Collaboration is the New Competition

Pick up the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Forbes or any other business publication today and you’re likely to read something about growth mindset. It’s not only business, institutions have jumped on board and some at a faster pace than others. Higher Ed was hit hard in 2008 as appropriations were scaled back, research dollars decreased and students rethought their college plans. As a result some institutions responded by doing what Amit Mrig, CEO of Academic Impressions calls “freezing in place” by reducing spending, streamlining inefficiencies, abandoning progressive ideas and attempting to do the same work with less dollars and fewer people. Mrig goes on to suggest that institutions have “become skilled at advocating for resources, but not at creating them.”

Over two years ago, Michigan Tech and a number of individuals in the Grand Traverse Area (GTA)started having conversations and began to explore ideas about how the University and organizations in the GTA might deploy collaborative opportunities supporting the shared goals of both, deepening engagement in areas of mutual expertise, advancing education and research endeavors, and catalyzing economic growth. The interest from both parties has continued to grow and last week Michigan Tech’s Board of Trustee’s enthusiastically endorsed a memorandum of understanding supporting these pursuits.

Together, Michigan Tech and GTA will pursue opportunities that strengthen and enrich K-12/Pre-college engagement; Higher Education; Industry- talent pipeline, research and business development, continuing education and stackable credentials to assist with professional development and talent retention; Economic and Community Development.

It’s an exciting time at Michigan Tech and for those in the Grand Traverse Area as we seek to solidify synergistic opportunities that add value and strength to the bonds we share and the rich resources we will create. A recent blog post may have summed it up best, “Today, competitive advantage is not driven by the resources you control, but those you can access. Increasingly, rather than owning resources and capabilities outright, we use platforms to access ecosystems of technology, talent and information. “ For Tech and the Grand Traverse Area, I would call these platforms of collaboration and through them we will create resources that add value to the economy, the health of our communities and the bonds we share.

Lives of Consequence

One of the joys of flying in and out of a small-town airport is the quality time you often get to spend with others from the community, colleagues from campus, and frequently, our students. If you’re departing CMX you’ll see our students dressed in their Sunday best as if they were headed to the career fair. And if you’re on the late flight home, you may seem them dressed similarly with the one difference being the smile on their face and look of relief. Strike up a conversation with them and you’ll likely find they are on their way home from an interview, perhaps this is one of many and they’re now deciding which offer to take.

Yes, it’s true, our students get great jobs and frequently have multiple offers. But these jobs will be different, as a matter of fact, predictions suggest that up to 65% of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t yet exist. These jobs will be generated by a new convergence of cyber and physical spaces. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and automation are some of the technologies that will drive these changes. Our students are embarking on a journey that is yet to be defined.

This past fall Michigan Tech held a series of conversations to position the institution as an internationally recognized thought leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the same time, the Provost commissioned a team to consider how innovation shapes our university and impacts the importance of our work. Both reports are pivot points for the university and provide a roadmap for the future. Nine Tech Forward initiatives were identified around the themes of developing solutions to natural resources, water and energy problems; building innovative autonomous and intelligent systems; creating technological solutions to enhance human health and quality of life; preparing culturally receptive leaders for a diverse world; and redefining education for the next generation. The task force on innovation report provided multiple recommendations including ways to extend Michigan Tech’s reach beyond the traditional campus, increasing the optimization of online and professional education offerings, flexibility in course scheduling and rethinking modalities of education delivery.

In their book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, Diamandis and Kotler suggest that the days of an isolated world are behind us and the rate of technology growth and innovation has never been greater. As a matter of fact, they submit that humanity is entering a period of radical transformation where technology will raise the standards of living for all individuals resulting in a more abundant future; a future where all are provided a life of possibility.

Career Fair at Michigan Tech is just a few weeks away. Hundreds of individuals will be on campus to meet thousands of our students. It’s an exciting time for these students and a future full of possibility. It’s also an exciting time for Michigan Tech as we extend our reach and embark on a new journey where we will partner with others in education, industry and communities to provide education and transformational experiences to prepare individuals for lives of consequence and possibility.

