Greetings from the new Dean

New CSA Dean David Hemmer with wife Ginny and children Meghan, Ben and Adam.
New CSA Dean David Hemmer with wife Ginny and children Meghan, Ben and Adam.

This will be my inaugural communication as the new Dean of the College of Sciences and Arts. I join Michigan Technological University after eleven years in the mathematics department at the University at Buffalo, SUNY; the last six as department chair. I am joined by my wife of 18 years, Ginny, and our children Meghan (13), Benjamin (9), and Adam (7).

I marveled from afar in June at the resiliency of the Copper Country residents pulling together to recover from the disastrous Father’s Day flood. We were fortunate that our new house, high up on Agate Hill, escaped unscathed. Our new friends and neighbors have been so very welcoming to our family.

This is an exhilarating time to arrive at Michigan Tech. We have a new president and four of the five colleges/schools have new deans. Everyone is full of ideas on how to maintain and build on the great momentum the departing leaders built.  Four of our 10 departments will be searching for new chairs this year.

IMG_20180711_111625946I have been touring the CSA departments and am so impressed by the commitment of our faculty to excellence in both teaching and scholarship. I visited our beautifully renovated chemistry teaching labs. I hope we will secure the funds to renovate the remaining labs. I toured the sleep center where Professor Jason Carter of our Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology department is supported by Michigan Tech’s only NIH R01 grant, studying “Alcohol and Neurovascular Control in Humans”.

I attended a beautiful performance of the opera “Carmen” in front of a packed house at the Rosza center. Visual and Performing Arts Chair Jared Anderson directed the chorus and his colleague Joel Neves conducted the orchestra.

I want to thank outgoing Dean Bruce Seely for his dedicated 10 years of service and to wish him all the best in retirement. Bruce has been extremely generous sharing with me his time and wisdom, both before I arrived and since I started.

Award Winners

Summer is still trying to reach the UP — we’ve experienced too many days in the 60s with gray skies and rain. But the weather has not affected the recognition being earned by the faculty here in the college.

image109314-persAssociate Professor L. Syd Johnson (Humanities) works on bioethics and has explored such issues as head trauma and concussions in sports.  She was recently appointed to an advisory group at the National Institutes of Health Neuroethics Division, the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). She joins the initiative’s Multi-Council Working Group. This is a very nice recognition of the respect of Syd’s colleagues.

image144299-persProfessor of Physics John Jaszczak was part of an international team that identified and unraveled the composition and make-up of a new mineral over the past two years — Merelaniite. Named for the mining town in Tanzania where the mineral was located, Merelaniite was just named the Mineral of the  Year for 2016. The account of this effort offers an inside look at the process of describing and naming a new mineral.


Merelaniite is the thin whiskers, which are about 5mm long and occur with stilbite and graphite crystals.
Merelaniite is the thin whiskers, which are about 5mm long and occur with stilbite and graphite crystals.

Amazing Faculty doing Amazing Things!

The summer routine has settled in here – marked – finally! – by a few days of very nice weather.  Although the black flies are also swarming, the sunshine beats the dreary drizzle!  But the summer pace also will let me catch upon recognizing a few of the wonderful accomplishments of faculty from the college’s departments. And I could go on – but I think this list offers a taste of the variety of high quality work underway here.  Great work by great people!

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.05.22 PMRichelle Winkler (Social Sciences) was recently honored with the University’s Distinguished Service Award, in recognition of her numerous outreach activities — most notably by assisting the Main Street Calumet group understand community development.  She also was involved in developing Houghton County’s entry to the Georgetown University Energy Prize.  Congratulations!



Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.06.09 PMGord Paterson (Biological Sciences) joined the department in January and was recently awarded funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for a project aimed at helping restore Arctic grayling to the state’s waters.




Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.07.11 PMPhilart Jeon (Cognitive & Learning Sciences) continues to support an expanding research program related to sound and human interactions with machines and devices. His most recent award is for a 4-year study of assess techniques for take-over of control in autonomous vehicles from the Korean Automotive Testing and Research Institute. He also published a handbook, Emotions and Affect in Human Factors and Human -Computer Interaction (Elsevier) in April.


Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.08.03 PMStephanie Carpenter (Humanities) recently received the 2017 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction for her short story collection Missing Persons. The editor-in-chief of the press selected her from 230 nominees, and concluded that he was “looking forward to sharing this collection of stories with readers everywhere.”



Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.09.52 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.09.33 PMScott Kuhl, Keith Vertanen and James Walker (Computer Science) recently presented their research on typing in virtual reality at the ACM conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, a major conference.  Walker lead the project as part of his dissertation project and noted that there have been few studies of this effort in virtual reality.



Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.10.30 PMLinda Ott (College of Sciences and Arts) has again received support from the Google Foundation in support of the Tech summer program to support secondary school educators in the area of computer science.  While many observers are pressing for more students to gain the opportunity to code while in high school,  not all teachers in this area are formally prepared, and others need to stay up to date in this rapidly changing area. Ott is working to remedy these issues.  Teachers can still apply for the CS 4 All program which will be ion campus from August 14-16.

