Category: Alumni

Jennifer Jermalowicz-Jones ’98, Biology (lake ecology and limnology)

A smiling Michigan Tech alumna shares her story.
Jennifer Lynn Jermalowicz-Jones, who earned her biology degree at MTU, explains why her company’s approach is different: A limnologist studies a water body and reports out the data and conclusions. An applied limnologist does that, then integrates management or restoration into a local community. Although lake experts leads the way, they also incorporate participation from the riparians to allow for a sustainable pathway for the lake’s future. (Images courtesy Jennifer Lynn Jermalowicz-Jones)

“I knew I wanted to be a limnologist since the age of four when I bought my first microscope and got grounded for having a pet turtle in the bathtub. Every day after school I would ride my bike down to a few lakes and spend hours observing and studying them. In high school I completed a thesis my senior year on the effects of hydrogen peroxide on lake eutrophication.

I founded Restorative Lake Sciences (RLS) in 2012 in response to a significant need for a lake management and restoration consulting firm that provides objective analysis of lake issues with professional scientific recommendations to restore balance to aquatic ecosystems. The overall goal is to reduce scientific bias through intensive scientific evaluations and management recommendations that are not connected to profits or political agendas. One of our key attributes is emphasis on community outreach. RLS provides scientific data in a manner that can be easily understood by most lake communities so those communities can play an active role in helping with the restoration process. The root of this approach lies in sustainability, which prepares these vulnerable ecosystems for long-term improvements with community riparians (lands that occur along water courses and bodies) that have a long legacy on the lakes. For an ecosystem to be considered sustainable it must be able to better absorb external shocks that occur and return to normal functions. Many lakes are not able to maintain this status; the process must include the social aspect of community involvement. 

A healthy lake will have healthy water quality parameters such as ample dissolved oxygen concentrations, balanced water chemistry, high water clarity, low suspended solids, low to moderate nutrients, and balanced algal and aquatic vegetation communities. We work with lakes in Michigan and other Midwest states but have provided expertise to lakes all over the US. All of our projects come from word-of-mouth recommendations or other project contacts.

Jermalowicz-Jones conducts aquatic plant research.

RLS keeps busy throughout the year. The field season begins with through-the-ice winter sampling, typically in February, followed by late season sampling into early November. The months of October-January are occupied by intensive data analysis and preparation and presentation of annual lake progress reports. On a daily basis, RLS conducts research on key lake issues and prepares scientific articles and publications. One of our major goals is to remain innovative and provide our lake communities with new approaches to lake management and restoration for optimum long-term results.

The most rewarding aspect of our work is seeing the shift from an ecologically distraught ecosystem to a balanced ecosystem capable of becoming a sustainable resource. The results can apply to lakes small to large. For example, we prepared a lake management plan for a 300-acre lake in Cheboygan County in 2008 that was heavily infested with invasive Eurasian watermilfoil, possessed an imbalanced native aquatic plant community, and had nuisance algae and water quality issues. The lake today is well-balanced and clear, and has barely measurable quantities of invasive species. Another good example is Houghton Lake, the largest lake in Michigan. This lake is a huge challenge due to its scale and requires a highly integrative approach which includes invasive aquatic plant management, water quality improvements and restoration of existing emergent plants such as wild rice. All of these factors are critical for supporting a healthy lake fishery.

Perch Lake and its pine-tree rimmed shorelines with a blue sky above in October 2021.
One of the rewards of a career in lake health: fieldwork in beautiful places like Perch Lake.

The toughest part of my career is integrating local political agendas into professional management planning. Oftentimes the two aspects are in conflict, and sometimes science does not win. That can be very frustrating, but the only way to fight that battle is to provide the soundest science possible and link it to how it interacts with the community policies for the most desirable outcomes.

The most fun part of my career is getting to travel to so many different lakes. They all have unique characteristics. I’ve studied lakes in the Adirondacks where the pH of one was around 8.7 and the adjacent lake pH was 5.0! This demonstrates the underlying geology in the dictation of lake chemistry.

I graduated cum laude from MTU in 1998 with my undergraduate degree in biology with an emphasis on lake ecology/limnology. I took nearly every course the University offered back then related to aquatic science. MTU was always known as an excellent research university and it prepared me extremely well for graduate school. I conducted undergraduate research working with two professors. I earned my master’s in aquatic ecology from Grand Valley State University in 2007 while I worked as a lake consultant. In 2010, I entered the PhD program at Michigan State University, majoring in resource studies with an emphasis on water resource tool development. All of these institutions were critical in shaping my ability to think at a high scientific level and use scientific data to make practical and ecologically sound management decisions. In a way, I began with a very narrow focus at MTU and then broadened it over time with the rest of my education.  

I have so much advice to give new MTU undergrads! 

1. Study hard. MTU is a very tough school and the days can be long and exhausting, but what you put in today will help you with your career and help it move smoothly.

2. If you are interested in research, find a faculty member who is willing to help you grow. Many professors need help in their labs and are happy to help future professionals.