Possibilities abound…

This past weekend was Preview Day at Michigan Tech and I had the good fortune of being able to welcome new students and their guests to Tech.  My comments centered on our values and focused on the possibilities that students will have as a Husky.

We see these possibilities come to life every day not only here on campus but in the world that extends beyond Michigan Tech. Two weeks ago was spring break and while many of our students headed home for a home-cooked meal or to perhaps get 7-8 weeks of laundry done, others headed out on other ventures carrying forth the Tech name. The Center for Pre-College Outreach sent fifty of our students to Houston via bus to do a Mind Trekkers event at San Jacinto College where they introduced kids to math, engineering and science through high intensity hands on learning and activities, at a two-day science and engineering festival.  They reached about 6,000 students over the two days.

Another group of students headed out with the Outdoor Adventure Program to Orange Beach Alabama where they snorkeled in the Gulf of Mexico, go-karted, kayaked, hiked, went spelunking and caught some sun at the beach. A second group from OAP headed west to the Yosemite Valley in California.  Basecamp was in Yosemite but they spent the week hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, rock climbing and being as one with nature in the majestic shadows of the park.

While these students were out seeking adventure another group headed downstate to Detroit.  Our chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers spent time in the Motor City offering free Family Engineering Nights at K-8 schools and doing engineering presentations during the day.  And finally, another group of twenty-five students headed to the Bay area and Silicon Valley where they were exposed to many high tech companies, alums and the likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix, Porter Family Vineyards, Apple and more.  Lucky for me, I was able to join these students on this trip. And this was all over a period of 7-8 days.

Over the course of the past five weeks I have had the numerous opportunities to interact with a number of Michigan Tech alums.  I met an alum that worked for Caterpillar right out of college, is now a VP at an energy company, owns a yoga studio, participates in bike-a-thons for MS, is considering placing an order for a Tesla, he’s 33.  I met with an alum who helped develop some of the first computer chip technology at IBM, was a VP there and is now working w/researchers at Mayo Clinic to develop a patient app for babies born with congenital heart defects. A young woman who graduated in business and works as an investment banker in Chicago and Manhattan, a mechanical engineer who manages 70 billion dollars cash for Google, a geologist with Shell Oil, a former Michigan Tech football player who just opened his own law firm, and an entrepreneur that lives in Startuphouse- a space in San Francisco for bootstrappers, builders and disrupters with an emphasis on supporting diversity and wellness in the workplace in a co-living/working environment.  I also met the first female editor of the Michigan Tech Lode (our student newspaper) and a Winter Carnival Queen, and did I mention, she’s 91.

There is seldom an hour in the day that I’m not apprised of something new or exciting where our students, our alums and others embracing possibility full on.  This is the spirit of Tech and it makes me proud to be a Husky.

Inspiring A Sense of Community

It would be hard to find a day at Tech when you didn’t witness a sense of pride and community.  This past weekend I watched the Michigan Tech Huskies take it to the Lake State Lakers as the women won by double digits and the men stayed strong in the end defeating LSSU by four points.  The tempo and success of both teams is no doubt impacted by field goal percentages, rebounds, sheer athleticism and the drive to win but as many of the seniors commented in their senior speeches following the game that they are also impacted by the community and the energy in the gym. Luckily, Saturday was no different as the campus community was out in full force, the vibe in the gym radiating and the spirit of being a Husky exhilarating.



While the lady Huskies were taking the court, Travis Pierce, Director of Housing and others were meeting with eleven of our students that had their roof cave in on their apartments the night before due to heavy winter snow/rain.  Earlier in the week a local family in Chassell lost their home to a devastating fire and members of Michigan Tech fraternities and sororities organized a clothing drive to assist.  And the spring job fair was yet another raving success thanks to all of the employers that attend but the Tech community; Career Services, the staff of the SDC and the cross country team that help provide the people power to make it happen.


