Author: Cynthia Perkins

Daisuke Minakata, Civil and Environmental Engineering

A professor in a Michigan Tech lab with seven undergraduate students
Minakata in the lab with students. Many have had the opportunity to do undergraduate research with him—and many more have the chance to talk to him about his research in the summer webinar series Husky Bites.

I was born and raised in Japan. I came to the US for the first time as a high school exchange student, just for one month. I lived in Virginia, in a place called Silverplate, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I went to Thomas Jefferson Science and Technology High School, which was the sister school of my Japanese high school, and one of the nation’s top scientific high schools. And I did like it. This triggered my study abroad dream. I was impressed by the high school education system in the US. It’s one that never just looks for the systematic solution, but values process, logic, and discussion-based classes.
I loved watching a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water, during my high school days. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer.
In my undergraduate curriculum, the water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects to get an A in. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline as I got to know about water engineering more. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space.

The Blue Planet. (NASA image)

While in college, during my graduate studies, I took a one-year leave from Kyoto University in Japan and studied at University of Pennsylvania as a visiting graduate student. Then I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in order to get a PhD at Georgia Institute of Technology. I accepted my position at Michigan Tech in 2013.
I’m now a father of two. Both are Yoopers, born here in the UP of Michigan. My wife and I really enjoy skiing (downhill and cross country) with the kids each winter. I do like all the cities I have lived in. The place I am currently living is our two kids’ birthplace, and our real home. Of course it’s our favorite place, after our Japanese hometown. –Daisuke Minakata, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering #mtuhumans

Tony Pinar, Electrical and Computer Engineering lecturer and researcher, MTU grad

I was raised near the small town of Trout Creek, Michigan. I’ve always been obsessed with figuring out how things work. I was also interested in electricity from a young age, thanks to my dad, an electrician, who had me help him wire houses. These led me to pursue electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, where I learned EE was so much more than power distribution.
I had the opportunity to work on many interesting projects as a student, both applied and research-based. As an undergrad I contributed to projects such as a solar-tracking solar panel, a Tesla coil, and an industry-sponsored project concerning wireless power transfer. In graduate school I worked on projects involving autonomous underwater gliders, 3D metal printers, and explosive hazard detection using ground penetrating radar; my dissertation focused on the algorithms I developed and used for much of the explosive hazard detection problem.
What I like most about teaching electrical engineering is that teaching is like a puzzle where one may have to take a difficult concept, reduce it to digestible pieces, and deliver them to fresh minds in a way to maximize understanding and insight. That challenge is what drives me to be a better teacher. It keeps me on my toes, forces me to constantly identify holes in my knowledge, and drives me to continuously strive to learn new things.
I live in Hancock with my wife, Noelle, and our two boys. If I’m not spending time outdoors in the Keweenaw with my family, you’ll probably find me playing guitar or tinkering with a side project. –Tony Pinar, lecturer, researcher, and electrical engineering graduate (BS, MS, and PhD), Michigan Tech Electrical and Computer Engineering Department #mtuhumans

Guy Meadows, research professor, Marine Engineering Laboratory director

I was born and raised in the City of Detroit, and attended Detroit Public Schools. When I went to college I had to work to make ends meet. I got a job as a cook in the dorm, and eventually worked my way up to lead cook. I was cooking breakfast for 1,200 people each morning. One of my fellow classmates was studying engineering, too. He had a job working for a professor doing research on storm waves and beaches. I had no idea I could be hired by a professor and get paid money to work on the beach! I quit my job in the kitchen and went to work for that professor instead. I had been a competitive swimmer in high school, and the beach was where I really wanted to be.
When I graduated with my degree, I went to work for Ford. I have to thank my first boss for assigning me to work on rear axle shafts. After about two months, I called my former professor to see if I could come back to college.
My advice for students just starting out is to spend your first year exploring all your options. Find out what you really want to do. I had no idea I could turn a mechanical engineering degree into a job working on the beach. Turns out, I could⁠—and I’m still doing it today.
Because I grew up in Detroit, I had the opportunity to live, work, and grow in a very diverse community. While a faculty member at the University of Michigan, I was part of a great team that started the M-STEM Academies and became its founding director. The M-STEM mission is ‘to strengthen and diversify the cohort of students who receive their baccalaureate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with the ultimate goal of increasing the number and diversity of students who are well prepared to seek career opportunities or to pursue graduate or professional training in the STEM disciplines in the new global economy.’ This effort has been a very important part of my journey. –Guy Meadows, Director, Marine Engineering Laboratory, Robbins Professor of Sustainable Marine Engineering, and Research Professor, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics #mtuhumans

