In September 2016, the College of Sciences and Arts inducted three new distinguished alumni into the Academy of Sciences and Arts. Academy members must meet two primary criteria. They must have graduated from a program of the College or one of its predecessors and they must have brought distinction to themselves, their academic department, the College of Sciences and Arts, and Michigan Technological University through participation, commitment, and outstanding leadership in their profession and through public service. The Academy, established in 1995, now numbers 61 members. These exemplary individuals include distinguished academics, leaders of industry, members of the National Academy of Sciences, a Hollywood executive, and the University’s sole Nobel Prize winner, Melvin Calvin (1964).
The first inductee in 2016 was Robert W. Lane, who enrolled in Tech’s chemistry program (then part of the chemical engineering department) in 1968. After taking almost every chemistry course offered, he graduated with high honors in chemistry in 1972. Bob moved on to MIT, earning his PhD in Chemistry in 1976, exploring macromolecules and simple models of the redox centers in iron-sulfur electron transport proteins. A postdoc at IBM’s Central Research Lab in San Jose followed before Bob joined the Shepherd Chemical Company as a research chemist in 1977. Promoted to the position of Technical Director in 1979, he combined managerial and research activities and both developed and oversaw the introduction of many new products that keyed the company’s growth. By 1988, he was General Manager of Shepherd Color Company and went on to become President and CEO. Bob’s technical background was essential in helping move the “color business” from art to science, and the Shepherd Color Company grew to be one of the world’s largest manufacturers of complex inorganic pigments. From 2007 until 2011, Bob served simultaneously as the president of the Shepherd Chemical Company and the Shepherd Color Company but in 2011 returned exclusively to the Shepherd Chemical Company as its President and Operations Manager until his retirement in 2013. He continues to serve on the board of directors of both companies.
The second inductee in 2016 was Otha E. Thornton, Jr. Otha came to Michigan Tech as a Captain in the U.S. Army to join and then lead the Army ROTC unit in 1999. Although he initially asked the Army to send him anywhere else (hoping to avoid the winter weather), Otha took full advantage of his time at Tech by enrolling in the Humanities Department’s graduate program in Rhetoric and Technical Communication. He received his MS in 2001, but a further indicator of his contribution to Tech came in 2009, when he received an honorary doctorate in 2009. All the while, Otha remained in the Army, completing his service at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel assigned to the White House Communications Agency and to United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad, where he earned the Bronze Star for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010. Now retired from the United States Army, Otha is a committed volunteer for numerous agencies related to communities and schools throughout the country and the world. Most significantly, he is the Immediate Past National President of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and member of the organization’s Board of Directors. He also has worked closely with state-level PTA’s in Georgia and Maryland. Other educational activities have included service on an Advisory Group for Georgia’s Partnership for Excellence in Education; similarly, he served on the Maryland Education Task Force. In addition, as a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association, he has devoted more than 25 years to that organization. Otha also is principal consultant and owner of the Thornton Consulting Group, and also serves as a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The third inductee, Sarah E. Cowie, is recognized as a Distinguished Young Alumna, a category reserved for Tech graduates who have begun to bring distinction upon themselves and to their department and the university at early stages of their careers. Sarah graduated in 1996 with a MS in Industrial Archaeology from the Department of Social Sciences. She worked initially as a professional archaeologist in cultural resource management before pursuing graduate work and earning her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 2008. Currently Sarah is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Nevada-Reno, where she specializes in industrial and historical-period archaeology of the American West. Her research and teaching interests fall on the archaeology of working communities such as mining towns, social theories of power relations, and collaborative archaeology with American Indian communities. Her first book, entitled The Plurality of Power: An Archaeology of Industrial Capitalism, is based on research conducted at Michigan Tech on the company town of Fayette, Michigan. Other projects have included historic Creek Indian farmsteads, heritage management practices in the US, and the industrial archaeology of mines and grist mills. Sarah is now collaborating with American Indian stakeholders in publishing an edited book on the archaeology and heritage of the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada. This record has earned Sarah recognition among her peers, including the early career award in 2013 from the Society for Historical Archaeology, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the archaeology of the modern world. Even more significant came in early 2016, when Sarah received a Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which the White House describes as the “highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.” There are few more prestigious awards for faculty to receive. Indeed, in Michigan Tech’s history, a total of four faculty have earned this distinction! Clearly, Sarah is on the road to academic success and leadership!
In their remarks, all three Academy inductees for 2016 emphasized how the courses they took and the faculty and students they interacted with at Michigan Tech prepared them wonderfully for their careers. These new members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts clearly are bringing distinction to the college and their programs, and inspiring us to continue to do our best.