3. Spend a lot of time outdoors. I visited Lake Superior at least weekly and fell in love with the area. You may not stay there after you graduate, so make those memories of what it is like to experience amazing and wild nature and geology. If you are lucky, someday you may buy property UP there. I did!

4. Even if you are an introvert, attempt to engage in social activities. I was a member of the Houghton Lake Aquanauts, The Biology Club, and Phi Sigma Honor Society, and participated in the All-Nighter Winter Carnival statue building. Events such as these help you experience other perspectives and interact with people who may or may not share your views. This is very important in the world beyond college.

5. Attend college team games—especially hockey! MTU has always been known for its excellent hockey team.

I highly encourage students who graduate in the aquatic sciences realm to attend graduate school to obtain beneficial credentials and better understand complex aquatic ecosystems.” – Jennifer Lynn Jermalowicz-Jones #mtuhumans

Gowtham ’07, Director of Research Computing, Information Technology

A Michigan Tech faculty member in his rainbow sunglasses skis on the trails in the Great Bear Chase.
Cross-country skiing is one of the core activities that helps Gowtham joyfully connect with both his personal development and his community. Here, he competes in a past Great Bear Chase. This year, he was an event volunteer.

“Coming from a middle class family in India, we didn’t really have the means for me to pursue studies abroad. During my undergrad and master’s, I worked as a proofreader for textbook publishers and a tutor for students. I earned the equivalent of about $20 each month and $19 of it went to my parents to help offset family costs. The remaining dollar covered my occasional bus fare to science lectures across town and a snack afterward with the speaker/friends. In mid-to-late 2001, Dr. Pushpa Murthy (then chair of Michigan Tech’s chemistry department) was traveling through India. One of my master’s teachers knew her well and arranged a couple of meetings. A few correspondences followed with Drs. Ravi Pandey and John Jaszczak (Physics) and they agreed to take a chance on me without the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)—I couldn’t afford them. Upon learning that I couldn’t afford the postage, Dr. Murthy literally carried my application to Michigan Tech. My teachers, who had encouraged me and been willing to pay the application fee out of their own hard-earned money, convinced a bank to give me an educational loan that covered travel expenses.

On my very first day in the US, there was some confusion between International Programs and Services (IPS) and the Indian Students Association (ISA). So, no one came to pick me up at the airport. Susan (UP Health) and Owen Mills (MSE) were on the same flight and waited a while to make sure I wasn’t stranded. Susan gave me her home phone number and asked me to call if no one came to pick me up. I called an hour later and she drove all the way back to the airport, picked me up, took me home and made me a really good meal. Owen made a few phone calls and I ended up getting better housing than what ISA might have arranged for me.

After I earned my PhD in 2007, I worked for AT&T research and development headquartered in Middleton, New Jersey, for about a year. I met some really cool people there and in the community that I am still in touch with. But I missed my Yoop and the academic setting. After three failed attempts at various job openings at Tech, Dr. Max Seel and the physics department took a chance on me again in 2009 and brought me back as a postdoctoral fellow.

Susan’s actions on day one had been my first glimpse into how tight-knit this community is. My first steps to be a part of it came when I played softball with Team Fiziks and the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church teams for many years, and when I moved out of Daniell Heights and rented a room from David Bezotte (former reference librarian at Tech). The combination of the two introduced me to so many folks—talented musicians, artists, cooks, brewers and more—from our community. Food, running, and skiing are three of my favorite ways to continue nurturing that sense of community.

A faculty member in shiny sunnies signals 'I love you" with trees in soft focus in the background on the Michigan Tech Campus.
Gowtham, right, built a kindness and collaboration-over-competition rubric into his courses. Students who help each other understand concepts or make suggestions that improve his teaching style and materials are rewarded.

I don’t remember a time when I haven’t been a fan of food. It’s one of those lowest common denominators that all of us need, most of us enjoy, and that invariably tastes better in a communal setting. Preparing and sharing food is a lovely way to show someone we care about them. Since 2017, I have pursued a goal to share more meals with friends than I eat by myself. Cooking dinner for friends visiting the area or with friends in the community has been helping a great deal in achieving that goal—and resulted in one of my Instagram hashtags #DinnerWithFriends. Not every friend could meet for dinner, so that hashtag turned into #FoodWithFriends. Sharing backyard-grown fresh produce throughout summer and fall as well as baked goodies (I am almost always the recipient) led to #FoodFromFriends. The pandemic-forced isolation led to #FoodWithoutFriends (my least favorite of the hashtags).

“I didn’t really see any point in running or skiing until about 2013-14. For nearly two years, I made every conceivable excuse to not run—and when I did, it was almost always at the insistence of friends. Many of them would sacrifice their own time and distance to hang back with me and make sure I was okay, including running step-for-step in my first ever Canal Run half marathon. Those same two years also coincided with a series of academic heartbreaks—seeing exceptionally talented students not do little things correctly that would set them up for success down the road. One day, while walking home, I wondered if I needed to be a better student (i.e, take up running consistently and do the little things my friends were asking me to do for my own benefit) to be a better teacher. And that was the switching-on moment as far as sticking with running is concerned. Cross country skiing just about paralleled the same timeline as running and also stuck with me.

