck paintings yet, titled “Mr. Bees Pumpkins”.

I found an old tractor near that same railroad yard in Eureka Springs and did a painting titled “Retired in Eureka Springs”. I loved the way the vines and other plant life had engulfed this old tractor left out to return to the earth.

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

I’ve painted a lot of old rusty cars abandoned or left to return to the Earth. I enjoy that challenge, of being able to capture their beauty after their useful time as machines, be they tractors, cars, steam engines, etc. However, I also love painting in the abstract, landscapes, and portraits, so I don’t limit myself to one genre. It keeps me motivated to explore new territory in my art. Doing so teaches me more new techniques that I can pass on to those taking my workshops.

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

Gary

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