For VP of Diversity Gersie, Progress Won’t Be Complete Without Sense of Belonging

Wayne Gersie
Wayne Gersie

Most are familiar with the shorthand “DEI” for diversity, equity and inclusion. But when he speaks on the topic, Michigan Tech Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Wayne Gersie almost always adds something. “Sense of belonging.”

“We can be successful on many metrics for diversity, equity and inclusion,” he says. “If students don’t have a sense that they belong — that they are welcomed and valued — then numeric gains won’t mean as much and may even be temporary.”

Shortly after coming to Tech as its first VP-level diversity officer, Gersie said that making progress on campus would require the efforts of many.

“In the words of Helen Keller, ‘Alone, we can do so little. Together we can do so much,’ “ he said. “Campus culture will be enhanced as we work together with respect and openness towards a community where differences are valued, where equal access, opportunity, and representation are achieved, and where we are able to sustain an inclusive environment where all feel a sense of belonging.”

And, he stresses in a recent interview, that involves following a process.

“We need a definite plan so that we can be intentional in our implementation of it.”

Wayne Gersie, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

In getting DEI buy-in from faculty, students and staff, he says it can’t be won with strictly top-down initiatives.

“The thoughts must come from leadership, yes, but also from the grassroots,” he says. “If this effort is too top-down, there will never be enough buy-in. The happy plan is something that lies between the two.”

“That’s why I want to focus on sense of belonging,” he said. “Because everyone has a stake in that process.”

It’s also why he didn’t arrive and immediately impose a series of decisions or programs. So, overall, how does he view his role?

“I’m here to help set the 10,000-foot tone, perhaps some goals, and see what we can accomplish together,” he said.

A complete program he says, will create efforts and success in three primary areas:
• High-impact practices
• Recruitment and retention
• Communications and branding

Gersie hopes that current and prospective students see his hiring last fall as a “promissory note” from the university, representing clear intent to make progress on DEI issues.

He is currently working with the President’s Council Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion to perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that they will use to generate a plan that will be shared transparently.

“We first need to know what we’re doing now. Then we can plan the things we’re going to do and say ‘here are the metrics,’ and hold ourselves to these actions a year from now,” he said. “We need a definite plan so that we can be intentional in our implementation of it.”

“I know many students, faculty and staff want to see action,” he said, adding that he wants to be able to list steps that will provide immediate benefit while working on the longer-term process.

“I’m happy, for instance, that CSA and other colleges will form groups that will say, “This is what our plan looks like.’ “He said he was also encouraged that some schools and departments had already taken the initiative to publish statements affirming commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Beyond that, though, he said the possibilities are endless. “Maybe we should have a statement on every syllabus,” he said.

He also said that much of the process could be about teaching the skills and benefits of self-reflection and consideration of one’s own heritage, privileged or not. “Maybe part of this is the need to show students how to value their own identity as well as commit to valuing it ourselves.”

Among the measurable outcomes he hopes to improve: The fact that the six-year graduation rate for all underrepresented minority students is less than 62%, compared with 72.2% for all students (based on the freshman class of 2014).

“Representation has an effect on so many things, from recruitment to retention,” Gersie said, adding that one way to increase representation is to ensure blind screening to eliminate unconscious bias in admissions.

“We will be judged in the things we do day-to-day,” he said. “For instance, we can write job postings that have inclusive language. We must do enduring things. It’s clear that people here at Michigan Tech have the passion to create change. But we need to direct that.”

He said the successful dialogue (he had already talked with more than 100 students in March) on diversity has five key components:
• Active listening
• The suspension of judgment
• Leaning into discomfort
• Understanding one’s own privilege
• Having and showing compassion.

Asked about possible resistance to change, including those who would argue that diversity efforts somehow negatively affect quality, Gersie is firm: “The underlying truth is that diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Gersie’s Ph.D. is from Penn State University and is in workforce education and development. Previous to becoming Michigan Tech’s first VP for Diversity and Inclusion, he was the chief diversity officer and director of diversity enhancement, student programs and outreach at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory. Before that, he was director of the multicultural engineering program there.

Learn more about Gersie.
Follow Michigan Tech’s diversity efforts.
See the College of Sciences and Arts’ diversity statement.


