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Q&A with Dr. Mark Rudnicki

Dr. Mark Rudnicki

Dr. Mark Rudnicki is currently a Professor of Practice of Forest Biomaterials in the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University, where he conducts and coordinates research and teaching in sustainable bioproducts and, more holistically, the circular bioeconomy. Mark is an advisory board member for the 2021 World Bioeconomy Forum and a founding member of the Houghton-based FinnZone, a commercial launchpad for Finnish tech companies entering the United States. His diverse research interests include tree biomechanics, forest meteorology, circular bioeconomy, biomaterials, and mass timber. Dr. Rudnicki was also the Executive Director (2015-2019) of the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute since its establishment as a non-profit NGO dedicated to the facilitation of the forest bioeconomy in the State of Michigan.

Before Mark came to Michigan Tech in 2015, he held a tenured faculty position at the University of Connecticut where he taught forestry classes and led research in wind and trees and the establishment of the Stormwise program to reduce tree-related storm damage to power lines.

What inspired you to start HotForest?

HotForest was inspired by a new major in the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science (CFRES): Sustainable Bioproducts– B.S. I wanted, as part of this new degree, for students to engage in experiential learning. Students who enroll in this major are required to be a part of Enterprise. In addition to our new degree program, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in and for renewable, recycled, and repurposed materials—and the big picture of the circular and bioeconomies.  Students are not limited to HotForest, but do need to be a part of any Enterprise team for at least two years.

Describe how HotForest will attract students from different disciplines.

When we start looking at all the aspects of the circular economy, you realize pretty quickly how multiple perspectives and disciplines are required to understand its full potential, including business, forestry, environmental science, engineering, and computer science for example. Reusable products need to be well designed, both functionally and aesthetically. Therefore, the art/design community is also a key stakeholder in addition to STEM fields. It will be important to involve students from across campus to be a part of HotForest for its optimal success. 

In an effort to build relationships and interdisciplinary studies, I have reached out to the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Both CFRES and the College of Creative Studies want to work together either through this new Enterprise team, or another potential collaboration. The College of Creative Studies is interested in pairing their industrial design prowess with Michigan Tech engineering and bioproducts students, and vice versa.  We’re both fairly specialized schools, so our students could bring complementary skills to each other’s work.

What type of projects would interest HotForest?

This semester, HotForest was fortunate enough to get our first sponsorship from one of the Tech Forward Initiatives: Advanced Materials and Manufacturing. The AM&M initiative is looking to establish Michigan Tech as a global leader in research and education associated with advanced materials and manufacturing and the circular economy fits very well within their scope. The new HotForest team is essentially in an establishment phase during its first semester of existence this fall, which includes scoping and deciding on project priorities. The next step, and one the team is very hungry for, is to put the plan into action and take on real world problems. For instance they are considering the problem of waste wood from the manufacturing of office furniture, which generates over 100 tons per day in Grand Rapids and desperately needs an added value solution. The team is also looking to enter an international competition in just a couple weeks, the Wege Prize 2021, that is focusing on circular economy solutions from transdisciplinary student teams from around the world.

What are the goals for HotForest during this first year? What do you hope to accomplish?

The students really want to educate themselves on what a circular economy really entails. Looking for the silver lining to COVID-19 crisis, I believe there are some good opportunities for students to attend world class conferences and meetings that otherwise would have been out of reach for them financially. HotForest will be able to engage online and interact with global experts in a cost effective way. And that’s what the team is doing now, researching which meetings they might attend and planning how they’re going to go about educating themselves about this circular economy, with the intent that next semester we can hit the ground running with projects and probably a competition. With strong student interest in what HotForest is doing, we expect the team to grow. Our current members are looking forward to the challenge of growing and juggling multiple projects and, in the end, more progress toward the circular economy.

Are there any teams HotForest would like to work with?

I think there are probably several others that might also have a sustainability orientation, like Consumer Products Manufacturing for example, but also some that might not be an intuitive match, like Advanced Metalworks. There are lots of possibilities. Once HotForest gains its footing, I believe the team will be able to dig deeper into other teams’ individual projects and see if there are connections to what we hope to do. 

What inspired the name HotForest?

In full disclosure, I put a bunch of keywords into an online name and logo generator and after sifting through many hundreds and several websites that do this, I hit on HotForest with a logo that inspired what you see now.  Not terribly inspiring origin story, but the name did resonate with me as I wanted something off the wall—something that would make people wonder how it makes any sense and dig a little deeper.  The current team secretary (and safety officer) Katelyn Hacker tells me this is the same approach used by Post Malone of the Wu Tang Clan, so it seems a good way to go.

