Category: College of Sciences and Arts

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


Nicole Bonenfant ’16 (Scientific and Technical Communications)

“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.


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.


Mayra Morgan

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.


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.


Sarah Calvert

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.


Jarett McClanahan

There are going to be times where you are going to need to try to figure out how to make ends meet financially, or figure out how you are going to save time to do homework, or just take care of your own mental health and well-being. One of those things you always have to put on the back burner and it can get really exhausting. But if you remember it’s only a couple of years, it can be hard in the moment, but as long as you work through it, it will be okay. I work as a student custodian in the ME-EM. I really like my job. I work 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. I don’t have to clean bathrooms. I just go around and vacuum rooms, wipe whiteboards off, and other stuff. Other than that, I TA a few classes and I’m the vice president of the Society of Medical Laboratory Scientists club. So when I get home, I make food, shower, go to sleep, wake up, and start it all again. I have to wake up super early, but I have weekends and nights off. And I get to listen to music and podcasts while I’m working. I also do work study for the biology department, so I work on average about 30 hours a week.

My degree has a required fifth-year practicum, if you want to take the board exam to be certified to work in a hospital. I’ll be doing my practicum in July at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in my hometown of Iron Mountain, Michigan. Then I can sit for my boards and go on to work in a hospital. For our senior capstone, we meet twice a week to prepare to take an old version of the board as the final exam. Jobs for my major after graduation typically entail working in a hospital lab, doing research, or working for a corporation in the private sector; but it’s mostly doing patient sample testing to diagnose diseases. A lot of microscopes and machines.

I remember my senior year of high school, I was looking around at different schools and there was nothing super specific about Tech that drew me in, but I liked the location (two hours from home), and I had heard that it was a really good school. A lot of my friends told me it was too expensive and too hard, which made me want to go here even more.