Tag: michigan tech online programs

Michigan Tech Global Campus: A Great Fit for Amanda Irwin

Amanda promoting the Michigan Tech Global Campus to prospective students.

Amanda doing what she does best: being an advocate and team player for Global Campus

Guiding Students With Expertise and Representing Global Campus With Passion

Michigan Tech Global Campus, which is responsible for housing MTU’s online graduate programs, continuing education, and more, is staffed by a small but mighty team. You previously learned about Vice President David Lawrence, such as his rigorous schedule and his passion for developing partnerships. Then, Brian Hannon, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances, and former MTU hockey star (or should we say celebrity!), skated across the digital pages of this blog.

But there are a few people left to write about, two team members and student champions you need to meet. And one of them is Amanda Irwin, Graduate Admissions Manager for Global Campus. She was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to let me interview her.

Before we get into the details of what you do at Michigan Tech Global Campus, tell us a little more about you.

Amanda Irwin, Graduate Admissions Manager for the Michigan Tech Global Campus.
Amanda Irwin, Graduate Admissions Manager for Michigan Tech Global Campus

In 2009, I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA), majoring in Accounting, from Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). While completing my degree, I also worked full time in workforce development and case management.

That is when and where I found my passion for higher education. In my job, I worked closely with dislocated workers, helping them take advantage of grant money for retraining. And I loved it.

That experience is what launched me onto the path of helping students with their educational journeys. I am also a mom of four super cool kids!

What, exactly, do you do on your job?

In my role, I help prospective students through all stages of the inquiry and enrollment process. In doing so, I answer questions about our programs and application process. But probably the most impactful of my duties is walking students through the admissions process step by step, detailing the timeline, and letting them know what to expect next. I think students appreciate the insight. They feel more at ease knowing what the process will look like from start to finish.

What was your previous role before coming to Michigan Tech Global Campus and how did that experience prepare you for this one?

Well, I have worked in admissions since 2012, at a local university and at a community college. The decision-making process is very different for a high school student coming to their freshman year of college vs. that of an adult student returning later in life (or starting for the first time). These experiences with students have provided me with perspective. They’ve also opened my eyes to so many different life paths that people will walk through. Lastly, my previous roles have helped me develop a deeper understanding of diverse student experiences. And patience and empathy, of course!

What is the favorite part of being the Graduate Admissions Manager for Michigan Tech Global Campus?

Talking to cool people is my favorite part of the job. I enjoy being in a relationship and making a connection with students, chatting about kids or the weather or sports….finding that common ground with them. A close second is hearing from students semesters later and learning that they are doing well and planning their graduations. In other words, it is that feeling of accomplishment in knowing that you helped them get started.

Why have you chosen to work in online learning? That is, what about online learning resonates with you?

I think online learning is the wave of the future, especially for our adult learners. Online learning offers the flexibility students need to be able to say, “Yes, I can move toward that next goal while working at my current job or caring for my family, and so on.” Online learning allows nontraditional students to fulfill their personal and professional goals and to finish what they started. Or get a brand new start altogether.

Along with guiding students through the application process, you’ve often done outreach for Michigan Tech Global Campus. Can you say a little more about this work?

Amanda Irwin represents Michigan Tech Global Campus at the MAHLE Corporate Fellowship signing ceremony.
Amanda Irwin, sixth from the left, represents Michigan Tech Global Campus at the MAHLE Corporate Education Fellowship signing ceremony. In the center are MAHLE CEO and President Peter Lynch and MTU President Richard Koubek.

Well, I regularly travel to and participate in our corporate partner events to represent Michigan Technological University and Global Campus. For instance, in Fall 2023, I attended corporate fellowship signing ceremonies for both ITC (September) and MAHLE (November).

I’m also very active in my local chamber of commerce where I go to various events and spread the word about Michigan Tech and Global Campus. One of the most memorable events was the Midland Business Association’s (MBS) Women in STEM panel discussion, in which female researchers and leaders talked about some of their challenges in STEM roles. This event was partially sponsored by Global Campus. Global Campus was also a program sponsor for one of our WakeUp Midland networking breakfast events. These events offer a great opportunity to make business contacts, enjoy breakfast, and create networks.

And when Michigan Technological University sponsored Dr. Ruth Archer at the Lean Summit, I set up a Global Campus table there.

The goal in all of these events is getting exposure for Global Campus, building on the respect and reputation of our little school in the north, and letting people know that we can bring Michigan Tech to them.

Amanda Irwin, Graduate Admissions Manager for Global Campus

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

I love helping with my kids’ sports teams, especially basketball. Watching them play any sport is where you will find me most weekends.

When we aren’t playing sports, I enjoy adventuring with my husband and kids. We fish, explore parks, go rock hunting, go on waterfall adventures. The whole family loves going for a drive and searching for eagles and other cool birds.

I also enjoy some recreation league sports that I play in a few times a year, hanging with family and friends, and doing puzzles.

Amanda Irwin, Global Campus Admissions Manager, stands with  her husband and four small children in front of an icy waterfall.
Amanda Irwin and her family doing one of their favorite things: exploring waterfalls.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. In the second week of March, I will be holding an in-person information session on our accelerated master’s degrees, accelerated certificates, and online graduate programs. At this event, there will be program directors; the always amazing Director of Graduate Enrollment Services, Jacque Smith; and, of course, free pizza. If you’re an eligible student, you’ll get an email from me. So check your inboxes!

If you have questions about any of Michigan Tech’s online programs or the application process, please reach out to me at globalcampus@mtu.edu or make an appointment on my calendar. You’ll get friendly service from someone who knows our programs and the application process inside and out.

Five Ways Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Healthcare

A cellphone against an image of a heart and a robotic hand, meant to suggest the connectedness of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

In the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s Top Emerging Technologies of 2023 report, the organization nominated AI-facilitated healthcare as the 10th top global trend. After stressing how the COVID pandemic magnified the shortages of healthcare systems around the globe, the report suggested that perhaps one of the most important goals of AI systems is that of improving healthcare. But how, exactly, can artificial intelligence help if not transform healthcare?

1. Providing Diagnostic Assistance

“Errors and discrepancies in radiology practice are uncomfortably common, with an estimated day-to-day rate of 3–5% of studies reported, and much higher rates reported in many targeted studies.”

Adrian P. Brady, Error and discrepancy in radiology: Inevitable or Avoidable

By leveraging machine learning algorithms to analyze medical data and images, whether they are CT scans, X-rays, retinal images, and more, Artificial Intelligence can play a crucial role in interpreting medical images and data.

Although AI can’t replace the expertise of radiologists, it can certainly supplement it. For instance, trained on vast data sets of diseases and anomalies, AI excels at recognizing both patterns and abnormalities in medical images. And it often does so with more efficiency, speed, and consistency than its human counterparts. AI systems also maintain a consistent level of performance regardless of factors like fatigue or distraction, which can affect human radiologists. Therefore, AI may provide more reliable results throughout the day and across different cases. This heightened accuracy could make the difference between life and death in emergency situations.

AI can integrate radiological findings with electronic health records (EHRs) and other clinical data. Thus, it helps to provide a more comprehensive, holistic analysis. It can also help with quality control by flagging potential errors and inconsistencies in medical images that lead to misdiagnoses.

2. Aiding in Drug Discovery and Development

An image of a lab worker who is using artificial intelligence to discover drugs.
Artificial intelligence can help researchers create new drugs.

AI is also transforming drug discovery and development by leveraging advanced computational techniques to analyze large datasets, predict molecular interactions, and streamline various stages of the drug development pipeline.

Algorithms can assess large data sets (genomic, proteomic, and clinical) not only to identify proteins and genes associated with diseases, but also to pinpoint targets that will respond to clinical intervention.

Machine learning can also predict the binding affinity of molecules to target proteins. This prediction allows researchers to prioritize and then test possible drug compounds. In other words, AI can help both streamline and reduce the cost of pharmaceutical research.

For instance in 2020, DeepMind’s AI system (AlphaFold), made headlines by accurately predicting 3D protein structures from amino acid sequences. According to its website, AlphaFold regularly “achieves accuracy that is competitive with experiment.” Why is this accuracy important? Understanding the 3D structure of proteins assists researchers in designing drugs that can interact more precisely with specific proteins. The outcome is more effective and targeted treatments.

Artificial intelligence can also optimize the design of critical trials by analyzing patient data, summarizing biomedical literature, identifying suitable patient populations, and predicting potential challenges. In addition, AI helps investigate drug repurposing, predict drug toxicity, and identify disease biomarkers.

3. Personalizing Healthcare

Personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine, involves tailoring preventive care, medical treatment, and interventions to an individual’s characteristics. These might include such factors as genetics, lifestyle, and environment.

Artificial Intelligence steps in by analyzing large datasets, making predictions and insights that enable more personalized, targeted, and effective healthcare.

An image of diabetes treatment devices to indicate how artificial intelligence can help personalize diabetes treatment.
Precision medicine can help create more effective, individualized diabetes treatment plans.

For instance, for diabetes treatment, precision healthcare considers an individual’s lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise habits, and stress levels. Then, doctors use AI to create personalized dietary plans and exercise regimens to manage blood sugar levels effectively. Diabetes treatment might involve using wearable devices and health trackers to monitor and adjust lifestyle interventions based on real-time data.

Take Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) systems, which provide real-time data on glucose levels throughout the day. Precision medicine utilizes this data to adjust treatment plans dynamically. Thus, Artificial Intelligence allows for more accurate insulin dosing based on the person’s unique glucose patterns.

In precision medicine, AI may also assess an individual’s genetic makeup in conjunction with their medical records. The goal is predicting how a patient may respond to certain medications and treatments. And in nutrigenomics, AI amasses a wealth of genetic, molecular, and nutritional data to make personalized dietary recommendations. In other words, machine intelligence helps create personalized plans that also better engage patients in their healthcare journeys.