What would be your advice to a student interested in joining Enterprise, and more specifically HotForest?

As a student, if you’re interested in Enterprise, you should do it! Hands on learning is what Enterprise is all about—and Enterprise is a signature program at Michigan Tech. Before coming to Michigan Tech, I had never seen a program like this. Students are able to work over multiple years on student-led, and importantly, student-driven projects. That’s why I really wanted Enterprise to be a part of this new major, and ultimately create and advise the new HotForest team. Being a part of this Enterprise allows students to drill down into what we can do right now to start making positive changes in the world. We’re seeing companies who realize that we can’t just proceed with business as usual. I think it behooves students to be prepared for that future. This is what HotForest is really about! 

What’s something fun, impressive, or unique about yourself that might surprise people?

Before I went to grad school, I took some time off and worked as a carpenter for about 3 years. I wandered a lot and worked in Alaska, including in the towns of Wassila (where Sarah Palin was my mayor), and a month in Kotzebue inside the arctic circle, which was very eye-opening to say the least. 


A Message from the Dean

picture of dr. lorelle meadows

By Dr. Lorelle Meadows, Pavlis Honors College, Dean

It’s Fall and Michigan Tech is knee deep in… Enterprise Projects!! (and leaves!)

A lot has changed over the past six months, but one thing that remains a hallmark of a Michigan Tech education is the hands-on work that our students do. With comprehensive safety measures in place, our Enterprise teams are working together on over 100 projects to do things like create competitive SAE competition vehicles, build a satellite, improve the lives of rehabilitation patients, and even help with the COVID19 pandemic response..among many others. And, they’re working to respond to the global pandemic by designing affordable shared air filtration systems, developing virus-resistant materials, and creating physical distancing apps.

Through the explosion of virtual engagement, the teams are better equipped than ever before to engage with sponsors and clients afar, to include team members at a distance, and to draw on a broader network of expertise around the world. Imagine layering the current challenges over the traditional Enterprise education, and you have the recipe for a graduating class of incredible leaders who know how to manage adversity and change at an unprecedented level.


A Message from the Enterprise Program

By Rick Berkey, Professor of Practice and Enterprise Program Director and Briana Tucker, Enterprise Program Coordinator

Welcome to the second issue of our 2020 Enterprise Program Newsletter! With the new academic year now underway, it’s safe to say 2020 has been quite the year of uncertainty and change. For 20 years, the Enterprise Program has emphasized project-based learning, teamwork, mentorship, and professional networking — activities that have been shown to improve student retention, graduation, and career preparation. So what happens when the world is challenged to work together, but separately? In Enterprise, we have embraced this challenge by thinking harder, trying new things, and refusing to be discouraged. In one word: #tenacity! And in this context, ‘we’ includes our students, faculty advisors, support staff, and program supporters.

It really does “take a village” to run an Enterprise Program. This fall, any uncertainty about enrollment in Enterprise was quickly dispelled, as 700 students returned to campus to participate in one of our 24 enterprises. We even launched a new enterprise — Hotforest — to give students a new option focused around sustainable forest bioproducts and the circular bioeconomy. Continue reading below to meet Hotforest’s faculty advisor, Dr. Mark Rudnicki. Across Enterprise, students are tackling well over 100 projects this year, including several focused around responses to COVID-19 challenges! Similar to the pivot industry has made, our teams have had to learn how to work from home, socially distance in labs with smaller group sizes, and further improve their planning and communication skills…all in the spirit of getting the job done.

In other fall news, we excitedly hosted Enterprise Day on October 19th– with 21 teams in attendance, and students joining both in-person and online. We’ve started planning for Design Expo by taking lessons learned from last year’s first-ever virtual showcase. With only 9 weeks into the academic year, so much is still unknown, but what we do know is that students will continue to plan for their team, progress on project timelines, and thrive in national competitions. We hope you enjoy this issue and look forward to staying connected – Go Huskies!


A Message from the Dean

I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with you a few words about Enterprise and the role that Enterprise plays at Michigan Tech and in the Pavlis Honors College.  Six years ago, Enterprise became one of the first programs placed into the newly formed Pavlis Honors College. With a 14-year record of excellence in education at the time, it is no surprise that the Enterprise model helped to shape what would soon become a unique honors college.  

