If You Have a Michigan Tech Degree Bhakta Rath Knows You Can Do the Job

Bhakta Rath, ’58, is the associate director of research and head, Material Science and Component Technology Directorate of the US Naval Research Laboratory.  He and his wife, Sushama, a computer analyst for the Virginia Community College System, have endowed an annual research award to an outstanding graduate student and faculty adviser for work that will help meet the nation’s needs and the challenges of emerging technologies. Attending the University’s 2011 Spring Commencement, Rath reminisced about his days at Michigan Tech more than 50 years ago and his vision for the future.

Lucky for Michigan Tech—and generations of graduate students and researchers here—Bhakta Rath, ’58, never did get the hang of speaking German.

“After finishing my bachelor’s degree in India, I got a full scholarship to study in Germany,” Rath recalls. “But after six months trying to learn German, when all I could say was hello, good-by and where is the bathroom, I realized that this was not the way to get a graduate education.”

So he came to Michigan Tech instead, with a BS in physics and mathematics and not a shred of engineering.  When he sat down with the chair of the Metallurgical Engineering Department, Corbin Eddy peered at Rath’s transcript and inquired: “Have you ever had a course in blast furnace?”

“No,” Rath replied.

“Open hearth?”




He asked about several other undergraduate courses.  The response was the same:  “No”.

Eddy shook his head.

“You are going to have to take all the undergraduate courses you would need in preparation for this degree and earn at least a 3.0 in them, plus your graduate courses and thesis,” he said. “It’s going to take you nearly six years to get a master’s.

Rath politely but firmly disagreed. “I can’t do that,” he said. “My parents are paying for me to study here.  I promised to come home in two years with a master’s degree, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

It took a staggering load of over 30 courses a year, but Rath did what he said he’d do.  Then his advisor, Roy Drier, dropped another bombshell.  “You need to stay one more quarter and take the mandatory course in Michigan history, so we can give you a BS as well as an MS,” Drier told Rath.

But Rath, who had already been accepted to a PhD program at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, said no thanks. “I came here for a master’s; I’ll settle for the master’s,” he decided.

Despite his course load, Rath has happy memories of his time at Michigan Tech. He recalls staying in the old Scott Hotel in Hancock over Christmas break, when the university residence halls were closed. “It cost a lot–$1 a day—but with two of us sharing a room, it was only 50 cents each,” he says.

He’ll never forget his first ski adventure either. Some classmates took him up Mt. Ripley. Since Rath had never skied, they wanted to leave him on the easy slope. Rath was having none of that.

“If you are riding the lift to the top, I am too,” he said.  It took his friends about 2 minutes to ski to the bottom. “It took me 2 hours,” he says. “on my belly.”

Rath’s determination to complete his graduate degrees took another hit when he actually arrived at IIT.  “You can start by forgetting everything you’ve learned at Michigan Tech,” he was told.  “You’ll have to start all over and pass a 10-hour oral exam before you can even start on your PhD work.”

At the time, Michigan Tech was known as a practical engineering school, training students to work in heavy industry settings.  “The basic engineering Michigan Tech taught was the best in the country, but the University wasn’t preparing students to think about the basic science behind the engineering,” Rath explains. “Now a Tech education is much more science-based, and that’s a good thing, because we are not training students to work in blast furnaces and open hearths any more. We are preparing them to solve engineering problems, to create entirely new materials, processes and products.”

The engineering challenges are different now, Rath points out. “We used to focus on extracting raw materials and converting them to useable products. In what was then called the Metallurgy Department, it was all about metals, from mining to mineral dressing to processing. Now the spectrum is much broader, including polymers, ceramics, composites, semi-conductors and all kinds of novel materials.

One of the most serious challenges facing Michigan Tech and the nation today is the need to motivate more young people to go into science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM fields.  Rath has made a commitment to help through his work with the American Society for Materials (ASM) International Education Foundation. He is past president of the foundation and now serves on its Board of Trustees.
ASM develops nearly 50 summer camps for high school students and teachers, sponsored by the foundation, local industries and universities.  Michigan Tech sponsored one in 2008.

“We need to excite American students about the STEM fields, and if you excite the teachers, they excite the students,” Rath explains. He has successfully talked the Office of Naval Research into funding summer teachers’ camps.

He’s a big fan of the hands-on approach to motivating the next generation. “Kids need to do things, to analyze real-world problems,” he says. “They need to look at a failed auto part and ask: Why did this shaft fail, and how could we make it better?”

The challenge of attracting young people to STEM studies is compounded by the trend in American business and industry to outsource not only manufacturing, but research and development. “There aren’t enough American graduates to fill the STEM jobs,” says Rath. “Universities are training more and more foreign students in STEM fields, but they are returning to their homelands, not contributing to the intellectual capital of the US.  This is a very serious challenge for the future of our country.”

Laboratory Biosafety Manual

As a follow-up to the November 30 biosafety presentation, a rudimentary, work-in-progress version of the Laboratory Biosafety Manual has been posted on the Research Integrity and Compliance website. You can access the Biosafety Manual, as well as the Laboratory Risk Assessment form in the RESOURCES box on the right side of the webpage at http://www.mtu.edu/research/administration/integrity-compliance/review-boards/recombinant-DNA/ or you can access the manual directly here.

Although not fully developed, the manual provides useful information for faculty, staff and students working in biological laboratories.  For example:

The INTRODUCTION briefly explains the purpose of the manual and provides links to federal and state regulations and guidelines that govern work in biological laboratories.