4. Using Predictive Analytics to Improve Patient Outcomes

A smart phone held in front of a computer. In this image, predictive analytics are being used in healthcare.
Predictive analytics is one tool that can improve healthcare.

Predictive analytics uses various statistical algorithms, machine learning techniques, and data mining processes to analyze historical data and make predictions.

The goal of predictive analytics is identifying patterns, trends, and relationships within data to forecast future behavior or outcomes.

PA, then, leverages the power of data so that organizations make informed predictions and better decisions while reducing their risk.

For instance, AI can assess large datasets to identify both patterns and risk factors associated with disease. Thus, it helps healthcare providers estimate the likelihood of certain individuals developing conditions and diseases. They can then suggest preventative measures, such as lifestyle interventions and early screenings.

AI also assists in monitoring patients, such as in chronic disease management. By continuously analyzing patient data, such as vital signs and other health metrics, it can detect deteriorating health conditions earlier. With this data, healthcare providers can intervene more quickly and reduce the risk of complications.

Adhering to taking medication is obviously crucial to patient outcomes. AI can help predict and improve medication adherence by analyzing patient data and identifying factors that may influence a patient’s ability to follow prescribed medication regimens.

In other words, predictive analytics, when combined with early intervention, can improve patient outcomes while creating a more proactive and efficient healthcare system. Learn more about the growing importance of data analytics to healthcare.

5. Acting as Virtual Health Assistants

Artificial Intelligence-powered virtual assistants are also used throughout healthcare. In these roles, they provide information, answer questions, help in preliminary diagnoses, improve patient engagement, and direct inquirers to healthcare services.

Deepscribe is one such trusted medical scribe. After extracting information from the conversation during a doctor’s visit, it uses AI to create a medical note. This note “syncs directly with the provider’s electronic health record system, so all the provider has to do is review the documentation and sign off at the end of the day.”

A smartphone can help you access AI health apps.
AI mental health apps are easily accessed on smartphones.

Artificial Intelligence helpers are used in telepsychiatry and with predictive analytics to identify at-risk individuals. But it is AI’s use in chatbots for mental health support that might be one of its more important functions. Why?

The National Council for Mental Well-Being, which announced a mental health crisis in the US, found that 56% of Americans seek some form of mental health. However, the US has a surprising lack of resources. In the same survey, 74% of people stated that they didn’t believe these services were accessible to everyone whereas 41% said options are limited. And because of high cost and inadequate health insurance, 25% of those surveyed admitted that they often had to choose between getting therapy and buying necessities.

Accessing healthcare is also impacted by a person’s location and income. That is, those who live in rural areas and those with lower incomes are less likely to seek mental health. And, for many, there is also the stigma of getting help. In a recent study, 42% of employees confessed to hiding their anxiety from their employer. They were worried about being judged, demoted, or, at worst, fired.

Accessing Therapy Through Artificial Intelligence

But chatbots, who turn out to be good for things other than writing your term papers, could help in this mental health crisis.

That is, chatbots are often the first line of treatment for those with limited access to and funds for therapy. According to a Forbes Health article, the cost of therapy for those without insurance ranges between $100 and $200, depending on your location. And 26 million Americans (7.9% of the population) don’t have health insurance.

Chatbots, then, assist with therapy cost, accessibility, and patient privacy. These apps are available when people are at work or done for the day: ready when they need them. A study by Woebot, in fact, found that 65% of their app’s use was outside normal hours, with the highest usage rate between 5 and 10 PM. Although there are health hotlines and hospitals, most doctor’s offices and clinics close at 5 PM or earlier. So people who can’t leave their jobs to get help are often left stranded. (And, for employers, it turns out that these apps also reduce work downtime, too.)

A screenshot of Wysa's website, which shows the scale of impact of this artificial intelligence cognitive behavioral therapist.
Wysa summarizes its chatbot’s scale of impact.

Two of the most popular AI-chatbots are Wysa and Woebot, accessible through mobile apps.

Using principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), these chatbots provide mental health support. They help users manage their stress and anxiety by tracking mood, offering coping strategies and mindfulness exercises, and engaging in conversations.

In other words, these chatbots create an anonymous safe space to talk about worries and stressors, working towards deescalating them. Others include Youper, and Replika, the “AI companion that cares.”

Keeping Pace With Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

There is no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will continue to integrate (if not infiltrate) healthcare systems, inform new technologies, and guide medical interventions. Indeed, this blog has just scratched the surface of AI’s potential. There is still much to say, for example, about AI solutions for bolstering healthcare infrastructure and services in developing nations.

Those wanting to make a difference in data-driven healthcare, and ensure that artificial intelligence is used responsibly, securely, and ethically require specialized advanced education.

Besides its online certificate and MS in Applied Statistics, Michigan Technological University offers several online health informatics programs through its Global Campus. Along with Foundations in Health Informatics and an Online Public Health Informatics certificate, the Michigan Tech Global Campus has two other certificates and a graduate degree. In these CHI programs, students also get access to HIMSS, an interdisciplinary society that unites people striving to improve the global health ecosystem.

If you’d like additional information about these programs, reach out to the designated Graduate Program Assistant, Margaret Landsberger at margaret@mtu.edu. Or request information about one or more of of MTU’s Health Informatics Programs.

ITC Signs Education Fellowship Agreement

Leaders of MTU and ITC at the Corporate Fellowship Program Signing Event.

(Leaders and employees of MTU and ITC at the official signing event for the Corporate Education Fellowship. In the center is Linda Apsey, CEO and president of ITC Holdings Corp. To her left (our right) are Michigan Tech President Richard Koubek; and David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education. Contracts Specialist Felicia Milam stands on Apsey’s right. Directly behind her is Brian Slocum, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ITC Holdings Corp.)

Michigan Technological University recently signed a Corporate Education Partnership Agreement with ITC Holdings Corp., the nation’s largest independent electricity transmission company.

ITC owns and operates high-voltage transmission infrastructure in Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. It has more than 700 employees and 1,000 contractors. The company provides transmission grid solutions to improve reliability, expand access to markets, allow new generating resources to interconnect to its systems, and lower the overall cost of delivered energy.

The signing ceremony took place at ITC’s headquarters in Novi, Michigan, on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. In attendance were Michigan Tech President Richard Koubek; David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education; Linda H. Apsey, president and CEO of ITC; and Brian Slocum, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ITC. Other leaders from both organizations, MTU alumni, and fellowship recipients were also present.

Making Advanced Education More Accessible

The Corporate Education Fellowship was spearheaded by David Lawrence. This program supports ITC employees in their pursuit of online graduate education through Michigan Tech’s Global Campus. That is, current employees will receive fellowships to enroll in one of Michigan Tech’s online graduate certificates or master’s degree programs. These fellowships are available for up to four years, provided the recipients continue to be employed by ITC and that they meet Tech’s eligibility requirements.

The program allows employees to acquire further industry-needed skills, follow areas of professional interest, and meet the evolving demands of next-generation energy infrastructure.

The fellowship program is part of Global Campus’s dual missions of building relationships between academia and industry; and making quality online education more accessible to diverse adult learners.

President and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., Linda Apsey; and President Richard Koubek sign the fellowship agreement.

Preparing ITC Employees For the Future

Linda Apsey, president and CEO of ITC, reflected on the fellowship and on collaborating with MTU. “We’re at this really pivotal moment in time, as we are on the cusp of an energy transformation. And innovation, new skills, new experiences, leadership: all of those things are so important now more than ever.”

Apsey also spoke highly of ITC employees who are Michigan Tech graduates: “What we observe and experience is that Michigan Tech grads come to ITC ready and prepared day one. They also come with the right skills and technical knowledge. And I would say even more importantly, that they arrive with the demonstrated desire to continue and to learn and grow in an organization like ours.”

Moira Morgan, director of organizational learning and development of ITC, affirmed that this fellowship helps employees be “prepared not just for today, but tomorrow. What they learned two years ago, three years ago, may not be applicable today.” So, thanks to this program, “they’re preparing themselves for the future.”

Supporting Industry in Michigan

At the ceremony, President Richard Koubek referred to MTU’s founding charter that mandates its support of industry, particularly in Michigan. He also addressed the importance of alignment between education and industry for both innovation and growth in organizations.

ITC CEO and President, LInda Apsey and President Koubek shake hands.
ITC CEO and President, LInda Apsey and President Koubek shake hands.

There is a change, transformational times, certainly in the energy industry. Also, there are a lot of transitions, tectonic shifts, happening in higher ed. In my opinion, having a close relationship with industrial partners is going to be key for universities succeeding in the future.

President Koubek

President Koubek also added, “It’s so important that what the students are learning in the classroom is directly relevant to what they’re going to do once they graduate. And I think having a tight feedback loop between industry and the academic institution makes that so.”

Continuing Its Relationship with Michigan Tech

Michigan Tech and ITC have a long-established relationship. For instance, ITC recently instituted the Jon E. Jipping Annual Scholarship for undergraduates. Jipping (MSEE ’91), who was one of ITC’s first employees, retired as executive vice president of ITC Holdings in 2023. He is now a member of the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees.

Following in his footsteps, several current ITC employees are Michigan Tech alumni. Additionally, many MTU students join ITC for summer internships, with several interns becoming full-time employees upon graduation.

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ITC Holdings Corp. Brian Slocum confirmed that “the impact from Michigan Tech students on ITC has been longstanding. Over the years, we’ve heard from many, many Michigan Tech students that ITC and Michigan Tech share a similar mindset and culture, which is why our relationship has endured. What they [Michigan Tech students] continue to bring to the table is an ability to solve problems from a technical standpoint and a deep knowledge about the power industry, which gives them a kick-start on their career at ITC. I’m excited to see how that will grow as we move forward with our relationship.”

Brian Slocum, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ITC Holdings Corp.; and David Lawrence, vice president for Global Campus and continuing education sign the fellowship agreement.