Enterprise was designed to provide academic enrichment and offer real hands-on practical experience to any student on campus interested in expanding their education beyond the classroom. This mission became a core principle of the honors college, pushing Michigan Tech to think broadly of what an honors experience can be – a resource for highly motivated students (not just for students with high grades).  Enterprise also provides students with opportunities to build key skills for post-graduate success, including communication, teamwork, management, and leadership (among others).  These skills formed a foundation for what would soon become the Pavlis Honors Abilities, a set of nine competencies that all students who engage with Pavlis programs are guided in developing.  

As Enterprise turns 20 this year, the program continues its legacy of impact, providing value to Michigan Tech students, to the faculty who advise these students, to the partners who provide these students with relevant and meaningful work, and to the employers who hire these students after they graduate.  It isn’t often that an academic program can weather the social challenges of two decades, innovate and adapt, and remain relevant to these broad constituencies.  And, it isn’t often that the social changes of one semester can push us to reconsider what we mean by “hands-on.”  The Enterprise team met this challenge “head-on” with a creative approach to the way we teach and learn, and ultimately, showcase student learning and accomplishment amid a global pandemic (you can read more about this elsewhere in this newsletter). This wasn’t only a response for the moment, but an opportunity for a shift in the future that will be evident as we continue to live and learn in a time of accelerated change. 

I’m excited for the future of Enterprise – to witness the work of our leadership team, our faculty advisors and module instructors, our partners and, most importantly, our students and graduates – to see where the next semester, year and decade of change take this incredible program as we continue to build forward to meet the changing needs society.


Q&A with Dr. Tony Rogers

Tony Rogers (1994, PhD ChE, Michigan Tech) has worked over 30 years on experimental thermodynamics, structure-property relationships, and mathematical techniques of searching molecular graphs for the presence of moieties, bonds, and other features. This experience was gained on faculty at Michigan Tech and earlier as a Senior Research Engineer at Research Triangle Institute (RTP, NC). Tony led an AIChE-DIPPR effort from 1991-2009 to compile and model chemical property information. He now teaches process simulation and process analysis and design to chemical engineering seniors.  In the fall of 2000, Tony helped found the Enterprise Program through an NSF Action Agenda grant (EEC-9872533).  Now in its 21st year, the Enterprise model gives teams of students from multiple disciplines an opportunity to work together in a business-like setting to solve real-world problems of importance to industry.

Over the years, what inspires you to continue as an Enterprise Advisor?

Enterprise lets me leave a lasting imprint on many of the CPM students.  I don’t indulge modern students’ general overreliance on technology to communicate.  Direct person-to-person interactions are encouraged to get things done.  In my view, personal traits of honesty and reliability are much more important than the “gimmicky” concepts found in scholarly courses on teamwork.  I can have a multi-year impact on a student and really give guidance and/or encouragement during a critical formative period.

As the recipient of the 2018 and 2020 Outstanding Enterprise Advisor Award, what is your approach to advising Consumer Product Manufacturing Enterprise?

My role is primarily to be a facilitator.  Every year, I tell the newly-selected President and Executive Board that my role is to help them achieve their collective vision for the CPM Enterprise.  I connect them with the resources, facilities, mentoring, and staff help they need.  I stay in my lane and let the students show their creativity and initiative.  New product and project ideas need to have student origination and/or buy-in; otherwise they are DOA.

What is your most memorable project CPM has worked on, and why?

In 2009, CPM partnered with the Blue Marble Security Enterprise to thermoform a 3M film into a cover for an LED taillight.  The film’s optical properties spread the light uniformly across the cavity with relatively few light sources.  Compared to an incandescent bulb, the LED taillight has a lower volume and weight, requires less energy, and is now standard equipment in the Buick Enclave.

This successful project proved that intradisciplinary pride can co-exist with respect for the diverse skillsets of the various Enterprise majors.

Describe an “aha!” moment you experienced while advising your team. How did this moment make it clear the benefit students gain from being a part of Enterprise?

Three years ago, the CPM President conducted himself so well at the Spring Design Expo that judges mistook him for an industry consultant.  Running CPM let him stay calm, cool, and collected in front of any audience.  The Enterprise model fosters more ownership in the organization than would be normal for a traditional class or club. Enterprise alumni stay connected after graduation to a surprising degree.

Periodically, I remind the students that overcoming bureaucracy and red tape is a valuable project management skill they are learning in CPM.  They learn how to get things done and how to speak the corporate lingo.

Offering leadership opportunities has led CPM to have strong participation by its female members at all levels.  No particular strategy to get there has been necessary; as a whole the class is welcoming and supportive.

What would be your advice to a student who wants to make the most of their Enterprise experience?