All of these occurrences revolve around a sense of pride, a feeling of family and more importantly, community. From make-a-difference day, frequent food, clothing and toy drives in the fall to Winter Carnival, relay for life and all that comes with, a pervasive sense of community exists at the place we call Tech.  Perhaps Senior Basketball player Luke Heller summed it up best by saying, “while I have been a student and an athlete I have come to call this place home and I will always be a Husky.”  If this isn’t inspiring community, I’m not sure what is.

An Era of Black and Gold

A few weeks ago, Brandon Veale, sports writer for the Daily Mining Gazette wrote a column titled “A Black and Gold Era”. In the column Brandon tells the story of Tech athletics and goes on to highlight the success of all of Michigan Tech sports from football and soccer in the fall to both women’s/men’s basketball, hockey and Nordic skiing.

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While Brandon did a nice job summarizing our athletic success, one could use up reams of paper if they were to give full credit to the amazing year we’ve had. From football reaching the NCAA playoffs for the second time in school history to soccer advancing to the playoffs for the third time in their four years of existence, it’s been an incredible year of many seasons. Women’s Tennis player, Kwang Suthijindawong, was named GLIAC Player of the Year. Women’s basketball has had amazing success under Coach Kim Cameron winning the GLIAC North Division Title again and hosting the Midwest Regional three times in the past six years. Our men’s basketball team went 19-9 and Ben Stelzer garnered not only the GLIAC but also Midwest Region Player of the Year. Our Nordic team sent skiers to both the US and Canadian National Championships and two skiers to the World Junior Championships in Kazakhstan. Hockey swept the first round of the WCHA playoffs, our first home ice in 22 years and played the longest game ever. They also made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1981. Tanner Kero was named WCHA Player and Student Athlete of the Year, goalie Jamie Phillips had the most wins in the country and Coach Pearson was named Coach of the Year by the College Hockey News. And our cross-country teams are continuing to break all kinds of records at this writing with Sean Pengelly qualifying for the NCAA National Championship.


The wins on the court, field, trails and ice are fantastic but there is an equal amount of winning beyond all of these that is something we should also be incredibly proud of. I’m talking about the essence of our student athletes and how they represent Michigan Tech, their steady success in the classroom and the time they volunteer at local schools or mentoring kids in the community at various camps. While much of it about the competitive nature of sports, it’s also about the energy and spirit that comes with them. It’s the essence of the environment created, the sense of pride, the feelings of triumph and compassion in defeat. There’s nothing quite like a fall day at Sherman Field with fans in full force, the fight song reverberating loudly through the air while one cheers on our Huskies. Or perhaps, the energy that comes from walking into a packed SDC gym or experiencing a standing room only crowd at the Mac. It may be about winning but in many ways it’s about more than that. It’s about creating a sense of pride, a feeling of home and an ethos of care; something we can all embrace and be proud of because we’re Huskies!


It’s definitely easy to bleed black and gold with a year like this but I would suggest it’s always easy to do this when we you look at the caliber and quality of our players and the winning attitudes they bring with them. This attitude and spirit has been amplified across the Copper Country and the rest of the world loud and clear. Coach Kim Cameron may have summed it up best in Brandon’s column when she said “I think in general, Michigan Tech athletics has blown away the average, the norm.” I couldn’t agree more and like many of you can’t wait to see what the next era brings.

Attitude can make all the difference

Pick up any self-help book, motivational story or divine inspiration from writers like Stephen Covey, Daniel Pink, Ken Blanchard or Jim Collins and within the first few pages you’ll find details about the importance of one’s attitude and the value of the book. Quotes like the following litter the dust cover “a very important, convincingly argued, and mind-altering book”; “an amazing resource that can help even the most successful organizations become more successful” or “a timeless and unforgettable message…share it with everyone you know.”