The more I run and ski, the more I realize I can take a problem or an issue with me, think about it (or not) without the assistance of Dr. Google and come back with a solution (or not). These sports have brought a lot of good people into my life, taken me to places that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and in turn, not had the chance to enjoy local cuisines. An unintended side effect of this lifestyle has been helping me get in the students’ mindset and outside of my comfort zone. It provides the new-student perspective I need when teaching courses at Michigan Tech or interacting with students in general.

Two men stand by a computer bank with a screen next to them on a laptop in Michigan Tech's Superior supercomputing facility.
During graduate school, Gowtham, shown here with Gregory Odegard, the John O. Hallquist Endowed Chair of Computational Mechanics director, was entrusted with building a high-performance computing infrastructure for the Pandey research group. His current research interests include resource allocation management and optimization of computing infrastructures as well as workflows to improve research productivity. He’ll present a workshop on revision control systems Tuesday, April 5, as part of the first ComputingMTU Showcase.

I hope my students (scientific computing) realize that I care for them as humans, individually and collectively, and their overall well-being, and not just how well they do in the course. I am fortunate enough to be involved in a field that has a very firm mathematical foundation and continuously changes with time. It’s a dichotomy that’s in line with my main teaching principle—freedom within discipline. It helps me refresh a portion of the syllabus each time the course is offered to better serve the learning needs of students. If the students can leave the course knowing a bit more about the subject matter but a lot more about their fellow classmates, I consider it a win. As interesting/boring as any given student can perceive the material, the real learning happens if the student chooses to stick with a few new practices after the course and carries them into their research projects. A bigger win for me is when I see a student undertake a couple more projects or publish a few more papers or make time for pursuing hobbies and interests that add value to their lives over the course of the rest of their stay (and beyond) at Michigan Tech.

To say that my teachers and their families have had a very profound impact on my life is an understatement. At every stage of my education, I have had teachers who went well out of their way to help me learn beyond what was prescribed in the syllabus, helping me at least see (if not understand) the interconnections, and their families treated me as one of their own. Teaching is a way I get to pay forward what my teachers did for me.

I hope we never lose the tight-knit nature of our community and our ability to put our differences aside to come together for a common cause. My advice for a new Husky? Our community is rich with plenty of resources: natural, human, tangible, and intangible. I highly recommend reaching out and asking for help when necessary. Even if the person we first approach doesn’t have the solution, they will very likely know someone else who might. And we don’t have to wait till we have reached a certain milestone in our personal or professional lives to start paying it forward to someone else in the community.”

— Gowtham ’07 #mtuhumans

Nicole Bonenfant ’16 (Scientific and Technical Communications)

A young woman in a Michigan Tech sweatshirt sits by a statue of Alexander Agassiz in Calumet Michigan outside

“As deputy clerk/assessor at Charter Township of Calumet, I help run all of the elections in Calumet Township, along with the head clerk. From now until Election Day, I will be in charge of sending out over 1,200 absentee ballots to voters who have requested them and checking them in once they have filled them out.

Once we get all of the ballots back from the voters, I check the signature on the ballot envelope and compare it to the signature we have on file. If it matches, their ballot is filed into our vault until Election Day. On Election Day, I’m in charge of making sure things go smoothly. If election workers have questions, they call me and I go to the precinct and help them solve the problem. 

My scientific and technical communication degree has been tremendously useful in this role. I’ve used my technical writing skills to write documentation for our election software, as well as instructions for other clerks in Houghton County to help them navigate the state’s Qualified Voter File. Most of our election workers have a hard time with technology, so I try to make their lives easier by making documents for them. The problem-solving aspect of technical communication has also come in handy.

There are a LOT of things that can go wrong on Election Day, and my education at Michigan Tech helped me navigate those challenges. Election Day can be very tense for some people and tempers can flare easily. Being able to communicate clearly and concisely, not only on paper but in person, has been important. It is a long day and anything can truly happen, so we have to be on our toes! But, we have a lot of fun. We always find time to joke with each other and make time fly. My mother is one of our election workers, so it is nice to work with her. Plus, I get to be her boss for the day!

Helping the community I grew up in exercise their right to vote is something I particularly enjoy about this job. Especially this year, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it is extremely rewarding to assist in the democratic process. November 3 is going to be a very intense day for many different groups of people, so to help those who watched me grow up (and who I grew up with) make sure their vote counts is a great feeling. I try to do everything I can to help my community be heard, not only on the regional or state level, but at the federal level as well.” –Nicole Bonenfant ’16, deputy clerk/assessor Calumet Township

#mtuhumans

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.

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

Gabriela Shirkey

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.

Tyler Shelast

 

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.