Author: Mark Wilcox

Chris Wilson ’19 (Sound Design)

Chris Wilson ’19 at his home in Plymouth, Michigan. Wilson majored in sound design while at Michigan Tech and minored in music composition.

After graduation, I applied to nearly every cruise line and was hired by Norwegian Cruise Line as a lounge technician. My main task was to set up the musicians for performances in the shipboard lounges. 

The COVID-19 pandemic started affecting shipboard operations on our last cruise from Australia to French Polynesia, after which we were supposed to head to Alaska for summer. Before guests even got on board, some ports were closed to all cruise ship traffic so immediately our itinerary changed. We were no longer traveling to Samoa and no one would be allowed to get off in New Caledonia. This initial change angered some guests but the rest were understanding. Midway through a three-day journey in French Polynesia, the captain informed us that all of French Polynesia closed their ports and we were heading back to Fiji. This infuriated a lot of the guests, made some happy, and confused the rest. This would be a recurring theme.

Since the cruise had essentially been canceled, our main objective was to disembark the 2,400 passengers safely in New Zealand. A day later, New Zealand closed their ports as well. 

Our ship was bouncing around the Pacific Ocean with nowhere to go. It seemed like we were at the mercy of the sea with no one reaching out to help. No one knew how much fuel we had left and those that did were told to keep their mouths shut. Food and water are easy enough to ration, but without fuel we would have had no navigation, limited communications, no electricity, and no ventilation. 

Guests started contacting their own governments. I guess they thought their government would be able to overrule the local government’s rules and let them leave before the other guests. This didn’t happen. 

Through all this, on-shore operations worked tirelessly to convince governments to open up their ports so we could at least refuel. We got word that American Samoa would let us in to refuel, but, strictly no one was allowed off the ship. 

I cannot tell you how beautiful the island looked when we first caught sight of it. I almost cried when I saw land. It was just so surreal to finally be there after all the uncertainty. It was the first time that we had hope. 

Shoreside operations formed a very detailed plan for us. From American Samoa, we were to sail to Hawaii. Once we arrived, the guests would disembark and take chartered flights provided by NCL. Very specific procedures were in place to minimize all contact between guests and officials on land. 

After 12 days at sea and countless changes to our plans, we made it to Honolulu. We were docked for five days and disembarked all the guests. This was our main goal. Employees would be fine staying on the ship as long as there were no guests to tend to. We left Hawaii for a  six-day journey to Los Angeles. 

We closed down all the restaurants, lounges, and other guest areas in preparation for an unknown amount of time, which meant, we finally got something rarely seen on cruise ships—a break. 

When we arrived in L.A., lists were posted detailing which crew members would be going home. At this point, most countries were closed so a majority of the crew had to stay on board. Fortunately, most U.S. citizens were able to leave the ship.

The adventure that began Feb. 27 finally ended with I arrived home in Plymouth, Michigan April 6.


Cacie Clifford, (third-year bioinformatics major, Blue Key Honor Society)

My decision to come to Michigan Tech was made superficially at first—I fell in love with the area, surroundings and how the campus looked—but as I started my freshman year I was drawn in by the classes and traditions at Tech. I am a bioinformatics major, with minors in computer science, psychology, and microbiology. Bioinformatics is at the intersection of statistics, biology and computer science, which is why I chose it. It’s an up-and-coming branch of science that will give me a great foundation for my career. Not many schools offer it and I’m thankful Michigan Tech does. One of the reasons I love being a coach in the Biological Sciences Learning Center (BLC) is that I can help others and teach my favorite subject: biology.

Involvement outside the classroom comes naturally to me. In high school I was active in most of the clubs and even helped start a couple. At Tech, in addition to the BLC I’m on the Blue Key E Board, I’m a mentor in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and I volunteer at the local animal shelter. There were so many people who helped me get to college and so many who have helped since I’ve been here. I really want to give my all to make them proud. Coming from a small community (and school) to a larger place like MTU, I want to do what I can to help others be their best. Huskies help Huskies.

Being active outside the classroom while pursuing my education helps take my mind off the hefty workload here at Tech. It helps me gain new perspectives and connect with other students and faculty. Activities outside of the classroom or lab also allow me to participate more deeply in Tech traditions, especially Winter Carnival.

As an MTU Blue Key Honor Society member, for the past two years I served as chair of Alumni and Membership Relations. Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival connects our alumni to their alma mater. It’s such a deeply rooted tradition and we try super hard to give people new experiences and stories to tell. I connected with EchoTrek, a local humane society fundraiser in memory of Blue Key member Alec Fisher, who died in an automobile accident in November 2018. Currently we’re working on gathering alumni donations to help make a small scholarship available to our members based on their leadership and volunteering service while serving with Blue Key.

Looking beyond Michigan Tech, my goal is to earn a master’s degree and become a genetic counselor, a person who meets with  people to determine their or their children’s risk of genetic diseases and other health care issues. I’ve had this plan for some time, as my father passed away from cancer when I was nine. I want to help people be less afraid and to do what they can do to prevent diseases. 

My Blue Key involvement, and all my other activities, give me the experiences I need to be a great genetic counselor and to be a great friend to people. –Cacie Clifford, future genetic counselor #mtuhumans


Sydney Skalski ’19 (BS Sports and Fitness Management)

I didn’t plan on transforming an ambulance into a tiny home, but I love living in it. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’m proud of it. The idea began when I made friends with a few “van-lifers,” who had gone to Tech and I became intrigued by the lifestyle. I liked the sustainability, minimalism, and frugality of it and especially the freedom that accompanied having a home on wheels.

I originally wanted a van for the project and looked at a variety in online market places. I came across an ambulance for sale and immediately thought, “Wow! This is luxurious. I could stand up in that, and it’s in my budget.” I looked at it the next day, took it for a test drive and soon made the decision that it was going to be my home. My goal was to be as self-sufficient as I could. That included building it pretty much by myself.

It took me all summer to complete, finishing the Sunday before the start of the fall semester. I had never built anything in my life before and I wanted everything to be just the way I wanted. My aim was to prove to myself and to those who thought I was crazy that I could make a beautiful home for myself and that I could live well in a non-traditional setting.

Google became my best friend throughout the process. I did almost everything myself, except for the foam insulation. My boyfriend taught me how to do the electrical wiring.  I learned so many useful skills like plumbing, setting up a solar system and how to use power tools.

I’ll admit that living in a portable home may not be as simple or as glamorous as people portray it to be. I heat with a woodstove so when I’m not home everything freezes, including my food. Not having a bathroom can be a little tricky at times but I have a sink and a travel toilet so I’m not fully without. I shower at the SDC and it works perfectly. Michigan Tech has been amazing and so supportive of my lifestyle. I could not have picked a better place to start my adventure.

Soon I’ll be moving to Rhinelander, Wisconsin (where I built my tiny home) and work at my summer job providing in-home care for the elderly and people with disabilities, before pursuing a graduate degree in Dietetics. I love the freedom of going wherever I get a job without question. I can be my own boss and won’t have to deal with landlords.

Without question, the coolest thing about living in an ambulance is the people I meet and their reactions to learning that I built it. To be honest, I really enjoy the shock factor. I only wish I had done it sooner.