Be proactive and seek out leadership opportunities.  Spot problems and fix them without being told.  Practice being the kind of employee companies want to hire and relate these anecdotal details to prospective employers.

Also, step outside your comfort zone.  An abundance of leadership positions exists in every Enterprise and within the Enterprise Program structure.  In CPM, we created a new student leadership position, ‘Director of Professional Development’, to benefit all of the students who want to develop new marketable skills.

How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on an Enterprise team?

The best hires, not surprisingly, have inherent personality traits like honesty, integrity, initiative, punctuality, and perseverance.  Traditional classes, however, do not always require students to draw upon these traits to be successful.  High-GPA students sometimes make bad employees simply because they lack good character.  In the work environment we create, Enterprise students cannot lead and function well without being good people.

What is something you plan to do in the next year to enhance the student experience in CPM?

More accountability is needed for the larger project teams.  My Executive Board plans to expand the peer evaluations and conduct them earlier to give more time for corrective feedback.  Team Leaders will have a lot of authority and responsibility to manage.

What’s something fun, impressive or unique about yourself that might surprise people.

Sometimes you can connect with students about the strangest subjects.  For instance, I grew up fascinated by the kayfabe surrounding the old territorial professional wrestling at its peak (c. 1965 – 1985).  Unlike the cartoon-like product of today, the regional wrestling territories tried to make the in-ring product seem like real athletic contests.  In boxing, the 1970s was a similar golden age for the heavyweight division with Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Norton, Lyle, Shavers, etc.  Fortunately, through YouTube video clips I can share wrestling and boxing history with today’s students.  Being a Clemson graduate, I can also brag a bit about college football championships and a 4-0 all-time record versus tOSU.


Enterprise Ready to Tackle Manufacturing Challenges of the 21st Century

By Chris Morgan, Assistant Director of Educational Partnerships

The Enterprise Program provides world-class hand’s on educational opportunities for Michigan Tech students.  Since joining the program office in fall of 2019, I’ve had a chance to see this first hand with the amazing student projects that Enterprise teams propose, design, prototype, and validate as part of their teamwork experience.  The program is filled with unique individuals who are learning to demonstrate their technical, professional, and leadership skills with real-world applicable projects.  The program is also supported by a host of engaged industry partners, advisors, and program staff that are engaged above and beyond expectations to make sure MTU students can receive a world class education.

One opportunity that sticks out from this year has been the Enterprise Manufacturing Initiative.  This initiative allows for Enterprise students and teams to propose a manufacturing related project topic, receive funding through General Motors’ University Giving, get timely advice from two dedicated GM manufacturing engineers (MTU alumni), and execute the project with pre-defined timelines and measurable outcomes.  This year’s EMI student group proposed 7 new projects, including everything from advanced suspension design on the SAE Baja vehicle, to recycling systems for 3-D printing filament, to a low cost vaccine transport device for impoverished communities.  Despite the transition to remote learning, these students produced great strides in the effort to finalize their designs and prepare for prototyping next fall.  The Baja Suspension team was even kind enough to bring their entire vehicle up to the Pavlis Honors College common space to show off their accomplishment during a February EMI general meeting.

Looking forward to next year’s Enterprise team accomplishments!  Please consider becoming involved in the many opportunities and objectives of the Enterprise program.


Enterprise in 2040: A Vision for the Next 20 Years

By Rick Berkey, Professor of Practice and Enterprise Program Director

This Fall, the Enterprise Program began its 20th year of operation —  a significant milestone for any program, and even more so for one that has been financially self-sustaining since the initial NSF grant ended in 2002. In 2006, I left a successful industry career to manage annual fundraising and sponsorship needs for the Enterprise and Senior Design Programs. Looking back on my decision to work for Michigan Tech, Enterprise was a huge and deciding factor. I was motivated by the opportunity to support students in an educational program that:

  1. looks more like the interdisciplinary work environment students are heading towards,  
  2. connects students with project sponsors and mentors to solve open-ended, industry-relevant challenges, and 
  3. gives students ownership of a portion of their education that aligns with their personal development and career interests.

Fourteen years later, I am fortunate to direct the program, in addition to teaching Enterprise courses and advising the Supermileage Systems Enterprise. I am just as motivated now as I was in 2006 to be part of what has become an award-winning program that remains quite unique when compared with other programs across the country. Enterprise was, and still is, ahead of the curve in preparing students for successful careers. While we can (and should!) pause briefly to celebrate our important milestone, it’s really time to forge ahead to keep our graduates out in front. So with that, will Enterprise look like in the next 20 years?