Michigan Tech Opens COVID-19 Testing Lab

Researchers in a lab doing covid-19 testing.

Starting this week, Michigan Technological University will begin testing patient samples for COVID-19, working alongside regional health care providers. With delays in testing across the nation, rural and remote regions like the Upper Peninsula have been hard pressed to get enough tests for patients. But there is hope.

Michigan Tech has partnered with local hospitals to begin receiving and testing patient samples on campus to save doctors and health care providers at least 24 hours, and up to a week, of waiting for COVID-19 test results. The lab has the capacity to run 40 samples per hour on two machines, and the team has plans to expand with more equipment and staffing.

Read the full story on Michigan Tech News.


Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Kette Thomas

Our final Deans’ Teaching Showcase member, selected by Dean David Hemmer from the College of Sciences and Arts, is Kette Thomas, associate professor in Humanities. Dean Hemmer provided an extraordinary nomination letter written by Interim Humanities Chair Patricia Sotirin, most of which is preserved here intact.

Thomas regularly teaches large lecture classes (~50-75 seats) including HU3502 “Mythology: World Myths” and HU2324 “Introduction to Film: History of Cinema” (a General Education Core course); she helped develop the undergraduate English BA degree program in Humanities; and she has contributed to curricula and assessment at the University level.

Sotirin sees Thomas as a truly engaging teacher whose deep passion for her subjects and commitment to interactive teaching is evident in all her courses including her large lecture classes. Indeed, in a large lecture setting, one might assume that collective conversations about non-Western mythological themes or cinematic German Expressionism would not happen. Yet Thomas nurtures such interactions as the heart of her humanistic teaching approach. She invites her students to collaborate in “thinking out loud” with her by modeling what it means to risk expressing ideas and to take differing perspectives seriously. She shows students how becoming intellectually vulnerable can be empowering and she creates safe conversational and writing environments for them to do the same. This approach to teaching with vulnerability characterizes even the large online versions of these courses. Thomas has put online tools to work by recording brief video lectures that can be reconfigured within Modules to provide more dynamic and responsive adaptations to the needs and interests of the particular students and she makes use of the Discussion Boards and Zoom office hours.

Like all teachers at Tech, Thomas transitioned her large lecture Mythology course to an online version during Spring Break. Her approach to teaching with vulnerability and empowering student voices has resonated with her students. As one student volunteered, “I’ve come to really look forward to hearing you in [online] lectures; your enthusiasm is matched with a desire to be precise, you have a dynamic personality, and your drive to understand humanity is admirable.” Another student responded to a video Thomas published to the class acknowledging the difficulties they face in this moment, emailing, “I’ve been catching up on the lectures and I saw the ‘A note for today’ video and I just wanted to tell you that these times will pass and we’ll move on to a brighter day, I was just really touched by the video and it helped my anxiety go down a little.”

“…innovative, passionate, and engaging teacher committed to empowering students through intellectual vulnerability, collective conversation, and critical thinking.”

-Patricia Sotirin, interim humanities chair

A third student wrote, “I wanted to reach out after watching your video on Canvas yesterday. Thank you for the encouraging words during this difficult time especially when it seems like there are not any right answers. . . . You have really shown me a way to look at things differently in the world of myth and in other ways beyond.” As we struggle to support our students in the current climate of uncertainty and disruption, Thomas’s empathy, responsiveness, and willingness to express her own vulnerability offer a model of teaching that is not only about quality instruction but also about connecting with students’ lives in ways that can both reassure and inspire them.

The list of courses that Thomas teaches evidences her commitment to a pedagogy of diversity: “Literature Across Borders”; “Topics in Diversity”; “Cultural Diversity in American Literature”; “Rhetoric of Alterity/Difference” (graduate seminar). Her course, HU3400 “Topics in Diversity: Freaks,” illustrates her innovative pedagogical strategies for engaging students with issues of diversity. Given that diversity often inspires defensiveness, Thomas draws students into this topic by looking at embodied difference through carnivalesque figures so that students can deconstruct the dynamics of marginalization and otherness. Eventually, the course turns to the ways similar criteria and ways of looking and naming can marginalize more familiar embodied differences (gender, race, sexuality). The approach empowers students to find their own preconceptions and habits of mind interesting without becoming defensive and encourages them to critically “think out loud” about socially prevalent processes of categorization and marginalization. Teaching students to be vulnerable about their experiences with and defensiveness about diversity is an example of teaching with courage as well as vulnerability.