While all these types of books can be helpful (I know I’ve read my fair share) and realizing that most people don’t; I think choosing your attitude is more important than most other things we choose, including our wardrobe. Last week I was traveling for work and saw evidence of this at almost every juncture. The captain of our United flight from Chicago to Phoenix was retiring that day and invited all of the kids (both big and small) into the cockpit and then proudly stood by and thanked everyone for flying United as we departed. The Michigan Tech alums that I met with that are both close to one hundred years of age and live in a very nice retirement community. Their energy was amazing and they commented about how overwhelmed they are because of all there is to do. I also had the good fortune of meeting a 2009 Michigan Tech alum that just happened to sit in my same row on a plane and connected with me because of the Michigan Tech pullover that I had on. Needless to say, another proud upbeat Husky. Luckily due to another great snowstorm in the Yoop (attitude remember) my flight was canceled and I was re-booked on a flight the next morning. From Rae at the United Club to Lauren (the flight attendant on her first day) to Captain Andrew, the pilot, they were over the top helpful, funny and had incredible attitudes about the entire adventure. There are plenty of books to encourage and inspire us although they aren’t really necessary if we simply take time to absorb the positive moments that surround us.

Life is interesting, every day can be an adventure and the journey is far more interesting when we enjoy/embrace each situation and look for the silver lining in each. It’s like self-help author, Richard Carlson suggests “don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff”. With finals upon us and graduation just a few days away, I hope that you’ll take time to reflect and find joy in each and every moment you have. Be happy, grateful and present and I think you’ll find the right attitude will join you for the journey.

A worthwhile investment

During the recent Olympics you may have heard about snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and her father, who made a trip to market every week to sell a cow to fund Kaitlyn’s snowboarding. Similarly, as a kid I was very involved with our local 4-H program and it was understood that the funds raised each year from the sale of my market project (rabbits, sheep, etc.) would go into my college savings account. I also traded a horse and some of my hard-earned cash for my first car. Although most of society doesn’t have cows or horses to sell/trade, these are real-life examples of making an investment in the future.

Much like Kaitlyn and me, the Business Leaders of Michigan are concerned about investments—or, perhaps, lack thereof—in the state of Michigan. Last fall, they and the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan released a report delineating the value of Michigan‘s investment in higher education. It’s commonly known that those with a degree are more likely to command a higher salary, have less unemployment, and are less likely to live in poverty. A few weeks ago the Pew Research Center released a similar report on the value of attending college. The report concluded that:

• a college education is worth more today;
• college benefits go beyond earnings;
• college grads are more satisfied with their jobs;
• the cost of not going to college has risen;
• college grads say college is worth it; and
• college majors matter.

I know our students and their families are smart enough to recognize all of these points, but there are three in particular that I’d like to emphasize.

• College education is worth more today. If you look at average earnings of today’s grads, there is a nearly $20,000-per-year difference between those with a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree. The gap is significantly higher in engineering fields, with averages being closer to $35,000–40,000.
• The benefits go beyond earnings. Millennials have far lower unemployment rates, are less likely to be living in poverty, are more likely to be married, and (the big one!) are less likely to be living in their parents’ home.
• Major matters. Grads in science in engineering are more likely to say that their current job is closely related to the field they studied and least likely to say a different major would have prepared them for the job they really wanted.

By virtue of being at Michigan Tech and enrolled in college, I know our students realize the value of a college education. It’s also blatantly obvious that our employers realize the importance of a highly educated, skilled, and motivated workforce. Our world is a much different place today than it was twenty (or even five) years ago. But this change is exciting because of our students and the alums who paved the way, opened the doors and minds of others, and helped us to embrace change and possibility head on.

It’s a no-brainer that the investment you make today will undoubtedly reap great rewards tomorrow. Michigan Tech’s recent Generations of Discovery Campaign (and the $215 million from alumni and friends that it raised) is yet another investment that will pave the way for students and others. And like many of our students and their parents, my many years of 4-H projects helped me to make an investment for a lifetime in education. The pace of change is rapid and it’s important that each of us, the BLM, and the Presidents Council are working to ensure that government leaders and others continue to make this investment in higher education for Michigan and our future.