Moving Forward with MTU

One of the fellowship recipients is Liz Martin, an engineering project manager. When asked about why she is pursuing the online TechMBA program, Martin asserted that she’s an “engineer through and through; it’s huge part of who I am. So I love that their [Michigan Tech’s] MBA program marries aspects of engineering with business, which is exactly what I was looking for.”

Then she enthusiastically added, everyone at ITC “loves Michigan Tech. We’re a big Michigan Tech company. I’ve always heard about how amazing it was. Most of my friends went to Michigan Tech. So I couldn’t miss an opportunity to also be a husky and join the fandom.”

Michigan Tech is proud to work with ITC, an organization committed to solving next-generation energy infrastructure challenges.

Global Campus Grows

Whether it’s been covering new education fellowship partnerships, reporting on Michigan Tech’s collaboration with the MEDC, writing about innovative mass timber research initiatives, researching the gifts of adult learners, welcoming new team members, or rushing to keep up with Global Campus Vice President David Lawrence, this blog writer has had a busy year. And while all these initiatives, and more, have been underway, I’ve also had to keep track of Michigan Tech’s new online courses and programs.

Recent Online Programs at Global Campus

For example, in the last year, the College of Business added the online TechMBA and the Master of Engineering Management. Both are accredited, 10-course programs that, in various ways, leverage your STEM expertise. Whereas the TechMBA provides foundational business skills, the MEM allows students to customize degrees that merge engineering and business. To promote these programs, Dr. Mari Buche, David Lawrence, and his Global Campus team graciously led several online virtual interest sessions, which were all well attended.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

President John F. Kennedy

Furthermore, the College of Engineering met the learning and leadership challenge with its Master of Engineering, a professional terminal degree. This degree allows students to focus on either a HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) track or an engineering track. For the engineering track, learners can combine courses from several disciplines. In fact, the master of engineering is ideal for those collaborating with their employer to develop a program to meet specific on-the-job needs.

More recently, the Department of Applied Computing has also added two new programs to its roster: Public Health Informatics and Foundations in Health Informatics. Both certificates can be stacked to form a master’s degree. Like other HI programs, these prepare students for diverse roles in the data-driven healthcare industry. Guy Hembroff, the Health Informatics director, also ensured that MTU’s CHI students have memberships in HIMSS. HIMSS (Health Information Management Systems Society) is a global society. It enables health information professionals to access resources, enroll in seminars, develop networks, search for jobs, and much more. In other words, it gives MTU’s Health Informatics students an edge.

Global Campus Bridge Courses

Bridge courses are short, intensive, preparatory online courses that help learners acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to enter advanced study. This study might mean an undergraduate program, graduate degree, or graduate certificate. Often, bridge courses are for students who are provisionally accepted into a program.

Linear Algebra: A Bridge Course Offered Through Global Campus
Linear Algebra: A Bridge Course Offered Through Global Campus

For instance, in September of 2022, Teresa Woods, Associate Teaching Professor in Mathematical Sciences and Linear Algebra aficionado, taught our first bridge course: Linear Algebra. Her ten-week, asynchronous online course was aimed at prospective students who needed the LA requirement to enroll in MTU’s Online Master of Science in Applied Statistics program.

Woods’ course covered fundamental linear algebra concepts as used in Applied Statistics. Some of the topics included systems of equations, vectors, matrices, orthogonality, subspaces, and the eigenvalue problem.

To learn more about this course, email Teresa Woods (tmthomps@mtu.edu).

Linear Algebra is once again running for the Fall 2023 semester. And there are still a few seats left. Right now, the proposed start date is Sept. 18, 2023.

Newer Professional Development Opportunities

Fundamental Courses and Bootcamps

Global Campus also had the privilege of working with subject matter experts to promote in-demand professional development courses. Also known as continuing education and career training, these courses allow those in the workforce to hone skills, acquire specialized training, develop leadership abilities, and stay up-to-date on current trends.

Currently, Michigan Tech offers both non-credit and for-credit pd courses.

For example, during the summer of 2023, APS Labs rolled out its short, but rigorous course on Diesel Engine Fundamentals. Despite the turn to EV, this course recognized that diesel engines weren’t going anywhere soon. That is, diesel engines are still in light-duty vehicles, medium and heavy-duty trucks; in commercial vehicles (trains, trucks, buses, barges, and boats); in army vehicles; and in generators.

This course was conveniently available in both online and in-person versions. Its goal was educating those pursuing careers in the automotive industry, commercial vehicles, power generation, or related fields.

A Diesel Engine, which was studied in the APS Labs short course for Global Campus
A Diesel Engine

Also, Kevin Johnson, Assistant Teaching Professor, Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, lent his significant expertise to summer students. He taught an an intense 20-hour in-person hydraulics bootcamp. In his course, students learned about several topics crucial to hydraulics, such as valves, pumps, motors, circuits, and closed-loop hydrostatic systems.

Upcoming Professional Development Courses

Python for Modern GIS

A person working on GIS with Python, one of the courses taught though Global Campus
GIS Workshop

Furthermore, recognizing the need for more Python professionals in the GIS world, Parth Bhatt (Assistant Teaching Professor / Researcher from the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences) is offering a 7-week, asynchronous, online course for Fall 2023.

His Python for Modern GIS and Remote Sensing course will help students learn beginning and immediate-level applications of Python for understanding and writing simple scripts, automating workflows, and solving day-to-day, real-world geoprocessing tasks in the ArcGIS ecosystem and open-source platform.

Dr. Bhatt, a dynamic teaching professor who lives and breathes GIS, is also on deck to develop online for-credit certificates for his department. Stay tuned for more developments.

And, yes, you still have time to register for Bhatt’s course.

Civil Asset Management

As well, the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering has recently added a 3-credit, synchronous online course in Civil Asset Management. This course is taught by Mark Declercq, who brings three decades of valuable, practical civil asset expertise to the classroom. In fact, as Grand Rapids Engineer, Declercq was one of the first experts with boots on the ground during that city’s massive flood event.

Civil Asset Management (CEE 5390) will help students develop long-term plans, as well as the strategic, critical thinking they need to recognize and maintain the value of our all-important civil assets. Declercq also maintains that to develop resilient and affordable solutions and to tackle upcoming sustainability challenges, engineers definitely need Civil Asset Management skills.

Keep Up With Global Campus as We Learn and Grow

In the future, Global Campus plans to offer additional non-credit and for-credit courses and programs. Our goals are advancing the personal development, career goals, and leadership opportunities that come with education. We also recognize the importance of challenging all learners to grow, to think creatively and critically, and to prepare for tomorrow.

We’ll keep you posted as we assist in developing and supporting new programs. For updates, read this blog or follow us on social media.

And remember, regardless of where you are in your educational journey, whether you want to take a course for fun or for your future, it is never too late to start learning.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.

Henry Ford

Powering the World

an electric power tower against the blue sky

“It’s an unstable system, but we’re bringing stability to it,” so confirmed Glen E. Archer, Teaching Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University. While making this statement, Archer is standing in EERC 134, or the Smart Grid Operations Center. In this sophisticated classroom, students attack such topics as interoperability, energy management and emergency control, and system protection; as well as monitoring the connections into MTU’s Energy Management System and the regional grid. And so, so much more. It is, from my starry-eyed perspective, a very cool room.

At this point, the Michigan Tech Global Campus team has been touring the Electrical Engineering Resources Center (EERC) and picking Archer’s brain for the last hour. This room is the last stop on our educational tour.

As he speaks, my attention is divided between the brilliant, glowing grid on the wall and the energy and experience of Archer. He clearly has a passion for the important work and research that transpires in MTU’s electrical engineering classrooms and laboratories. And even more of a passion for electrical power engineering itself.

Which brings me, once again, to his earlier comment. He had mentioned that power engineering jobs might not seem particularly trendy, but those employed in this field have very important work to do. And much of this work is done behind the scenes. “Maybe the humble, unsung heroes of the engineering world,” I suggested. He didn’t comment, but smiled.

Power Engineers: Working Wherever the World Needs Them

Electric power engineering, a subfield of electrical engineering, is dedicated to all things electric power: from its generation, transmission, distribution, conversion, utilization, and management. The electrical apparatus and components associated with these systems, both large and small (wiring, cables, circuit breakers, fuses, switches, converters, vehicle drives, and so on), also fall under power engineering. Depending on their specialty and educational pathway, electric power engineers may work with electric power systems, power stations, solar voltaic cells, wind turbines, and electrical grids.

Electric power engineering may also go by other names, such as power engineering, power system engineering, power management, and power systems management. Its engineers are found wherever people and organizations need power, energy storage, renewables, and intermittent power sources.

Some Electric Power Engineering Workplaces

  • Utility companies
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Engineering Firms
  • Infrastructure related to the oil and gas industry
  • Other industries
  • Airports
  • Hospitals
  • Residential complexes
  • Schools
Industrial Power Plant

Filling a Shortage of Electric Power Engineers

Although they may not outwardly seem flashy, careers in electric power engineering have the advantage of being both flexible and mobile. Or to put it another way, the knowledge and competencies that power engineers acquire on one job may be transferred to another. This versatility means significant career choice and mobility, both within and between organizations as well as in workplaces throughout the world.

That is, as more countries transition to renewable energy sources and advanced technologies and invest in more infrastructure, the global demand for electric power engineers will likely increase. Some experts even believe that there is a definite shortage right now.

According to a summary of the Global Energy Talent Index Report, “power companies everywhere are struggling to balance talent shortages with changing skills.” The writers continue to say that there is a “looming skills shortage of engineers in the power, nuclear, and renewables sectors.”

What does this shortage look like? The GETI document confirms that as many as 48% of power professionals are concerned about an upcoming skills crisis whereas 32% believe the crisis has already hit the sector. 28% contend that their company has been affected by a skills shortage.

