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.

Spring is Coming

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

Winter Carnival has ended and the forecast high for this past weekend was 43 degrees, could Spring be right around the corner? The Keweenaw snow thermometer at shows 243” and the 10-day forecast suggests more to come.

We are in the thick of our hiring season in the College. While having breakfast recently with a Chemistry chair candidate, I looked across Suomi Restaurant and saw our humanities and mathematical sciences chairs also meeting with faculty candidates! We are currently searching for department chairs in chemistry and humanities and for regular faculty positions in mathematics and physics and humanities. Hiring and retaining outstanding faculty is the most important thing a Dean can do to ensure the long-term success of the College.

Speaking of outstanding faculty, over in Biological Sciences, Assistant Professor Erika Hersch-Green just won an NSF CAREER award! These are among the most prestigious awards a young scientist can earn (they are limited to pre-tenure faculty). Her five-year project, titled “Can material costs contribute to the structuring of biodiversity patterns from genomes and transcriptomes to multispecies communities?”, will bring in more than $1.1 million! Congratulations to Erika for this incredible achievement!

External research funding is also pouring into our Chemistry department. Five different faculty principal investigators brought in $1.5 million in new awards during 2019 alone. Many of these awards are for research in human health, the focus of our new health education and research building currently being designed. Health research and pre-health education are both growing parts of our mission at MTU.

Last month I traveled to Denver for the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society. I spent three extra days visiting our very passionate alums. It is wonderful to hear the success stories of our alumni, scattered across the country. Their message was loud and clear, MTU hockey needs to return to the Denver area!

Our recruiting is also going well, with our freshman deposits in CSA up 20% over last year at the same time, and the highest in at least 10 years. It is a testament to the quality of our programs that we can resist the demographic trends of declining numbers of high school seniors and grow enrollment.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!

If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.

Best wishes,

David Hemmer
Dean- College of Sciences and Arts

Copper Country Math Circle Spring Session

little boy standing in front of a large blackboard writing a long equation

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

Linkin Learning logo

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.

Winter is Here: Students Attend Conferences and Other Updates

Mount Ripley and Portage Canal with snow.Classes nonstop from K-Day until Thanksgiving can be exhausting. On the Walker lawn outside my office, the broomball courts filled with snow from the past two storms and across the canal, I can see the snow guns blowing on Mont Ripley after a successful opening weekend. Having taken beginner lessons last year, I am ready to hit the slopes hard this winter. One of my department chairs even gave me a private lesson on waxing and sharpening my new skis!

I was very proud last month when eight of our Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology students presented at the Michigan Space Grant Consortium. Their presentation, Setting foot on Mars: A Big Step and Even Greater Leap for Undergraduate and Graduate Students, analyzed the most energetically efficient form of locomotion on Mars and its implications for successfully carrying out a human Mars mission. They are now seeking funding to present at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Over in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, a large contingent of faculty and students represented Michigan Tech well at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Conference in Seattle. Six of our students presented posters at the conference. The talent and dedication of our students and faculty is what makes MTU such a special place.

Our architects recently unveiled the first rough sketches of our new health research building, and whatever doubts I had were washed away. It will be a beautiful seven-story structure attached to the southeast corner of the Chemical Sciences building, with natural light throughout the building and, hopefully, some mass timber construction. While the state is paying part of it, we will lean heavily on support from our alumni and corporate partners to maximize the potential of this space. I was particularly impressed by the prediction that the new space will use less than 1/3 of the energy per square foot than our current laboratory space on campus! Health research and pre-health education are both growing parts of our mission at Michigan Tech.

For the first time ever, this year’s freshmen class in CSA was majority (52%) female! This class was 8% larger than last year. Our efforts now focus on retaining these students and recruiting another great class next Fall. In CSA our application numbers for Fall 2020 are up more than 80% from the same time the previous year, and have, as of November 16, exceeded the final total from last spring! I’m proud of our wide array of degree options in the College that are proving so popular with the students.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a Dean’s Priority Fund. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!

If you are a current student or alumni back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me at any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.

David Hemmer
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Fall 2019 Updates

Staff with President in Cardboard boat in water paddlling.We are midway through the semester now and winter is in the air and on the ground with a coating of snow that seems to have stayed. On the Walker lawn outside my office the broomball courts are under construction. I recently enjoyed watching my first cardboard boat races, including one magnificent vessel captained by our very own President Koubek!