Rebecca Ong, assistant professor, chemical engineering

Rebecca Ong preps a switchgrass sample in the lab.

I’m a born Yooper who grew up in a small town in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan and came back to the UP for school. I love the Copper Country and MTU students so much, I managed to persuade my husband to come back to Houghton five years ago. Now I live near campus with my husband, daughter, our Torbie cat and our curly-haired dog. We read science fiction and fantasy stories; play board games; kayak on the canals and lakes while watching for signs of wildlife; make new things out of yarn, fabric, wood, and plastic (though not all at the same time) and practice herbology and potions in the garden and kitchen.
I first became interested in engineering in high school when I learned it was a way to combine math and science to solve problems. I loved math and science and thought that sounded brilliant. However, I didn’t understand at the time what that really meant. I thought “problems” meant the types of problems you solve in math class. Since then I’ve learned these problems are major issues that are faced by all of humanity, such as: How do we enable widespread access to clean energy? How do we produce sufficient amounts of safe vaccines and medicine, particularly in a crisis? How do we process food products, while maintaining safety and nutritional quality? As a chemical engineer I am able to combine my love of biology, chemistry, physics, and math to create novel solutions to society’s problems.

One thing I love about MTU is that the university gives students tons of hands-on opportunities to solve real problems, not just problems out of a textbook (though we still do a fair number of those!). These are the types of problems our students will be solving when they go on to their future careers. –Rebecca Ong, assistant professor, chemical engineering

#mtuhumans #mtugrad

Brad King, Professor in Space Systems, Aerospace Enterprise Advisor

A man in a blue shirt with blurred background of equipment in a mechanical engineering aerospace lab smiles at the camera.

I have always been interested in building things—long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for Halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet—not saying.
The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.
I was born and raised just north of Houghton (yes, there actually is some habitable environment north of Houghton). I received my BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Michigan. I spent time traveling around the country working at NASA in Houston, NIST in Boulder, and realized that all of my personal hobbies and proclivities were centered around the geography and climate of northern Michigan. I returned in 2000 and began my career as a professor at MTU. I enjoy fishing, boating, hockey, and spent more than 15 years running my dogsled team all over the Keweenaw Peninsula. –Brad King, Henes Endowed Professor in Space Systems, MTU Aerospace Enterprise Advisor #mtuhumans

John Schneiderhan (Van Pelt and Opie Library technologist)

A man wearing a Michigan Tech Huskies face mask and a plastic shield working at a 3D printer in a library.

What I miss most of all are the students and their energy. We see many aspects of the students’ lives here as the weeks pass each semester. The year has a flow. The library is a safe space, an oasis where students come to find solace, dedicate time to their research and study, eat, sleep, or collaborate on group projects.

One of my responsibilities is scheduling and coordinating 3D prints for students and patrons. I can see the 3D printers and scanner right outside my office door. Normally, I have a group of regular students that navigate to the devices with curiosity or interest in being creative or innovative.

Today it is just David Holden and myself here in the library with the occasional facilities staff member doing their part and helping wherever they can. There is a glimpse of normalcy within our social distance collaboration with the incredible materials sciences and engineering students working on the 3D-printed personal protection equipment (PPE) project. They bring so much value and energy to the production. They deliver insight, technical innovation, compassion, and conservation to the cause. The atmosphere is completely different without the students, without the staff, without people. It’s not the library. It’s just a building. It’s a building where David and I have been coming to work on production, to do our best to help and support the health of the community. #mtuhumans