There are three main causes of this crisis: massive retirements, an aging workforce that requires upskilling, and a need for more workers with training in new power electric technologies. The report states that 13% of power workers are 55 years and older whereas 17% are between 45 and 54.

Confronting Upcoming Challenges

In short, both United States and the world need power engineers to not only fill these gaps but also address present and upcoming challenges.

In this nation, one of the biggest issues facing American engineers is contending with an outdated American grid in need of both repair and replacement. This aging grid can cause reliability problems, power shortages, and other complications. However, electric power engineers face other challenges, which affect the United States and beyond.

Improving Energy Storage

A photovoltaic system, otherwise known as a solar panel array.

Increasing the capacity and efficiency of energy storage systems is one key concern. To enable the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources, electric power engineers must develop better and more cost-effective energy storage solutions.

There is a need to improve the performance and efficiency of battery technology, which is essential for the large-scale energy storage. The excess electricity generated by renewable sources can then be used to help meet peak demand or provide back-up power during outages.

Increasing Grid Reliability

As electric grids integrate with more renewable sources (such as wind and power), power engineers must ensure grid stability and reliability. They must also develop solutions for reducing grid congestion. And create strategies for maintaining system stability and resilience in the face of climate change, extreme weather events, cyber-attacks, and other potential threats.

In fact, right here at Michigan Tech, Dr. Chee-Wooi Ten (Electrical and Computer Engineering), has spearheaded an impressive, interdisciplinary research team since 2010. This group contains members from the fields of statistics, business, engineering, and computer science. Its goals are advancing power engineering and developing strategies for improving power grid cybersecurity, grid reliability, interdependence, and sustainability.

Integrating Smart Technologies

Smart technologies are helping to make electricity consumption more efficient. For instance, smart meters allow utility companies to track and measure electricity consumption in real-time. They also enable consumers to monitor and adjust their own energy usage. Automated demand response systems can also reduce or increase electricity consumption according to fluctuations in the grid. And then there are advanced distribution management systems for utility companies to monitor and manage their electric grid in real-time. These can detect outages, schedule maintenance, and react to changing electricity demand.

There is a need for power engineers to understand these technologies and develop ways to integrate new smart systems into the existing grid. These strategies might include implementing communication protocols, creating intelligent control systems, and developing cybersecurity policies.

Ensuring Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks on the grid are not just the stuff of movies. For instance, in 2022, Russian cyber-hackers targeted Ukraine’s power grid. And in 2016, hackers chose a Florida power utility as their mark. The result: pumps ran continuously, causing not only waste but also physical damage. And since 2018, the US has been fending off Russian cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure.

Cyberattacks on electrical grids, then, can cause major disruptions and blackouts. It is obvious that one of the responsibilities of power engineers is improving the cybersecurity of the grid. This task is also one of the main objectives of Dr. Chee-Wooi Ten’s CIResilience team.

Addressing Environmental Concerns

Power plants, especially coal-fired ones, generate substantial emissions. And the cooling and operation of these plants require sizeable amounts of water. In fact, the power sector is the largest industrial power user. Therefore, a main engineering challenge is lessening the environmental impact of electric power systems, including reducing emissions and water consumption, improving efficiency, and minimizing waste.

Pursuing Electric Power Engineering at Michigan Tech

In short, as the world’s population continues to grow, the demand for electricity will increase significantly. Additionally, global citizens are requesting more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy infrastructure. Engineers may answer these calls by developing renewable energy sources and technologies as well as reducing electricity consumption and improving power efficiency.

If you’re up for these (and other) challenges, Michigan Tech offers several educational routes in electrical power engineering. For instance, there is a 13-credit undergraduate certificate in Electric Power Engineering and a 15-credit Graduate Certificate in Advanced Electric Power Engineering. Both of these certificates have been designed with consultation from experts from electric utilities and industry. In other words, students receive the knowledge, skills, and aptitudes that working electric power professionals regularly apply in their careers.

And, of course, there is the 30-credit MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering, with a Focus in Power Systems.

Whatever your preferred educational or career path in power engineering, Michigan Tech can help you get started.

Robots in the Workplace

Two large orange robotic arms in a factory setting.

Robots at Work

A robotic guard dog (or robodog) stationed in an abandoned warehouse relentlessly chases intruders across a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape. Armed with tracking weapons, highly sophisticated sensors, and artificial intelligence, this robodog does not give up its hunt easily.

To avoid spoilers, that is about all I will say about “Metalhead,” the fifth, and arguably, most terrifying episode of season one of the series Black Mirror. Although many have debated the episode’s meaning, one possible interpretation is a gruesome picture of what might happen if evolved, intelligent, unchecked robots ruled the workplace. And if they took their jobs, well, maybe a little too seriously.

The good news is that there are currently no rogue robodogs guarding warehouses and going on killing sprees. However, robots have been in industry for half a century. The effects of this integration, though certainly less sinister, have troubled a few. That is, one of the most popular searches on Google is this question or variations of it: “Will robots take our jobs?”

The answer is complicated: yes, no, and they already have. And the situation might be better or worse than you think.

Making Manufacturing Easier

When many of us contemplate robots in the workplace, we might think of Amazon. This company operates over 100,000 robots on its various factory floors. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) pick, sort, and transport orders; robotic arms pack items; and autonomous ground vehicles navigate the huge warehouses.

However, on the global stage, Amazon is somewhat of a bit player. FoxConn, a Chinese electronics manufacturer, currently has over 300,000 robots in use for assembling its products. These robots help create phones, computers, tablets, and gaming consoles for companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Samsung.

But the electronics industry was not the first to integrate robots into the workplace: the automotive industry was. It took a chance on and then popularized the first industrial robot: Unimate.

Unimate was the creation of Joseph Engelberger, whom many call the father of robotics. Inspired by Isaac Asimov and his vision of robot helpers, Engelberger strove to create robots that would improve manufacturing while making workers’ lives easier.

In 1959, General Motors installed the first prototype of Unimate #001 in its Trenton, New Jersey plant. Weighing a whopping 2700 pounds, this robot’s primary job was diecasting.

The Original Unimate: an industrial robot.
The Original Unimate.

And only a decade later, GM’s rebuilt factory in Lordstown, Ohio, housed an army of spot-welding robots. These robots could build 110 cars an hour, which was double the manufacturing rate at that time.

Choosing the Right Robots for the Job (or Jobs)

An automated machine that does just one thing is not a robot. It is simply automation. A robot should have the capability of handling a range of jobs at a factory.

Joseph Engelberger

Perhaps Engelberger’s dream is best satisfied by articulated robots, equipped for several jobs. With their flexibility, dexterity, and reach, these robots are adept at assembling, packaging, palletizing, welding, and more. Palletizing robots perhaps perform one of the most annoying and dangerous of tasks in a warehouse environment: stacking stuff. These hefty robotic arms spend all day neatly piling items onto pallets.

Other common robots include SCARA (Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm). SCARAs perform actions between two parallel planes or assemble vertical products. Delta (spider robots) excel at high-speed actions involving light loads.

And then there are Cartesian robots, or gantry robots. They “have an overhead structure that controls the motion in the horizontal plane and a robotic arm that actuates motion vertically. They can be designed to move in x-y axes or x-y-z axes. The robotic arm is placed on the scaffolding and can be moved in the horizontal plane.” It also has an effector or machine tool attached to its arm, depending on its function. This article goes into greater detail about the four types of robots that manufacturers should know and use.

The automotive industry (as does much of manufacturing) uses robots to spot-weld, pick, paint, and palletize–boring, yet dangerous jobs. Jeff Moore, Volvo’s vice president of manufacturing in the Americas, says that welding, “with all the heat and sparks and high current and things is a natural spot to be looking at where you can more heavily automate.” However, for intricate work on the assembly line, such as attaching hoods, bumpers, and fenders, “the human touch has a lot of advantages.

Integrating Robots and Automation

But these metal workers do not just assemble cars and create heavy-duty products. Robots and automation also assist in other industries, such as in agriculture and food production.

Helping With Agriculture and Food Production

In agriculture, for instance, robots may plant, harvest, spray crops, control weeds, analyze soil, and monitor crops. And when it comes to agricultural equipment, some of the biggest players are John Deere, AGCO, CNH Industrial, and Kubota. These companies are also investing in robotics and automation; as well as tractors, drones, and data analytics to improve efficiency and crop yield and to reduce costs. Recently, for instance, Trimble and Horsch collaborated to build an autonomous sprayer.

And in food production, robots might slice, package, and label products at a much more rapid rate than humans. For instance, the global food production and processing company Cargill heavily uses robotic automation. It invented the first robotic cattle herder. Cargill and Tyson Foods, in fact, are also moving heavily into automation and cobots for meat production.

Lucy and Ethel working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory.

In one of the more famous and humorous episodes of I Love Lucy, Lucy and Ethel get employment at a candy factory. Their job: keeping up with increasing production and quickly wrapping candy as it rolls down the belt. They fail miserably as the line picks up, shoving candy in their mouths, their pockets, and even their dresses. Well, thanks to robots, inadequately trained (and slower than ideal) humans will no longer have to keep pace by eating the profits. Their tasks might be made easier by cobots.

Recently, “cobots” or modular, agile, collaborative robots have been the focus of robot manufacturers. Rather than replace workers, cobots work alongside their human employees. Armed with sensors and sophisticated feedback equipment, cobots respond to changes in the workflow and help their human partners perform tasks accurately and safely. Some experts predict that the cobot market (currently valued at $1.1 billion) will expand to $9.2 million by 2028).

Performing Tedious and Dangerous Tasks

Robots can also complete tasks that are too tedious for humans, such as inspecting pipelines or sorting items. Additionally, they can monitor and analyze data in real time, allowing workers to make better informed decisions. In the oil and gas industry, for instance, robots inspect pipelines and inspect wells.