At the program level, Thomas participated with other humanities faculty to develop the undergraduate English major. The program is a unique response to the role of writing and literature on a STEM-dominant campus. The program also mounts outreach events that bring literature to the campus community including an open-mic reader’s café and a speaker series coordinated with the core literature courses. Thomas will be program Director in 2020-21 and her egalitarian, dialogic approach to leadership is highly valued by her colleagues. At the university level, Thomas serves on the General Education Goal 8 Assessment Committee addressing Social Responsibility and Ethical Reasoning. She also participated in the Michigan Pathways curriculum review for English programs around the state to coordinate a statewide transfer protocol for core English courses.

Thomas’s extraordinary work in all areas highlighted by the showcase motivated Hemmer to summarize his selection by saying, “I am so impressed how quickly and effectively Kette has transformed her very successful classroom style into an online setting under very difficult circumstances. Hearing about Kette’s passion in the classroom and her wide selection of fascinating courses makes me want to sign up for a class from her.”

Thomas will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series (to be determined this summer) recognizing introductory or large-class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.


Call for Applications: Songer Research Award for Human Health Research

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition for undergraduate and graduate students.

Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. The College is extremely grateful for the Songers’ continuing interest in, and support of, Michigan Tech’s programs in human health and medicine.

Any Michigan Tech student interested in exploring a medically related question under the guidance of faculty in the College of Sciences and Arts may apply. Students majoring in any degree program in the college, including both traditional (i.e., biological sciences, kinesiology, chemistry) and nontraditional (i.e., physics, psychology, social science, bioethics, computer science, mathematics) programs related to human health may propose research projects connected to human health. 

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4 p.m. Monday, March 30. Applications may be emailed to djhemmer@mtu.edu.

Read more about the Songer Research Award here.


Copper Country Math Circle Spring Session

The College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) Dean’s Office is once again partnering with the Copper Country Intermediate School District to host the Copper Country Math Circle.

Students in grades two through five who are excited about mathematics are invited to attend. The first meeting of the Spring semester is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30. Meetings will be held one Thursday evening per month thereafter, including Feb. 20 and March-May dates TBA.

David Hemmer, CSA dean and professor of mathematical sciences, will host the event, together with Cindy Lysne. Math Circles are informal gatherings where students work on interesting problems or topics in mathematics.

Through problem-solving and interactive exploration, students develop an excitement and appreciation of mathematics. Math Circles are not intended to accelerate the traditional school curriculum, but to explore interesting topics not normally seen in the classroom. There is no charge, but registration is required. Students already registered for the Fall session do not need to reregister. New students may sign up using this form.


LinkedIn Learning Training Platform Available to Staff and Faculty

As we begin the new semester, all Michigan Tech staff and faculty are encouraged to take advantage of their access to LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), an on-demand training platform designed to help you gain new skills and advance your career. From leadership training, to SQL programming, to Microsoft Office essentials, you’re sure to find a training course to meet your needs and interests.

To access the LinkedIn Learning platform:

  • Visit the website
  • Select the “sign-in” button at the top
  • Choose the option to “sign in with your organization account”
  • Enter your Michigan Tech email address
  • Enter your standard MTU ISO credentials to gain access

Review this article, Accessing LinkedIn Learning, for more information.

The LinkedIn Learning platform is sponsored by the Accessible Technology Working Group (ATWG) and Michigan Tech IT for the 2019-20 academic year. All University faculty and staff are encouraged to take advantage of this valuable resource. For more information, contact Jeff Toorongian.


Michigan Canvas Users Conference and Call for Proposals

Are you using Canvas to engage students in learning or to focus on facilitating learning? Share what you are doing with colleagues from across the state at the Michigan Canvas Users Conference.

The third annual Michigan Canvas Users Conference is scheduled to take place on Friday, March 6, (the Friday before Michigan Tech’s Spring Break) at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.

Presentation proposals are still being sought and accepted. Since Michigan Tech has been using Canvas much longer than any other college or university in Michigan this is a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge and experience with others.