We are what we Tweet

In December I attended a session at a conference where the presenter talked about “leading by tweeting.” The facilitator professed that tweeting helps leaders and others establish a connection, to share their personalities and provide insight into our daily lives in a different way. Those who know me know that I attempt to stay on the cusp of social media and embrace the tools that our students use. I did say attempt, because I grew up in the western desert of Utah/Nevada minus electricity until I was nine years old, and without telephones until I was a in junior in college. OMG! Can you imagine life without a phone? Yes, we survived, and some might say most of us turned out okay.

All that said, in an effort to become more adept and progressive at social media and to be a student of our students, over the past year I have attempted to tweet more regularly. And just this week, I along with our leadership team attempted to educate our thirty-eight directors about Twitter, tweeting, and the lingo that comes with. The challenge that we proposed to each director was to become well versed enough to tweet the most important highlights from their department. Yep, somewhat of a challenge to say what you need to say in 140 characters or less.

Started in 2006 and now used by some 500 million individuals posting approximately 340 million tweets a day, Twitter is definitely worth tweeting about. At Tech alone, Twitter accounts for almost 80% of our social news mentions and shares.

We are all familiar with the adage you are what you eat. Since we often talk about social media and what we post, I thought I’d take this a step further and suggest that you are what you tweet. Yep, what we tweet says quite a bit about us. What I found is that the bulk of my tweets can be categorized into information I hoped to share, things that I care about, and ideas or thinking that is either thought provoking or just might inspire us into action. For example, if you took a look @LesPCook you will find the following information that I shared:

How awesome is this? Marilyn Swift from Swifts Hardware mobile broom sales for broomball! #michigantech #overthetop

Congrats to Pheonix Copley being named WCHA player of the week! Nice work. #followthehuskies #michigantech #mtuhuskies #lifeinthecrease

Investing in the future Michigan Tech raises $215 million dollars! Go huskies! #michigantech #exceedingexp

Employers, Students Brave Blizzard to Build Their Futures At Michigan Tech « CBS Detroit

Or random tweets about something I had feelings or cared about:

Leadershape hits the DMG Leadership with heart  Daily Mining Gazette  #michigantech #shapingrfuture @leadershapemtu

Mindful walking w Thich Nhat Hanh in Boston Commons. #lifeisamazing

Like father, like son. Gotta love orientation #orientation2013

Clothesline project comes to life at Tech. Responsible relationship days are everyday. #michigantech

Adison turned 15 today, graduated from a razor scooter to behind the wheel #getofftheroad

#naspa13 working on a college campus is a true gift and a privilege- pat whitely

Or provocative articles and interesting reads:

19 Things Remarkable People Think Every Day | …

Love this article! Four Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your People, And Dinner With You Isn’t One of Them | LinkedIn

Fast Company ‏@FastCompany Sep 4 This is your brain on meditation

15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy

It Matters Whether Our Students Succeed via @HuffPostCollege

Fourth Grader’s Essay on Marriage Equality Goes Viral, Earns National Praise | Parenting – Yahoo! Shine

College Degree ‘Most Important Investment’ Students, Parents Can Make | University Business Magazine

By now you probably have a sense of what @LesPCook is about. If not, I invite you to follow me.  I heard a funny quote about Twitter: “On Twitter we get excited if someone follows us. In real life we get really scared and run away.”  Twitter is similar in many ways to other social media outlets, you can sign up for an account and never use it or you can easily become absorbed in it. It doesn’t replace the face-to-face contact so essential to relationships and our beings, but does provide another outlet to share, communicate, and afford us additional opportunities to learn about people and our world. It has been said that Twitter is not a technology, it’s a conversation and it’s happening with or without you. Just like what you eat for lunch, it’s a choice and you get to decide if you want to be a part of it.

Do you hear what I hear?