And it is not just repetitive and boring tasks, either. That is, another argument in favor of robots in the workplace is that they can perform hazardous tasks, such as working in extreme temperatures and dangerous environments; and cleaning up harmful materials.

One of of the most recently developed robots who might be fit for these tasks is MARVEL, appropriately named because of its superhero abilities. MARVEL is an acronym for Magnetically Adhesive Robot for Versatile and Expeditious Locomotion.

The brainchild of a research team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), this robot is equipped with magnetic foot pads that can be turned on or off.

Researchers and MARVEL at KAIST

With these specialized feet, MARVEL can rapidly climb steel walls and ceilings, at speeds of 50 cm to 70 cm a second. Its design and speed make it appropriate for several tricky tasks requiring nimbleness, such as performing inspections and maintenance on high structures (bridges, buildings, ships, and transmission towers.)

Imagine, for a second, MARVEL safely performing maintenance on the Houghton lift bridge while it is still operational. No need to block off one lane and slow down the flow of traffic. No need to be late for work!

Taking Our Jobs? Maybe.

We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?

Moshe Vardi

One of the most obvious downsides to incorporating robots in the workplace is that they will lead to job losses. That is, some experts estimate that as many as 20 million job losses will result as companies continue to rely on automation.

Critiquing Robots and Automation

Futurist and New York Times best-selling author Martin Ford has probably been the most vocal about the negative economic and social impacts of automation and robotics.

He has written Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence will Transform Everything (2021), Architects of Intelligence: The Truth About AI and the People Building it (2018), and Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015).

Ford has argued that automation and robotics will result in job losses, wage stagnation, and widening inequality. These effects, which will be felt most acutely by low-skilled and middle-skilled workers, will also weaken worker bargaining power.

Cover of Martin Ford's book "The Rise of the Robots"

Alleviating These Problems

But there are solutions. That is, Ford has advocated that governments should prepare for and then take steps to address the issues posed by robotics and automation. Governing bodies could provide better access to education and new job training, invest in infrastructure, promote job-sharing, and provide more generous unemployment benefits.

To alleviate inequities caused by increasing automation, Ford has urged governments to create tax incentives that encourage employers to hire people and train them in the use of robots; or for companies to invest in robots designed to complement rather than replace human workers (such as cobots). He has also supported a basic monthly income for citizens so that everyone has a decent standard of living. How will this monthly income be funded? By taxing companies that use robots, or taxing the robots themselves to generate this income.

MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, who wrote The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, also summarized the second machine age and evaluated in terms of its positive benefits (“bounty”) and increasing inequality (“spread”). After stating that the spread of technology is causing greater inequality, they proposed some similar policy interventions.

Defending Robots in the Workplace

Critics of Ford, McAfee, and Brynjolfsson, such as economists Lawrence Summers and Robert Gordon, and industry expert Jeff Bezos, take a contradictory perspective. They argue that robots and automation will create more jobs than they destroy. These technologies, they contend, will also lead to advanced productivity and efficiency, improved demands for goods and services, and, therefore, increased employment. Robots can also help reduce costs, which could lead to increased profits for companies and more jobs overall.

Summers takes a slightly different stand, affirming that robots could increase production and therefore benefit the economy and improve employment. However, governments should still invest in education and job training to ensure that workers have the skills needed to take advantage of the opportunities created by both automation and robotics.

Futurists at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) have sung the praises of robots and automation for years. Their experts content that robots and automation will enhance productivity and reshape global supply chains. New production systems, they claim, will bring more (not less) manufacturing work to the United States.

And then there are the numbers, which currently don’t look that fearful. According to the International Federation of Robotics, in the United States, there were only 255 robotic units per 10,000 employees. Although 47% of CEOs are investing in robots (according to a poll by Forbes, Xometry, and Zogby), robots still only have a 2% presence in industry.

Whatever the industry, it is obvious that robots can increase both efficiency and safety. They can work 24/7. They won’t tire during a 16-hour shift, get repetitive stress injuries, or have fatigue-related workplace accidents. Robots can also increase output capacity by helping American manufacturers save on utilities and worker resources, so that they can compete more effectively with offshore companies.

Preparing for an Automated and Robotic Future

Robotic arm in a lab at Michigan Tech.

This blog has just scratched the surface of robots in the workplace. That is, it didn’t discuss robotic doctors, such as the impressive Davinci Surgical System. Also, I don’t pretend to be an expert here, just an ex Sci-Fi teacher fascinated with the robotic present and future.

Those who want to prepare for a future in robotics and automation can learn more by taking several educational paths at Michigan Tech. MTU offers major and minor degrees in computer engineering, data acquisition and industrial control, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and robotics engineering.

More specifically, there is mechatronics: a field of engineering that combines mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering to create systems that can interact with the physical world. Mechatronic systems consist of sensors, actuators, and control systems. These systems are fundamental to creating robots and other automated systems. Students in this program can also join the Robotics Systems Enterprise “to solve real-world engineering problems.”

Through Global Campus, Michigan Tech also offers several related online graduate certificates in artificial intelligence in healthcare, manufacturing engineering, the safety and security of autonomous cyber-physical systems, and security and privacy in healthcare. And if you’re interesting in earning an online master’s degree, please check out our MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering or our online Mechanical Engineering programs, both MS and PhD.

Electric Vehicles: Moving Beyond Tesla

Parking lot spot with an icon for electric vehicles.

Increasing Demand for Electric Vehicles

In a previous blog, I discussed some of the challenges and constraints regarding the future of electric vehicles. But despite certain challenges, such as a need for more charging stations, the demands for electric and hybrid vehicle sales are, respectively, either climbing or staying steady.

In fact, in the third quarter of 2022, US sales of electric vehicles and hybrid-plug-in electric vehicles hit an all-time high. According to a Kelley Blue Book report, the total number of electric vehicles and fuel-cell electric vehicles (fcevs) sold was 578,402. That number marks a 69% increase from 2021 (339, 671). Also, the total number of hybrid and plug-in vehicles sold was 686,271, which is actually strong but slightly down from 2021 numbers (728, 507). Based on these figures, Kelley Blue Book estimates that there will be over 1,000,000 EVs sold in 2023.

What these numbers mean is that although the demand for hybrids is still strong, the popularity of electric vehicles is accelerating, despite the fact that these latter vehicles aren’t cheap. That is, the average cost of an electric vehicle remains over $65k.

Tesla continues to be the leader with its models 3, S, X, & Y all having dramatically increased sales, despite their hefty price tags.

Producing Electric Vehicles for Different Users

“While EV prices currently align more closely with luxury versus mainstream, the market continues to grow and evolve with more choices hitting the scene all the time. It’s no longer just ‘which Tesla is available,’ but rather an industry-wide boom with more EVs on the horizon from Ford, GM, Hyundai, and other manufacturers.”

Brian Moody, Kelley Bluebook

In other words, it is not just Tesla winning at the electric vehicle game. Based on year-to-date sales numbers, some of the other solid contenders for improved sales were the following:

  • Mini Cooper: 2,615 (2022) vs. 1,226 (2021) = +113%
  • Ford Mustang Mach-E: 28,089 (2022) vs. 18,855 (2021) = +49%
  • Audi e-tron: 10,828 (2022) vs. 7.7939 (2021) = +38.9%
  • Mini Cooper: 1,099 (2022) vs. 488 (2021) = +125%

On the hybrid and plug-in hybrid front, overall sales remained relatively steady. But some companies experienced huge gains: Acura, BMW, Honda, Toyota, and Volvo. The big winner in the hybrid market, however, was moderately priced Lincoln Corsair, which had 7X as many sales as those of the previous year.

Meeting the EV Challenge with Trucks

Beyond SUVs like the Lincoln Corsair, the next trend on the horizon is electric trucks. The F-150, currently the best selling vehicle in the US, now has an electric version. The F-150’s more climate-conscious cousin, the Lightning, was rolled out in May 2022 after tens of thousands of Americans had already reserved one. (The F-150 also comes in a hybrid model.)

What’s even cooler: The F-150 Lightning can act as its own power source. With its vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities, it has the ability to charge another electric vehicle. And its massive battery can also power your home, yes your home, during an outage. Ford claims, in fact, that a fully charged Lightning can keep a household going for three days.

Chevrolet followed quickly with its Silverado, built on the same electric platform as the Hummer EV. With the EV Silverado, you can also purchase an ultium charging accessory to power your home in emergencies. Both of these innovative products support GM’s goals of creating a more resilient grid. The company is also investing 750M in charging infrastructure, so that everyone can take advantage of what electric vehicles have to offer.

With site hosts and our dealers, we are installing up to 40,000 chargers in local dealers’ communities through GM’s Dealer Community Charging Program—focusing on underserved rural and urban areas. Participating dealers will get level 2 chargers to install in their communities.

GM Newsroom

Pursuing Electric Vehicle Education at Tech

I’ll stop geeking out here about the plethora of new electric vehicles on the horizon. And I’ve obviously just scratched the surface of the automotive future. (In fact, as I was editing this post, one of my former students excitedly chimed in about the 2024 GM E-ray, a snazzy, sleek, powerful electric Corvette!)

The main point is that several automotive companies, beyond Tesla, are thinking greener and rolling out electric and hybrid models to meet the different needs, lifestyles, and, especially, price points of consumers. In other words, what many thought was a trend–vehicle electrification–is now both a business strategy and an environmental mission for several automotive companies. And it is a strategy and a mission that Michigan Tech can help prepare you for.

Michigan Tech offers several online graduate certificates and programs so that you keep up with the mobility revolution.


David Lawrence: One Man, Several Missions

Vice President David Lawrence in his Grand Rapids office

“I am deeply committed to the success of our students. That is, as Vice President for Global Campus and Continuing Education, I want to ensure that students have the programs and support systems they need to embark on and succeed in their unique educational journeys. . . . I am thrilled to continue collaborating with faculty members and researchers to develop new ideas and initiatives. Overall, it is an honor to enhance the university’s reputation and prestige while achieving our fundamental goals for students, faculty and staff, and the institution as a whole.”