You are also encouraged to attend the third annual Michigan Canvas Users Conference whether you are presenting or not! Registration for the conference will open on Jan. 20. Click here to register.

The Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) will arrange for shared transportation for those interested in attending.

If you have an idea, submit your proposal. Deadline for presentation proposal submission is Jan. 20. Michigan Canvas Users Conference Registration opens Jan. 20.

Faculty and support topics may focus on teaching and learning, or on the technical capabilities of Canvas. Examples of topics:

  • Student-centered learning approaches
  • Creating authentic assessments
  • Your unique applications of Canvas features
  • Integration of outside applications within Canvas
  • Other topics that will interest faculty using Canvas

If your proposal is accepted, you will be able to register at a discounted rate of $25. You will be notified of the proposal acceptance by Feb.12.

Contact Thom Freeman from the CTL with any questions, to share proposal ideas and potential collaborators, and to let me know if you would like to ride down to the conference in a shared rental vehicle.


Call for Collaborators for Spring 2020 Social Justice Education Series

Zak EbrahimThe Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) seeks Michigan Tech faculty, staff and graduate students interested in collaborating on the upcoming campus-wide c series hosted and presented by CDI.

This collaboration is to highlight and elevate the collective knowledge and voices on our campus, as well as highlighting the expansive work of equity, diversity, and inclusion within respective fields (both of personal and professional interest to our community members).

Interested collaborators should submit information pertaining to a holistic program, training, or discussion previously hosted, or propose a concrete working idea using the Spring 2020 Diverse Dialogues Collaboration Interest Proposal Form.

Additionally, consider the following intentions of Diverse Dialogues series before submitting a proposal: The Diverse Dialogues series aims to provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to have conversations about relevant issues of equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice, and much more. Be part of crucial campus conversations, help to highlight underrepresented voices, elevate the social justice work being done by our Michigan Tech community and engage and learn from difficult diversity and inclusion issues that affect us all. If you’re part of the dialogue, you’re part of the solution.

While each dialogue in the series has a centralized theme, we want to encourage participants to determine where the conversations go. This series is meant to start the discussion on difficult topics and implore individuals to push their awareness, knowledge, and action related to themes of diversity and inclusion.

The form will close at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17 and review of submissions will be ongoing through the closure of the form and all interested collaborators will be notified about the status of their proposal no later than the last week of January.

Direct all questions to Amy L. Howard, Assistant Director of Campus Diversity Initiatives.


Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Lisa GordilloFor the Deans’ Teaching Showcase, Dean David Hemmer has selected Lisa Gordillo, assistant professor in Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

Gordillo was nominated by VPA Chair Jared Anderson, who applauded the many interdisciplinary collaborations she has initiated to publicly exhibit student art, especially around campus.

Anderson highlighted a wide variety of projects,” ranging from artistic design for windows that would reduce bird-window collisions to carving and casting sculptures based on traditional models in partnership with the Materials Science and Engineering Department.”

Gordillo teaches a wide variety of courses including traditional sculpture, contemporary sculpture, art + design, scenic art and illustration, and advanced sculpture. All of these make important contributions to the general education program, the visual art minor and the major in theater and entertainment technology.

Lisa leads a very collaborative environment where students are encouraged to explore creative solutions to problems while creating beautiful art. Her curriculum uses gallery b in the Rozsa galleries as an interactive classroom space where students create art right where it will be installed for public exhibition.—Jared Anderson

In addition, barriletes (patterned after traditional Guatemalan barriletes) made by students in the Traditional Sculpture course are currently displayed in the Rozsa Center lobby.

Gordillo’s highly hands-on approach with a focus on exhibition is very popular with students as she was named a finalist for the 2019 Distinguished Teaching Award, her third time as a finalist in the last four years.

Gordillo also connects her teaching with a much broader artistic context in her role as director of the Rozsa Art Galleries.  Recently, the exhibition, Salon!, opened in Gallery A in the Rozsa Center. This show brought together work from more than 30 artists and writers from around the world. Gordillo worked with student painters to transform the gallery into a space that was inspired by the salons of the late 19th century.