First off, I would like to start with what will not change: Enterprise will continue to be student-led, with support and mentorship from faculty, staff, and industry. When students are empowered in an active learning environment, we shift the focus from ‘satisfying degree requirements’ to ‘satisfying curiosity’. Enterprise will remain a multi-year program, where students create their unique pathway through a cycle of experience, reflection, and growth. This also allows enterprise to build a sense of community and be part of something bigger during their time at Michigan Tech; I really enjoy hearing alumni introduce themselves first by their Enterprise, and then by their major. Speaking of majors, Enterprise must and will remain focused on multi/interdisciplinary, team-based problem solving. Why? Because this is how the world operates, whether working in the public or private sector. Finally, industry partners will continue to play a critical role in the Enterprise Program. After all, the best way to continue preparing students for early career success is by partnering with the very organizations seeking to hire them upon graduation.

So, how might we build on this foundation to adapt and evolve the Enterprise Program so that it continues to meet the needs of its graduates and those who employ them? Here are some thoughts and ideas for the next two decades:

Agility, Inclusive, Innovation
  • Agility: Cross-enterprise collaboration – if we think of the Enterprise Program as a network, each enterprise is a node with valuable assets, capabilities, resources, and motivations. What if we harnessed this potential more seamlessly and to a greater extent? Imagine multiple enterprises collaborating to address larger-scale “wicked problems” such as NAE’s Grand Challenges. Or, a more agile approach to assembling project teams of varying duration, across enterprises, leveraging complementary skill sets. This year certainly reminds us of the need to be flexible, adaptable, and resilient. We have had successes already with ‘joint ventures’ between enterprises, and the potential to expand on this idea will enhance the Enterprise experience for our students and project stakeholders.
  • Inclusivity: Enterprise options for ALL undergraduate majors – from the outset, Enterprise has been open to all majors and annually attracts ~900 students from 30+ majors. Yet, the majority of student enrollment is from the colleges of engineering and computing (see chart). Two factors strongly influence Enterprise enrollment: 1.) degree programs that include a defined Enterprise pathway option for their students, and 2.) the attractiveness of the Enterprise team and project ‘portfolio’ to students. Progress continues on both fronts, with a goal to attract a broader slice of Michigan Tech’s student population each year.
  • Value Creation: Fostering innovation and entrepreneurial mindset – in terms of industry-sponsored projects, Enterprise students get first-hand experience delivering an innovative solution of value to a client. As part of the scope, they may even do sponsor-guided market research and economic analysis to help quantify the value for the sponsor’s client. But, we have many enterprises also working on their own innovations, without an external sponsor. Often, these are the projects where student motivation is highest — working on something they are truly passionate about. Some could turn out to be the “next big thing”, and students may even wish to start an eventual business around the idea. The potential to enhance student-initiated project experiences with more support — educationally, financially, and programmatically —  will be a focus for the coming years, working closely with colleagues in Husky Innovate and our broader innovation ecosystem.

These are some major initiatives we’re working on, so stay tuned for updates in the coming months. We welcome alumni and industry input in these plans, so please get in touch! As the saying goes, “the only constant is change”, and the ability to embrace, respond, and adapt to change is what will differentiate our graduates going forward. We need only look to our current COVID-19 environment for motivation. But rather than focusing on getting back to normal, our focus is on getting back to better…a better Enterprise Program, a better Michigan Tech, and a better future, created by Huskies!


Enterprise Open House– Friday, August 02, 2019, 1-4pm

The Enterprise Program Office invites Alumni and Friends, the campus, and community to tour various Enterprise team spaces Friday, 1-4 pm during the Campus and Department Open Houses. There are over 20 labs, classrooms, and meeting spaces across campus that Enterprise teams call home. Join us as we explore Blue Marble Security, Consumer Product Manufacturing, and M&M 614. During this time, stop by to talk with students and program staff to learn more about these Enterprise teams and their current projects. Refreshments will be served along the way.

Blue Marble Security- EERC 629

Consumer Product Manufacturing- Chem Sci SB018

Enterprise Collaborative Team Space- M&M 614 (Shared space for all Enterprise teams and office space specifically for Supermileage Systems, BoardSport Technologies, General and Expedition Adventure Research (GEAR), and Innovative Global Solutions)


Spring 2017 Carnahan Enterprise Scholarship Opportunity

The Enterprise Program is now accepting Spring applications for the Carnahan Enterprise Scholarship. Please review the scholarship description and application form before applying.

Applications are due by 5pm on Friday February 24 and should be submitted to:

Rick Berkey

Director, Enterprise Program

722 Minerals and Materials Building