David Lawrence, Vice President for Global Campus and Continuing Education

Catching Up With the Vice President for Global Campus

40: That is the number of times that David Lawrence, Vice President for Global Campus and Continuing Education, has traveled since assuming this role in August 2021. Whether it’s by car or by plane, or both, David Lawrence will make the trip to advance the goals of both Michigan Tech and its Global Campus. He is always on the road to seek opportunities, build connections, and initiate partnerships. And he rarely, if ever, skips a beat. As his team can attest, he regularly takes meetings in his car or tucked away in some cubicle in an airport.

Although based in Grand Rapids, remotely-working Lawrence hasn’t had much time to sit still. He has traveled to Detroit, Auburn Hills, Lansing, Traverse City, and Kalamazoo. Furthermore, he has visited the Michigan Tech campus at least twenty times.

Not surprisingly, his work ethic and traveling schedule come with some remarkably early hours. He’s usually up before the birds, in fact. You can find him in his seat by 4:30 am, planning his day, setting up appointments, and getting work done.

What’s more: he maintains this schedule while being a proud father of five children and a devoted husband of thirty years. Impressive indeed.

Putting His Passion for Online Learning to Work

He has always had this drive, too, especially when it comes to online learning. That is, he has long been dedicated to providing students with opportunities to accomplish their educational and professional goals. Early on, he understood how the flexibility of online education could allow students to learn while balancing their families and lives. So it is natural that he is leading the charge on making education attainable, affordable, and accessible for non-traditional students.

Passionate, ambitious, forward-thinking, and productive: these adjectives describe David Lawrence to a tee.

Luckily, I was able to catch up with Lawrence after the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester: one of those rare quieter weeks. The goals: asking him about his past year at the helm of Global Campus and inquiring about his upcoming plans for 2023.

Recalling a Very Busy Year for Global Campus

It’s been a very busy year for you. Congratulations! Could you summarize some of the Global Campus accomplishments and initiatives?

Well, first, I’ll talk about enrollment. Through our various Global Campus initiatives, we’ve increased both online graduate student applications and enrollment. That is, applications are up by 7% for Fall 22 and by over 58% for Spring 23. Also, enrollment grew by 13% for Fall 22 and by 28% for Spring 23. In fact, the Global Campus is approaching 20% of the Graduate School’s enrollment. Professional Development revenue also grew to over $350,000.

Over the past year, I have worked diligently to broaden and diversify our student body. For instance, I’ve led the initiative for our corporate partnership programs, which include our Corporate Education Fellowship Program. The latter allows employees to return to school using Michigan Tech fellowships. It also provides opportunities for working adults to enroll in our programs.

In other words, it’s been a good year, one involving several initiatives at the university. Considerable time has been spent with faculty and chairs to ensure that Michigan Tech is in the best position to be the leading institution in online programs. I’ve collaborated with the Graduate School and the Office of Financial Aid to allow students to apply for and receive financial aid for graduate certificate programs.

Advancing the Interests of Michigan Tech and Global Campus

These are impressive initiatives. Some of these seem directly related to Global Campus whereas others do not. Can you further explain your reasoning for pursuing these projects?

Well, I’ll start with the ones that are related. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) proposals benefit the Global Campus. They especially help the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as APS Labs. Our MEDC partnership aligns directly with the Global Campus goals for graduate certificates and master’s programs.

And then there are the funding opportunities I’ve participated in. That is, I was involved in two statewide initiatives led by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). They were for the automotive industry and the upcoming semiconductor onshoring plan. Both of these initiatives will bring funding and new students to the university. For instance, for the automotive one, we’ve already been chosen for a $165,000 grant for education.

Moving Beyond Siloed Initiatives

At the same time, I understand the importance of non-siloed work that benefits the entire organization. For example, the Global Campus partnered internally with APS Mobile Labs and externally with Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) in the Propulsion Systems Readiness Program (PReP). Though unrelated to Global Campus, this program does support our undergraduate students. The PReP allows 4th and 5th-year Michigan Tech students to begin a specialized education program, receive scholarships and internships, and begin a career pathway at Stellantis. Additionally, the Henry Ford Corporate Partnership also reaches out to undergraduate students. It provides scholarships and allow them to attend MTU.

I do believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. What we pursue at Global Campus ends up going beyond it: supporting many other departments and forwarding the progress of the university’s goals. That is, our Global Campus initiatives leverage new and existing relationships and ensure that Michigan Tech maintains its national prominence.

David Lawrence, Vice President for Global Campus and Continuing Education

Remembering Rewarding Experiences

Describe some of your favorite moments and experiences of 2022.

One of the best moments of the year was signing the Corporate Education Fellowship Agreement at Nexteer Automotive. With partnerships like these, we are able to create pathways for employees to pursue Michigan Tech’s graduate programs. We had an impressive number of attendees at our presentations, too. And, of course, spending time on Nexteer’s test track and touring their facility were fun. Nexteer has enrolled five new employees for our spring semester and we have over fifteen applications in for future semesters.

Also, working with the Advanced Power Research Labs to advance the customized training initiative for companies such as Stellantis and Borg Warner has been rewarding. It is an honor and a joy to see employees beginning their education through professional development at Michigan Tech. In fact, over 150 employees from Stellantis and BorgWarner have been through the Mobile Lab training program during 2022.

It was an honor to meet the army chief of staff while I was with the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Houghton. We discussed how Michigan Tech’s education and training could positively impact our National Defense system. I also enjoyed touring Advanced Power System (APS) Labs and visiting the Keweenaw Research Center. Meeting with President Koubek about how Global Campus contributes to Michigan Tech’s mission and vision was, and always is, gratifying.

Leaders from Global Campus and Nexteer at the Corporate Education Fellowship Agreement Ceremony.
At the signing ceremony for the Nexteer Corporate Education Fellowship, leaders from Michigan Tech and Nexteer stand in the background while Robin Milavec (President, CTO, CSO, & Executive Board Director of Nexteer) and President Richard Koubek shake hands. Fifth from the right is Vice President David Lawrence, who is standing in front of Jacque Smith, Director of Graduate School Operations and Enrollment Services. Amanda Irwin, Enrollment Manager, stands on the far right.

Collaborating With the Michigan Tech Community

What Michigan Tech community members have you worked with to advance Global Campus initiatives?

There are almost too many people to mention. I mean, so many people have contributed their hours and their expertise to our initiatives. Still, I will name a few: Dave Reed, Vice President for Research; Andrew Storer, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs; and Will Cantrell, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School. They have all helped advance our objectives.

And several deans have also contributed to Global Campus initiatives. Dean Callahan, Dean Hemmer, Dean Johnson, and Dean Livesay have all been collaborators. Department chairs, such as Jason Blough, Jin Choi, Dan Fuhrmann, John Irwin, Audra Morse, and Jiguang Sun have also supported in and/or led our projects. Then there are the faculty, such as Glen Archer and Guy Hembroff; and the graduate program chairs, which include Paul Bergstrom and Wayne Weaver. In addition, Jay Meldrum (Keweenaw Research Center); and Jeff Naber, Jeremy Worm, and his fine staff at APS Mobile Labs have also been indispensable.

Working Remotely With a Small Team

You’re a remote (but extremely well-traveled vice president) who also has a remote team. Can you say a little about your team and how do they advance the goals and initiatives of Global Campus?

Our small, but mighty and dedicated team comprises Jacque Smith, Director of Graduate School Operations and Enrollment Services; Amanda Irwin, Enrollment Manager; and Shelly Galliah, Marketing and Content Manager.

While devoted to the Graduate School, Jacque Smith has significantly contributed to Global Campus. He has provided advice, direction, and support from its inception to its current state. His experience is indispensable. He knows everyone and is respected, if not loved, by many in the Michigan Tech community.

Amanda Irwin, who began in February of 2022, contributes extensive enrollment experience from both a private university and a community college. Residing in Midland, Michigan, Amanda assists students from the initial inquiry through to the program and registration processes. Her strengths are working with all types of students, making them feel at ease, comprehending their goals, and guiding them toward success.

Shelly Galliah, who began in May 2022, resides in Hancock but works from home. She has held various positions at Tech for the past decade. Holding a Ph.D. from the Humanities Department, Shelly has experience designing and leading online courses, writing professional and technical communication, evaluating countless documents, and teaching MTU students. She writes, researches, and copy edits all kinds of communications for Global Campus.

Leading With Trust and Vision

In your opinion, what is essential for a remote team working together successfully?

Trust is definitely fundamental to remote work. Possessing high-quality individuals who work with dedication and initiative allows the university to have the best employees possible and create the optimal working environment.

The dynamics of working together are complex but rewarding. They include trusting each other, communicating clearly, understanding goals, prioritizing tasks, and focusing on short- and long-term strategies and initiatives. Working remotely can be challenging, but it also creates skills that will be definitely be in high demand in the future, such as conducting productive brainstorming sessions, holding productive virtual meetings, and fostering teamwork.

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

What are some of the more challenging aspects of your job?

Well, I would say that one of the most challenging aspects of my position is spreading awareness about the benefits of online education and about Global Campus itself. Although online education is not new, it is newer in some areas of Michigan Tech.

Location is so important to our identity as a university. Therefore, it is often difficult for prospective students to see Tech as offering that same rigorous, high-quality education online. Another associated challenge is determining which programs can be delivered online.

I noticed you didn’t mention the traveling. Surely, that has to be tough. What advice can you give to those who travel regularly?