Dean Hemmer summarizes Gordillo’s impact by saying,  “I am grateful to have colleagues like Lisa. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting two magnificent shows that she curated in the Rosza Art Gallery. For the many students involved in putting these together, learning extends far beyond the classroom. Faculty like Lisa enliven Tech every day.”

Gordillo will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with other showcase members and is now eligible for one of three new teaching awards to be given by the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning this summer recognizing introductory or large class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.


Call for Applications: Songer Research Award for Human Health Research

2018-19 Songer Award Recipients. Pictured Left to Right: Abby Sutherland, Billiane Kenyon, Jeremy Bigalke, Rupsa Basu, Matthew Songer, and Laura Songer.

Matthew Songer, (Biological Sciences ’79) and Laura Songer (Biological Sciences ’80) have generously donated funds to the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) to support a research project competition for undergraduate and graduate students. Remembering their own eagerness to engage in research during their undergraduate years, the Songers established these awards to stimulate and encourage opportunities for original research by current Michigan Tech students. The College is extremely grateful for the Songers’ continuing interest in, and support of, Michigan Tech’s programs in human health and medicine. This is the second year of the competition.

Students may propose an innovative medically-oriented research project in any area of human health. The best projects will demonstrate the potential to have broad impact on improving human life. This research will be pursued in consultation with faculty members within the College of Sciences and Arts. In the Spring of 2019, the Songer’s gift will support one award for undergraduate research ($4,000) and a second award for graduate research ($6,000). Matching funds from the College may allow two additional awards.

Any Michigan Tech student interested in exploring a medically related question under the guidance of faculty in the College of Sciences and Arts may apply. Students majoring in any degree program in the college, including both traditional (i.e., biological sciences, kinesiology, chemistry) and nontraditional (i.e., physics, psychology, social science, bioethics, computer science, mathematics) programs related to human health may propose research projects connected to human health. Students are encouraged to propose original, stand-alone projects with expected durations of 6 – 12 months. The committee also encourages applications from CSA students who seek to continue research projects initiated through other campus mechanisms, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, Pavlis Honors College activities or the Graduate Research Forum (GRF).

Funds from a Songer Award may be used to purchase or acquire research materials and equipment needed to perform the proposed research project. Access to and research time utilizing University core research facilities, including computing, may be supported. Requests to acquire a personal computer will be scrutinized and must be fully justified. Page charges for publications also may be covered with award funds, as will travel to appropriate academic meetings. This award may not be used for salary or compensation for the student or consulting faculty.

To apply:

  • Students should prepare a research project statement (up to five pages in length) that describes the background, methods to be used, and research objectives. The statement also should provide a detailed description of the experiments planned and expected outcomes. Students must indicate where they will carry out their project and attach a separate list of references/citations to relevant scientific literature.
  • The application package also should provide a concise title and brief summary (1 page) written for lay audiences.
  • A separate budget page should indicate how funds will be used.
  • A short letter from a consulting faculty member must verify that the student defined an original project and was the primary author of the proposal. The faculty member should also confirm her/his willingness to oversee the project. This faculty letter is not intended to serve as a recommendation on behalf of the student’s project.

Submit applications as a single PDF file to the Office of the College of Sciences and Arts by 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 22. Applications may be emailed to djhemmer@mtu.edu.

The selection committee will consist of Matthew Songer, Laura Songer, Shekhar Joshi (BioSci) and Megan Frost (KIP). The committee will review undergraduate and graduate proposals separately and will seek additional comments about the proposed research on an ad-hoc basis from reviewers familiar with the topic of the research proposal. Primary review criteria will be the originality and potential impact of the proposed study, as well as its feasibility and appropriateness for Michigan Tech’s facilities.

The committee expects to announce the recipients by early May of 2019. This one-time research award will be administered by the faculty advisor of the successful student investigator. Students will be expected to secure any necessary IRB approval before funds will be released. Funds must be expended by the end of spring semester 2020; extensions will not be granted. Recipients must submit a detailed report to the selection committee, including a description of results and an accounting of finds utilized, no later than June 30, 2020.

Any questions may be directed to Megan Frost (mcfrost@mtu.edu), David Hemmer (djhemmer@mtu.edu) or Shekhar Joshi (cpjoshi@mtu.edu).