One of my favorite events as Dean, the induction ceremony for our Distinguished Alumni Academy was held in October. We were proud to induct Ziyong Cai (1990 Physics PhD), who captivated the crowd with his tale of growing up in China during the cultural revolution when schools were closed and he had to save for more than a year to afford the TOEFL fee. Laura Barrientos (1995 Chemistry PhD) described her work battling the Ebola virus and starting her own business. Finally, we inducted our third ever honorary member into the academy, former Humanities chair, Dean of Sciences and Arts and Michigan Tech’s first ever Provost, William Powers. Powers shared his stories of working with former President Ray Smith, and leading the department as it moved into the as yet unrenovated Sherman Gym where faculty and staff worked in cubicles on the basketball court!

Teaching Abstract Algebra

In between my dean duties, I grade stacks of papers, as this semester I am teaching my first class here at Tech, with 42 students in Math 3310 Abstract Algebra. It has been wonderful to be back in the classroom after two years away, and great to have a real chalkboard! It has been a thrill to get to know so many of our undergraduates.

College Grows

For the first time ever, the freshmen class in CSA was majority (52%) female! This class was 8% larger than last year, and our early application numbers for Fall 2020 are up 109% from last year at the same time! I’m proud of our wide array of degree options in the College that are proving so popular with the students.

Our ROTC programs are thriving, with 70 cadets this Fall in Army and more than 100 in Air Force (up from 30 just a few years ago)! Both programs were recently visited by Colonels who command multiple ROTC units, and both visiting Colonels were very impressed with what they observed on the ground.

New Space

Planning continues for our new health research building. This beautiful laboratory building will be near the current Chemistry building, which will also be renovated to host our departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering. Architects are busy on campus gathering information from our faculty to design laboratory space to meet their needs.

Support

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day.

College of Sciences and Arts Remains Very Strong

Students at a picnic table on campus

Greetings from the College of Sciences and Arts at Michigan Tech!

It is cold and rainy as classes start today, but the students’ excitement is palpable as we begin a new academic year. This is always my favorite time to be on campus, the leaves are starting to change, the freshmen are meeting new friends, the raucous sounds of the Pep Band can be heard in the distance, and no one is behind on homework yet! This semester I am teaching my first class here at Tech, with 42 students in Math 3310- Abstract Algebra. It was great to get back in the classroom after two years away, and great to have a real chalkboard!

The big news on campus is the launch of our new College of Computing. The computer science department has left CSA to join the new College, leaving us with 9 academic departments plus Air Force and Army ROTC. The “new” College of Sciences and Arts remains very strong, with our freshmen class up 17% from last year! For the first time ever, the freshmen class in CSA will be majority (52%) female! We not only welcome new students but new faculty as well, with eight new tenure-track faculty and several more teaching faculty joining the College. I look forward to sharing with you their accomplishments as the year goes by.

In our Biological Sciences Department, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Trista Vick-Majors. Dr. Majors is best known for her work discovering microorganisms under the Antarctic ice sheet. Other projects have focused on boreal aquatic environments and alpine lakes. Her research should be a great fit for the Copper Country. Dr. Elena Giusarma joins our Physics Department as an assistant professor this Fall. She adds to our already strong astrophysics group. She describes part of her work as “building a convolutional neural network to understand the effect of massive neutrinos in the Universe.” Wow!

Our ROTC programs are thriving, with 70 cadets this Fall in Army and more than 100 in Air Force (up from 30 just a few years ago)!  I continue to enjoy meeting our successful alums. Last month I snuck in a quick trip to the Pacific Northwest, hosting alumni events in Seattle and Portland and meeting with more than a dozen of our successful alumni working at Nike, Intel, Boeing, etc….

Planning continues for our new H-STEM building. This beautiful laboratory building will be near the current Chemistry building, which will also be renovated to host our departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, and Biomedical Engineering. Groundbreaking should be in fall 2020. The architects have made several visits to campus, and are meeting with researchers to design to meet our needs.

Critical to everything we do are our alumni and friend donors. All your donations to our departments, scholarships, and the general fund are vitally important to our success. For those interested in supporting the greatest needs of the College, we have established a “Dean’s Priority Fund”. With state support representing only about 16% of MTU’s budget, your gifts make a huge difference in the lives of our students and faculty every day. Thank you!  If you are ever back in town I hope you will stop by, say hello, and share with me your MTU story. Please do not hesitate to email me any time at djhemmer@mtu.edu to share your MTU experience or make suggestions.