Traveling is just a part of my job; it’s not really a challenge if you’re prepared for it. Still, my travel advice is to plan, plan, plan. The rigorous schedule, demands, and expectations of the meetings, as well as the outcomes that must result from the meetings, can sometimes make travel difficult. My advice for frequent travelers is quite simple: stay focused, have a plan, and get follow-up afterward. Ensure that the meetings you attend are necessary and cannot be accomplished in a remote venue.

Also, make sure that your family and close associates know and support your schedule. Being prepared to delegate while traveling will allow you to be more productive. I would recommend sticking to a schedule and routine that allows you to take care of your health and that provides mental breaks

Looking Forward to 2023

Considering your past successes and your future goals, what parts of your job or initiatives are you most passionate about? And why?

I remain deeply committed to the success of our students. That is, as Vice President for Global Campus and Continuing Education, I want to ensure that students have the programs and support systems they need to embark on and succeed in their unique educational journeys. I am very passionate about establishing internal partnerships with university departments and external ones with organizations, associations, and nonprofits. Lastly, I am thrilled to continue collaborating with faculty members and researchers to develop new ideas and initiatives. Overall, it is an honor to enhance the university’s reputation and prestige while achieving our fundamental goals for students, faculty and staff, and the institution as a whole.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It is gratifying to hear the stories of our alumni, visit corporations with Tech connections and tour their facilities, and observe MTU’s impact on the state, the nation, and beyond. These experiences not only make me proud of the university but also inspire me to advocate for the university and spread the good news about our achievements.

Whether it is through increasing enrollment, developing initiatives, or building partnerships, I look forward to promoting and growing Global Campus in Michigan, the United States, and, of course, the world.

The Future of Electric Vehicles and Vehicle Electrification

Close up of an electric vehicle being charged.

The Future is Definitely Electric

Despite common perceptions, electric vehicles are not a new phenomenon. In fact, the first battery-powered electric vehicle was built in 1834—more than 50 years before the first gas-powered internal combustion vehicle. In fact, according to an IEEE Proceedings article by Chan (2013), more than one-third of automobiles in the United States were electric by 1912.

What’s behind this rapid growth? What benefits of electric vehicles attract consumers? What is the future of electric vehicles beyond our highways? And how can we continue to build electrical cars responsibly? Read on for more.

Accelerating into the Future with Electric Vehicles

Despite sputtering in the 1990s and early 2000s, advances in electric vehicles have evolved rapidly in recent years. After the wildly popular launch of electric vehicles from Tesla, automakers scrambled to expand their foothold in the market. And they’re getting plenty of help.

Government Cooperation

National governments worldwide are fast-forwarding the future of electric vehicles by setting specific benchmarks. For instance, in the U.S., the Biden administration’s wants half of all vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric. Furthermore, the Inflation Reduction Act  encourages companies to install EV chargers at their properties. Those that do so can receive a 30% tax credit.

Also, the European Union’s goal by 2030 is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent. They plan to do so through a combination of policies that are collectively called the “Fit for 55” program. Even local governments are undertaking strong sustainability initiatives. Paris is in the midst of an ambitious “Bike Plan” initiative to create 112 miles of new permanent bicycle lanes. Furthermore, the city aims to triple the number of bike parking spots to 180,000 by 2026.

Consumer Behavior

These government-sponsored measures are a response to shifting attitudes by consumers about alternative modes of transportation—especially among those who live in cities. One recent survey indicated that inner-city trips with shared bicycles and e-scooters have risen 60 percent year over year. This number is no surprise when you consider that, in 2020, electric bikes outsold electric cars in the U.S. by more than 2 to 1. Also, public consumers aren’t the only ones shifting to electric: The U.S. Army is planning to transition its non-tactical fleet of 177,000 to electric vehicles by 2035.

Improvements in Electric Vehicle Technology

And investors are taking notice of these electric trends. That is, nearly $330 billion in investments have been granted to more than 2,000 mobility companies over the last decade. These companies are focused on automation, connectivity, electrification, and smart mobility (ACES). Thanks to these investments, automakers may research and invent new and innovative ways to increase the quality and durability of electric vehicles. One ultimate goal: making electric vehicles less expensive than gas-powered cars.

By 2035, the largest automobile markets will go electric.

McKinsey Center for Future Mobility

Considering Electric Vehicles Beyond Automobiles

When it comes to the future of electric vehicles, the possibilities go beyond highways and byways. From keeping electric vehicles on the road to changing the perception of electric vehicles in other modes of transportation, there are many innovations to get excited about and challenges to conquer.

Charging Infrastructure

There has been substantial growth in electric car sales. However, nearly half of U.S. consumers say battery or charging issues are their top concern when considering an electric vehicle. As a result, there have been increasing calls for improving charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. This infrastructure entails the network of charging stations, cables, and other equipment needed to power up these vehicles. A summary of this infrastructure is below.

  • Public charging stations
  • Home-based charging points
  • Workplace chargers
  • Necessary installation services
  • Software
  • Energy management systems

To help make charging easier for Americans, the US government has recently stepped in. For instance, the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $7.5 billion toward strengthening charging infrastructure nationwide. A main objective is installing half a million public chargers by 2030.

Sustainable Mobility in Cities

As previously mentioned, Paris wants to become a “100 percent cyclable city.” However, Paris’s vision is not the only option for cities seeking to increase both mobility and sustainability. One possible potent solution from the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility is called “Seamless Mobility.” This solution is a flexible, highly responsive network of transportation options. These include a shared fleet of public electric vehicles, electrified mass transit, and urban planning meant to reduce emissions. Therefore, an average-sized city could reap up to $2.5 billion per year by 2030 by implementing Seamless Mobility practices.

Look! Up in the Sky!

The future of electric vehicles, however, isn’t limited to the road. That is, interest continues to grow in electric air travel through eVTOLs (pronounced “ee-vee-tols”)—electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Think of them as safe, quiet, affordable, and environmentally friendly helicopters. Using eVTOLs as “flying taxis” for short flights or for trips normally taken by cars could substantially reduce emissions. Airbus Innovations, for example, is experimenting with electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems.

Some major airlines are thinking even bigger when it comes to electric aircraft. For instance, United Airlines Ventures, Air Canada, and Mesa Airlines have made significant financial pledges. After joining the investment group for Swedish-based electric aviation startup Heart Aerospace, these companies ordered several 30-passenger electric planes.

Close up of a hybrid-electric plane by the company Airbus. Planes are also electric vehicles.
Airbus Innovations is an initiative launched by Airbus to drive the development of new technologies and capabilities for the aerospace industry, such as electric and hybrid-electric propulsion systems, autonomous flight systems, and more.

Or Maybe Down to the Sea.

Cars and planes are not the only vehicles going electric. That is, electric boats are becoming more popular due to their low emissions, quiet operation, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness over traditional gas-powered boats. Some examples of electric boats include electric sailboats, electric ferries, electric speedboats, and electric fishing boats. More and more boat manufacturers are beginning to offer electric models, and electric boats are becoming more widely available.

Several boat manufacturers are offering electric models, including Sea Ray, Yamaha, Beneteau, Bayliner, Chris Craft, Viking, and Four Winns.

Building Electric Vehicles Responsibly

Although the benefits of electric vehicles can be substantial, it’s important to ensure those benefits aren’t canceled out by the environmental and human impact of manufacturing electric vehicles and infrastructure.

Sourcing and Mining Raw Materials

Virtually all batteries used by electric vehicles require lithium. And its price has skyrocketed—by about 550 percent in one year—as the demand for electric vehicles has grown. Mining more lithium, as well as other necessary elements such as cobalt, means more manpower. However, this mining, which often occurs in countries such as China, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, can be a dirty business. Miners are often subject to unsafe working conditions and potentially toxic side effects of dust and fumes. As with other human and workers’ rights campaigns in recent years, raising awareness of the plight of these workers can pressure on manufacturers and governments to regulate and improve working conditions.

Ensuring Equitable Electricity

The U.S. government’s investment in charging infrastructure is substantial. Nonetheless, this investment will only be successful if those chargers are equitably distributed among its citizens. Currently, most chargers tend to be installed in higher-income areas. For example, California has 112 chargers per 100,000 people in high-income urban districts. Contrast this number with only 24 chargers per 100,000 households in urban districts with low to moderate incomes.

States that have taken specific action to improve their electric vehicle infrastructure include the following:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Washington

Furthermore, several other states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia are working to promote electric vehicle adoption.

A charger for electric vehicles.
Charging stations in remote, rural areas will ensure electricity equity and encourage more Americans to buy electric vehicles.

7 in 10 survey respondents who don’t own electric vehicles said the areas near their homes lack a significant number of chargers.

McKinsey Report

Promoting Electric Vehicles

Nonetheless, roadblocks to even greater adoption of electric vehicles can be overcome. And manufacturers and governments can be catalysts for meaningful change. For example, the European Union recently introduced legislation that would require battery manufactures to identify and respond to human rights or environmental issues in their raw-material supply chain. To help create greater equity in charging infrastructure, “cities and states should “think creatively about providing chargers that work well in public settings such as curbsides, parking lots, and rest stops” (McKinsey Group).

How Will YOU Influence the Electric Future?

You can play a role in creating electric vehicles and in helping others understand the benefits of vehicle electrification. One way to start is by furthering your education through an online graduate certificate or master’s program at Michigan Tech, which has a long and respected history of collaborating with the automotive industry.

Our university also offers several online graduate certificates and programs that meet the cutting edge needs of this industry. Some of these are the following:

Investigate these and other graduate programs at our Global Campus. Explore how Michigan Tech can help prepare you for the challenging, but exciting future of electric vehicles.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article is a joint effort of the brilliant Sparky T. Mortimer and Shelly Galliah. Whereas Mortimer provided the initial research and solid content, Galliah provided guidance for more material and then copyedited and formatted the content for this blog. All images, which are copyright-free, are from Creative Commons.

