Nancy Byers Sprague, Director of Graduate Degree Services

Woman standing outside

I genuinely care about students and I think that comes through the way I interact with students and the way I help some students not only professionally but personally. My spouse and I have a sailboat and we bring students on board all the time. We teach them a little bit about sailing and let them have that wonderful adventure in this beautiful part of the world. And they are always invited over for dinner or we take them out to eat. We have big group meals at Thanksgiving and Easter; we invite just about everybody and we have between 30 and 60 people. We make—mostly my partner makes—13 or 14 different dishes so people don’t have to bring anything unless they really want to; desserts are always welcome! We try to build community with students and other people in the area. My life really does revolve around students. I haven’t been working in the Graduate School my entire time at Michigan Tech, which has been 41 years, but in some ways, it’s been all 41 years that my life has revolved around students. Sailing and meals have been going on for a lot of that time. 

My dad was the head of the math department here for a while. Back that many years ago, 60 years or so, they didn’t have what you would call a robust menu for students who were in the residence halls who were vegetarian. So my dad invited some of the Indian students to our home and asked them to teach him how to cook like their mothers cooked. The students wrote home for recipes, my dad started to learn how to cook Indian food, and we’ve had friendships with Indian students in my parents’ home since I was one. 

Fun is a very good term to describe my life. My life is full of fun. I think—despite all of the philosophers and all of the really deep meanings in life that people propose or discover or realize—I think the meaning of life is to have fun. And my motto is anything worth doing is worth overdoing and my very decorated office is an example of my philosophy in action. It’s a wonderful life. 


Rehab Alhajjar

Rehab AlhajjarI’m an environmental microbiology PhD student. My research focuses on the impact of nanoparticles on the microbial community. Stephen Techtmann is my advisor. I have a lot of respect for him. Before I applied to Michigan Tech, someone mentioned Stephen Techtmann and the University on Twitter. I was interested in water research and I thought being near the Great Lakes would be the best place to study water, so I said, “Okay, I will go there then!” I contacted Dr. Stephen and he accepted me into his lab. I have been here for almost two years so far and have another two years to go to the finish. Continue reading


Mayra Morgan ‘19 PhD Social Sciences—Environmental and Energy Policy

One day I stopped at a grocery store in Merida, Mexico, and met a man who I would later find out was Dr. Richard Donovan of Michigan Technological University’s Sustainable Futures Institute. He was lost and needed directions. I took him where he needed to go. He asked me about my background and I told him I was completing my master’s in social anthropology while working for an NGO and teaching in a college. I told him I wanted to do my PhD in the environment and human rights someday and he said, “We should talk.” But, he was a stranger! I was just trying to help someone; it’s something I like to do—if a person or an animal needs help and I can do it, I do it.

Two or three days later I got an email from the man introducing himself. His email said, “I’m very impressed with your background. You said you wanted to do a PhD and Michigan Tech just opened this new program called environmental policy, so I would like to talk to you more about it.” I was shocked! We had a first interview and I remember he told me about a project he was working on and asked me what I thought about it. I was very honest because it was something I cared about. He said, “I’ll give you a recommendation letter.” That’s how I heard about Michigan Tech and I started my adventure here. Continue reading


Gabriela Shirkey ’13 (BS Scientific and Technical Communication) | 2019 NSF Graduate Fellowship Recipient

Gabriela Shirkey

I‘m really excited [about the National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship]. The key to NSF applications is stressing how your pursuit of science and contribution to the scientific community is going to have a broader impact, particularly those not involved in your immediate research. You write a personal statement on how you build community and demonstrate leadership, as well as a research proposal, three letters of recommendation, and your transcripts. Thanks to Tech, I had STEM outreach examples from the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers’ Noche de Ciencias and prior research experience as an undergraduate in the social sciences department. With the NSF fellowship, I get three years of full funding and opportunities to have internships, so I am thinking of connecting with the Department of Energy or Argonne National Laboratories to work on biofuel research. Continue reading



Jamal Palmer (MF Forestry ‘19)

Jamal Palmer

I started learning about alternative energies in high school through a program that also had us do a garden restoration. And that kind of sparked my interest in urban forestry and it kind of got me on the path of saying, “Hey, maybe I can pursue this path.” I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me that were pursuing this path. So I said, “Hey, let me be a trailblazer in a sense and start this.”