You probably don’t, but I wish you could. Just last week, I was visiting with an alumnus who has been out of Tech for fewer than ten years. As we talked, he said, “I applied to Tech and five others. When I received my acceptance letter to Tech, I threw the other five away… best decision I ever made, and worth every dollar invested.”

Over the course of the last few months, I have traversed the terrain of Wyoming, navigated the “T” in Boston, and explored much of southwestern Michigan and Chicago. I’ve met with owners of construction companies and startups, doctors in fellowships and residencies, senior consulting engineers, vice presidents and presidents, post-docs involved in cutting-edge research, and others just beginning or nearly concluding very successful careers. The resounding refrain I hear is about the value of a Michigan Tech education and how well it prepared these people for their chosen professions. Just this week, we received a very touching letter from the wife of a 1957 grad who recently passed away; it included minor details about his death with a personal note scrawled at the bottom: “He owed his success to MTU.”

It is a powerful thing to work with students as they learn to create the future; it’s equally as powerful to spend time with alumni who are living this future. From a doctor who came to the rescue during the recent Boston Marathon bombing to a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served in Afghanistan to a young alumnus working as the lead construction engineer on one of the largest fertilizer plants in the world, these individuals are living the future we describe. I met one alumnus who told me about how he’s using nanotechnology probes inserted into cells to stimulate cell growth to speed up healing processes, while another is on his second successful startup providing manufacturing solutions to industry. My visits with our alumni are powerful and incredibly insightful.

On top of their professional careers, Tech graduates also find time to be involved in their communities. One commented about her involvement with Destination Imagination. Another served as vice chair of the student arm of the American Medical Association. Another is the coach of a university crew team, others are involved as hockey coaches, rally truck drivers, outdoor enthusiasts, and mentors for youth in their communities.

Last week, I attended a conference where Olympic athlete and philanthropist Jackie Joyner Kersee commented, “It’s not the loud voice among us but the quiet whispers and courageous voices of our students that allows our work to shine.” To this I would add the voice of our alumni, for it’s obvious that these individuals are living the mission we so earnestly strive to create.

Can you hear it? I hope so. Our mission is to prepare students to create the future, and it is evident we are succeeding.

Resume or eulogy?

Are you living your eulogy or your resume?” So goes the title of Arianna Huffington’s blog in a recent edition of Huffington Post that just so happened to coincide with the Career Fair. Her post reminded me of the importancour résumée of our work in higher education and, more precisely, in Student Affairs. Huffington defined what she calls the Third Metric, which redefines success as more than power and money. In her mind, success also includes well-being, wisdom, and one’s ability to wonder and give. The premise is that because we are so consumed with our work, i.e. creating our résumé, we lose sight of what really matters: who we care about, how we engage in life, how we treat others and the way in which our passions our manifested, i.e. our eulogy.

So how do you decide between creating your résumé and living your eulogy? As students, you came to Tech for a reason: to get an education that will prepare you for a successful career and meaningful life after graduation. Yes, this education comes from lectures in the classroom, hours in labs, and energy spent on Senior Design projects—but it also comes from the process through which it is obtained. As educators we challenge you to consider all of the things that contribute to a robust resume: scholarly endeavors, leadership activities, and other experiences that will make you stand out and differentiate you from others. At the same time, we should be conscious of helping students to develop good life habits that include balance, exercise, rich social interaction, and positive relationships.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have watched or participated in numerous events and activities where I have seen these rich and meaningful experiences (the process) come to life. You can see this through the enthusiasm shared with new students and families during move-in and welcome week, the laughter and plentiful hugs at K-Day, the confidence at the Career Fair, the immense pride that comes from Parade of Nations, and the expressions on the faces of those at the cardboard boat races when their boat capsizes. And while one may argue that these are all pieces that contribute to one’s résumé, in my mind they are more a reflection of a eulogy. Building résumés and getting jobs are important, but in the end, it is about enjoying the journey and making a difference in the lives of others. I am confident that through your engagement as bright, motivated, and inspiring students, you are well on your way to doing just that.