Mass Timber Buildings: The Next Structural Engineering Challenge

Interior of an open-office setting in a mass timber building.
Interior of the T3 building in Minneapolis: https://structurecraft.com/projects/t3-minneapolis

Structural engineers play a major role in the visual quality of our built environment, yet they seldom get public recognition for it. . . . Engineers create framing systems that give such buildings their shape and permit the manipulation of spaces and functions. Architects sometimes do nothing more creative than gussy up the exterior with a particular kind of curtain wall.

Paul Gapp, architect, 1980

These words above were spoken by Paul Gapp, an architect himself, in fact. He was critiquing how several articles on skyscrapers, from the early 20th century onwards, often celebrated the ingenuity of architects. In doing so, their authors forgot about those structural engineers behind the scenes, those whose designs made those monumental structures both possible and safe. In other words, he wanted to remind readers that skyscrapers began FIRST as structural engineering challenges and then, finally, achievements.

A little closer to the ground than skyscrapers is another challenge faced by structural engineers: designing, planning, and building for sustainability.

Facing the Next Challenge: Sustainable Construction

To put it simply, sustainable construction involves using materials, resources, and construction methods that minimize the negative environmental impact of a building throughout its entire life cycle. This practice includes using renewable materials, energy-efficient design, and greener construction methods. It also involves the recycling or reuse of materials at the end of the building’s life.

But sustainable construction is no trendy, flash-in-the-pan idea. According to Deloitte and Touche’s report on the 2023 Engineering and Construction outlook, customers/clients are increasingly becoming more sustainability conscious. Therefore, they are demanding that developers lower their carbon footprints in new construction projects. The 2021 World Green Building Trends report had similar findings. In the survey, 1/3 of the US companies said that they were focused on green building whereas 46% admitted that they would soon make it a priority.

In short, the Deloitte and Touche report summarized these objectives of the construction industry:

  • Encouraging the sustainable use of resources and new materials
  • Promoting sustainable design, development, and construction practices
  • Decreasing energy consumption
  • Reducing waste generation and encouraging responsible disposal of waste
  • Sourcing low-carbon energy

Moving From Concrete and Steel to More Modest Engineered Wood

Why does the construction industry need to step up to the plate when it comes to implementing sustainability practices?

Because nearly 50% of all carbon emissions come from our built environment. And, often, in densely populated areas, these buildings are steel and concrete. These materials, because of their high carbon density, account for 13% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. So transitioning to other more sustainable building materials and methods makes environmental sense.

As awareness of the benefits of sustainable construction grows, more architects and engineers are searching for environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional construction materials. And one of the alternatives to concrete and steel is mass timber.

Mass timber, otherwise known as engineered wood, is made by creating large sections of wood, of various sizes and functions, from smaller timber panels. These timber panels are glued, nailed, or dowelled together, creating large durable slabs. These slabs can then bear significant weights and loads.

But building with mass timber is hardly new. That is, this type of construction goes back as far as the 19th century with the use of Gluman. Glulam, short for glue-laminated timber, is a structurally engineered wood product. It consists of pieces of wood bonded together in a layer-cake style. You can find highly customizable Glulam in the beams and columns of some commercial and residential buildings.

Choosing the Best Type of Mass Timber Product

Structural engineers, architects, and designers must collaborate to analyze and choose the right engineered wood material for the job. Here are the major choices:

  • Laminated veneer lumber (LVL), similar to Glulam, consists of vertical layers glued together with composites. LVL, generally made from softwoods, is more aesthetically pleasing but also less durable. You can find it in beams, trusses, and rafters.
  • Nail-laminated timber (NLT) consists of individual laminations mechanically fastened with nails or screws. The strength of this product lies in the numerous screws and nails holding the laminations together. You might recognize NLT in the flooring, decking, roofing, and walls of modern buildings. NLT’s exposed aesthetic appeal also makes it suitable for open-concept office and mixed-use buildings.
  • Dowel-laminated timber (DLT), is similar to NLT, except wooden dowels hold the laminations together. This all-wood mass timber product (no nails or metal fasteners) can be be easily constructed and modified on site. This source contains a much richer description of DLT.
  • Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is one the strongest of all mass-timber products. It has been popular in Austria and Germany for over three decades. CLT consists of panels of solid lumber boards (usually spruce, pine, or fir) stacked and glued together at alternating right angles (90°). Machines then cut these to the desired shape and size. You can find strong CLT in tall mass timber buildings.
  • Structural composite timber (SCL) consists of wood strands, veneers, or flakes bonded together with adhesives. While offering great strength and stability, SCL requires specialized installation. This mass timber product appears in rafters, beams, joists, studs, and columns.

Making a Difference, One Wood Module at a Time

Along with their durability, buildings created from mass timber materials are more sustainable and climate-friendly in several ways. They have the following advantages:

  • Reduced climate impact: According to the Journal of Building Engineering, mass-timber construction may reduce the global warming impact of buildings up to 26.5%
  • Less waste due to prefabrication: If building plans are very specific, factories can produce only those slabs required for projects.
  • Reduced transportation costs: Builders can also make some mass timber products on site from available materials, reducing shipping costs.
  • Increased efficiency: Because of the reduced waste, contractors and engineers can erect mass timber buildings up to 25% faster than similar concrete buildings.

In fact, mass timber is often worked into biophilic design. This type of architecture and urban design incorporates elements of nature, such as atriums, green roofs, natural light, into the built environment. The main goal of biophilic design is creating a more sustainable, healthier, and enjoyable living space. Mass timber structures, then, naturally fit this design approach.

By some estimates, the near-term use of CLT and other emerging wood technologies in buildings 7-15 stories could have the same emissions control effect as taking more than 2 million cars off the road for one year.

Ensuring the Safety of Mass Timber Buildings

Just as they did with those skyscrapers, structural engineers must ensure that these mass timber buildings are safe, durable, sustainable, and structurally sound. They must help to design these buildings so they withstand the forces of wind and gravity, as well as any seismic events.

In short, structural engineers work with architects throughout the entire process of creating a mass timber building. That is, they advise contractors, designers, and architects on all aspects of mass timber construction. Structural engineers design the components of a mass timber building, such as the columns, beams, and walls. They also evaluate the various materials used in construction, such as CLT panels, glulam beams, and LVL, to ascertain their suitability for the project’s components. Overall, they ensure that the design is structurally sound and meets all building codes.

And based on the building’s size, weight, use, and load-bearing abilities, they might also advise on whether the construction should be hybrid (made of wood and another component), a free-standing tall wood structure, or an infill or overbuild. (Infills are mass timber buildings that fill in a space whereas overbuilds, as they sound, are created on top of existing structures.)

Getting Past Negative Perceptions of Timber Construction

Despite the arguments for its durability, sustainability, and aesthetics; as well as its reduced climate impact, mass timber still has a way to go to meet wider public acceptance.

Why? Fire. Thanks to some historic fires in this country and others, many perceive wood buildings as less durable and more unsafe than those made from other materials. As a result, building codes and regulations still lag behind. For instance, the International Building Code just approved 18-story timber buildings in 2021.

The good news: Mass timber buildings are highly fire-resistant, due to the fire-retardant properties of the wood used in their construction. Fire-rated gypsum wallboard and other materials enhance mass timber’s fire resistance.

In fact, in one fire-resistance test, a piece of 5-ply laminated timber lasted for 3 hours and 6 minutes at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. To put this test in perspective, here is a fact. Type 1 Buildings, often considered the “cadillac of construction” must consist of non-combustible materials with 2-3 hours of fire resistance. However, fire-resistant does not mean fire-resistive, so there are obviously still improvements to be made to engineered wood.

Building Beauty with Engineered Wood

The acceptance of mass timber construction is growing, even in a place that has traditionally resisted timber construction: New York. The city that never sleeps welcomed its first engineered wood condo at 670 Union Street.

Other recent examples demonstrate how mass timber construction is becoming more common. For instance, take the T3 office building in Minneapolis, the Framework mixed-use building in Portland, and the John W. Olver Design Building at University Massachusetts Amherst.

T3, is a 7-story, 220,000 square foot office building completed by company Structurecraft in 2016. It took less than 3 months (only 9.5 weeks) to install. The construction team used prefabricated (NLT) solid wood panels, which reduced construction time significantly. The building also boasts an LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of GOLD (60-79 points or the second-highest rating). Since then, Structurecraft has erected additional T3 buildings.

Outside of the original T3 mass-timber building in Minneapolis.
The original T3 in Minneapolis, constructed of NLT (nail-laminated timber) https://structurecraft.com/projects/t3-minneapolis

Studying Timber Building Design at MTU

Michigan Tech has long had a commitment to sustainability in both research and practice. The university also has several programs that tackle upcoming sustainability challenges, such as the online certificate in engineering sustainability and resilience. Also, the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering offers five graduate structural engineering certificates. One of them is a 9-credit Timber Building Design certificate, which has long been a “historical strength” of the department.

All students earning their structural engineering certificate in timber building design will take the same core courses: Structural Timber Design and Advanced Structural Timber Design. These courses provide a strong foundation as they progress through the program.

They will then choose one of the following courses to tailor their educational journey to their career goals: Finite Element Analysis, Structural Dynamics, and Probabilistic Analysis and Reliability.

Overall, students will learn several valuable skills in this certificate, which will prepare them for a future in mass timber design and construction:

  • Investigating how timber buildings are different from buildings constructed from other common civil structural materials
  • Analyzing dimension lumber and mass timber; and axially and flexurally loaded members, shear, bearing, and combined loading on members
  • Studying connection design, shear walls and diaphragms, arches and tapered beams, modeling, and loading
  • Designing timber structures, with an emphasis on timber buildings
  • Examining the potential of wood as an alternative to steel and concrete for environmental sustainability

It is clear that mass timber buildings are here to stay as they help to set a more sustainable standard for construction. We look forward to seeing the innovative, environmental, and safe buildings that this (and the next) generation of brilliant structural engineers plan, design, and create.