When I first started college as an undergraduate, I didn’t do urban forestry because I didn’t know my school had a program. I did the closest thing to it, which is environmental science, but then I found out from the agriculture department that they had an urban forestry program, but it was still in the development stages, so I said, “Hey, let me get back to what that spark was.” And as I started taking the classes, I realized that this was really what I wanted to do, it was something I could see myself doing for years to come.

I applied to Michigan Tech because it is one of the few schools in the country that has its own experimental forest area. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’m from New York City, but I spent my undergraduate years in a small town at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Being there helped me understand how small towns work, like the sense of community that’s there is much stronger than it is in a city.

For my master’s thesis, I did a canopy assessment of the trees on campus—looking at the canopy to see how it changes over time. I did two tree tours on campus. I really like telling people about the different types of trees we have on campus. I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked the campus looking at trees and saying to myself, “Okay, that’s a northern red oak, that’s a sugar maple, that’s a buckeye…” I have a big passion for this and I really want to try to set a precedent for people like myself. I want to show that you don’t have to be pigeonholed in certain areas. You can pursue careers in natural resources. Continue reading


Sarah Calvert (BA sound design)

Sarah Calvert

I’m a sound design major and I’m minoring in music composition. This is my third year at Tech; I transferred from a community college downstate. My grandfather is an alumnus, and I saw the visual and performing arts department and thought, “These are the careers I want to do.” I applied, I was accepted, I drove up here in the fall, I saw an apartment, signed a lease, drove through town, and drove back home. I moved in December during a snowstorm. A nine-hour drive took us 12. Continue reading


Maneet Singh (BS mechanical engineering)

Sometimes my name tag says Taylor 2.0. It’s a running joke with one of my coworkers; basically, we were arguing about who is better at their jobs, and I said, “You’re Taylor and I’m better, so I’m Taylor 2.0 now.” So that’s been my name tag ever since. It’s a fun joke at work and everyone says, “You don’t look like a Taylor.” And I say, “I don’t look like Taylor, but I’m Taylor 2.0, so that’s a different person.”

Continue reading



Tyler Shelast ‘08 ‘15

 

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Michigan Technological University, National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist. Professional Hockey Player — 2008-2013.

During the school year, my job is more like 6 to 6 instead of 9 to 5. Sometimes teams work out four days a week, sometimes they go to two or three, it depends on the season. Getting to work with Michigan Tech athletes is the best part of my day.

My job allows me to teach and educate young athletes on the shortcomings I experienced when I was an athlete. I had a tough road and went through a lot of pain and suffering. My goal is to help these athletes learn and understand that they can take anything that’s thrown at them. I learned more from my downfall than I did from my success, and ultimately, those are the lessons I want to share with Michigan Tech athletes — to help them grow out of darkness.

In a week it’s groups, office time, more groups, practices, and then during the hockey season, I go on the ice for hockey practice daily and am there for the team at all the games. I can’t coach, but I play an integral part in hockey due to my former playing. I really like to work out, that’s probably my favorite thing, so I try to work out once a day.

I have a lot of pride in everything I do that is Michigan Tech because I want it to excel. I want us to be the best at everything. We’re kind of like a hidden little snowglobe type place, but we need to embrace that because it’s what makes us special. Michigan Tech’s a very proud school, so I feel lucky to have a hand in shaping our culture. There’s so much that goes into seeing student-athletes grow, I mean, that’s ultimately why I’m in it, why I love being here. I’m very fortunate to work with great people.