The BIOSAFETY LEVELS section provides information on the recommended laboratory practices, equipment and facilities used to mitigate the risks of working with biological organisms in BSL-1, BSL-2 and BSL-3 laboratories.

The section on BIOLOGICAL SAFETY CABINETS (BSC) gives a brief overview of BSC design and provides the essentials for working safely and effectively in a BSC.  It also provides a link to an excellent training video.

Future sections on appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Toxins, Disposal of Biological Waste and Sharps Use and Disposal are in process.  Because it is a work in progress your feedback, requests for clarification, or suggestions for additional content are appreciated and will ultimately make the manual a more useful resource for the Michigan Tech community.

If you would like to receive updates as the work on the Biosafety Manual progresses; have questions concerning biosafety, suggestions for future presentations or if you would like assistance in completing a risk assessment of your laboratory please contact:

David Dixon dcdixon@mtu.edu.

Transmittal Form: Note for Mac Users

If you are a Mac user, you may receive an error message when trying to open the new transmittal sheet for proposal submission to external sponsors.  To open the file from the website, http://www.mtu.edu/research/references/forms/, please follow the directions below:

To open the file, right click the link, click “Save Link As” and save the file to your desktop.  Open Adobe Acrobat, click “File”, “Open” and search for the file saved on your desktop.

Industrial F&A Rate

Effective immediately, Michigan Tech will begin assessing the uncapped facilities and administrative cost rate [currently 63%] to all industrial sponsored proposals. As always, Sponsored Programs will consider requests to reduce the assessed F&A rate when cost share is required on a project, when there are concerns about cost-competitiveness of a proposal, and when the project has a maximum total cost – the form for requesting such a reduction is at http://www.mtu.edu/research/administration/sponsored-programs/pdf/IDCreduct_waiver.pdf.

Federal pass through funding will continue to be assessed the appropriate federal rate, and all proposals previously submitted with the capped rate will be grandfathered at the rate at which they were submitted.

FY10 Provisional Fringe Benefit Rates

The Office of Naval Research has recently issued a provisional Fringe Benefit rate for Michigan Tech.  Effective July 1, 2009, the regular and grant funded employee’s fringe rate of 42.6% will be applied to all funds.

Effective immediately, the regular and grant funded employee fringe benefit rate of 42.6% will be used in Sponsored Programs proposal budgets.  The new fringe benefit rate will apply to supplemental or additional funding where funding is added for work beyond what was contained in the original agreement.  The funding will generally be given a new index number in order to be separated from the funding in the original agreement.

For existing and incrementally funded Sponsored Programs, the fringe rate for regular and grant funded employees will be the lower of the rates used in the proposal budget or the new 42.6% rate.

The existing rates for the employee types, as described below, will be applied to all funds and will also be used in Sponsored Programs proposal budgets:

  • Extra Compensation: 20.2%
  • Temporary Employees: 10%
  • Graduate Students: 8.75%
  • Undergraduates: 0%

The current provisional rate agreement can be found on the Research Offices website at http://www.mtu.edu/research/references/facts-figures/.

FY10 Provisional Facilities & Administrative (F&A) Rates

The Office of Naval Research has recently issued provisional (temporary) F&A rates for Michigan Tech.  Although these rates were effective as of July 1, 2009, they are to be used in Sponsored Programs budgets that have a proposal submission deadline on or after August 1, 2009.

What does this mean for sponsored projects?  For existing projects and incrementally funded projects, the rates in effect at the time the project was awarded will continue to be charged.  For projects awarded under the provisional rates, the provisional rate will be charged until the pre-determined (final) rate agreements are fully-executed.   Incrementally funded projects exist when incremental awards will be received throughout the approved project period referenced in the original agreement; therefore, these project F&A rates would remain the same.  The new rates will apply to supplemental or additional proposals where funding is being requested for work beyond what was contained in the original agreement.   When awarded, the supplemental and additional funding will generally be given a new index number in order to account for the different rates.

The current provisional rate agreement can be found on the Sponsored Programs Office website at http://www.mtu.edu/research/references/facts-figures/.

Graduate Student Estimating Tables for Proposal Budgets (FY10)

The graduate student estimating tables for stipend levels and tuition and fee rates has been updated.  These rates are to be used in proposal budgets to external sponsors.  You can find the tables at Sponsored Programs Budget Estimating Tables.

These rates are effective immediately.

National Science Foundation Proposal Submission Change

The Sponsored Programs Office would like to inform you of the following proposal submission change. Due to an expected increase in Grants.gov submissions relating to the processing of Recovery Act proposals, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has authorized agencies to use alternative methods for proposal submission and acceptance.

Effective immediately, new funding opportunities issued by NSF will exclusively require the use of FastLane to prepare and submit proposals. NSF plans to revise existing funding opportunity documents to reflect this change and to remove all active application packages from Grants.gov APPLY. Updated NSF information about available funding opportunities will be posted to Grants.gov FIND.

Once you have identified your grant opportunity, be sure to carefully read the instructions to ensure you are following proper submission procedures for that application, even if you have applied before. Grants.gov will still be the one place to find all available federal grant opportunities and all opportunities will include specific application instructions, including instructions for submitting applications outside of Grants.gov.

These agencies will be accepting some or all applications outside of Grants.gov: Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Education (DOED), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Treasury, Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Air and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Please pay close attention to the grant announcements and application instructions for these agencies.

Detailed instructions regarding the technical aspects of proposal preparation and submission via FastLane are available at: http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/.

If you have any questions contact the Sponsored Programs Office at 487-2226.