Atmospheric Sciences research marks 10 years

In recent years, a distinguishing feature of academic research has been its deep interdisciplinarity. This pattern has been growing since World War II, an event that spawned scholarly attention to developments in materials, nuclear power, rockets, jet aviation, computers and the medical field, among others. A good signal of the trend was the emergence of hybrid fields of specialization whose very titles signaled the difference, such as biochemistry, biophysics, geophysics, biostatistics and later biogeochemistry and biogeophysics. Importantly, much of the research in ALL fields was taking place at the boundaries between fields rather than at the core.

Image result for cloud chamber TechOne of the more important arenas for the growth of this approach to science and research at Michigan Tech has been in the domain of Atmospheric Sciences. Faculty involved in this research hail from physics, chemistry, environmental engineering, and geological sciences. And the program has just marked its 10th year, during which time the group has become visible and respected among their peers. A key step came in 2010, when the National Science Foundation provided funds to construct the apparatus that allows investigators to create the conditions for atmospheric clouds in the laboratory – a cloud chamber.

This grant of more than $1 million proved pivotal in advancing the research program and reputation of Michigan Tech’s atmospheric scientists. Studies conducted with the unique equipment have since illuminated the nature of rain droplets, the formation of snow particles and crystals, and the the behavior of aerosols in the turbulent upper atmosphere, among other subjects. In short, this is a very successful research group!

That success is affirmed by a recent note that the group’s current director, Raymond Shaw, shared with his colleagues to remind them of this anniversary. He chose to reflect a bit on the origin of the effort.

“When Richard Honrath and I submitted the Atmospheric Sciences program proposal, 7 names were listed as participating faculty, and that has now grown to 12. The program started with two students. We now have 8 alumni at various universities and labs around the US, 8 current students, and 2 or 3 more students starting in the fall.


Many excellent research papers have been written over that time and a sustained level of external funding for atmospheric research is firmly in place (as recognized, for example, by the recent NSF ranking of federal funds by discipline). Michigan Tech is now widely known and respected in the atmospheric sciences community.


We can be happy about what we’ve accomplished, and I’d like to thank administrators and department chairs who allowed a small group of faculty spread across campus start an interdepartmental program – a relatively novel idea at that time – and fostered it over the years with a graduate research assistant line from the grad school, availability of faculty time for teaching courses, hiring efforts, etc.


Thanks to all of you for the way you have contributed to the program over the years.”

Image result for raymond shaw techRichard Honrath was very much the founding spirit as the initial director of the atmospheric sciences program.

Tragically, he passed away in 2009 in a kayaking accident. But the current cloud chamber lab and the team of atmospheric researchers keep his spirit very much alive.



So happy birthday, cloud chamber!  Keep up the good work!


Longevity Recognized

Most academics expect to move and change universities on occasion, as part of the normal pattern of life.  But some of us – including yours truly – find a place we want to be and stay awhile. On May 9, Michigan Tech recognized those staff and faculty who had 25, 30, 35, and 40 years of service.  Several people from the college were on that list, and I want to recognize them reaching these important milestones.  A university pays attention to teaching and learning and to research — two labor-intensive activities.  In other words, we cannot be successful without the dedicated efforts of the people who lead those efforts in education and knowledge generation. Each of the people on this list make a difference in all they do, and we are most thankful for it.  Even more importantly, the students depend up on them.  To be excellent for a long time is a difficult thing to do, but this group has done exactly that.

25 years:  Michael Irish (VPA), John Jaszczak (PHY), Donald Kreher (MA), Sylvia Matthews (CSA), Ravindra Pandey (PHY),  Lorri Reilly (CH), Kelley Smith (CH), Allan Struthers (MA), Vladimir Tonchev (MA)

35 years: Andrea Lappi (PHY) Karen Salo (CSA)

Both of the 35-year recipients are pivotal staff for CSA. Andy manages the day-to-day tasks as department coordinator in Physics, while Karen is the heart and sole of administration in the college. But everyone here contributes to making the college work.  I want to congratulate everyone for their contributions and for their efforts – and for making it to 25 or 35 years! Thanks to each and every person!

FYI – for truth in advertising purposes, that’s me in the picture with Karen Salo – as I now have 30 years of service to Michigan Tech. The other picture shows Ravi Pandey and Andy Lappi from Physics.

awards-dinner-2017-1024x768     awards-dinner-2017-PH1-768x1024

Teaching by CSA faculty recognized

Universities have occasionally struggled in recent decades to achieve an appropriate balance between our two core responsibilities: teaching and research. Not surprisingly, this challenge has surfaced at Michigan Tech as we have worked to balance Tech’s traditional strength as an undergraduate teaching institution with the more recent strategic emphasis upon graduate education and research supported by external funding. But in the College of Sciences and Arts, our commitment to teaching and learning has never weakened and remains a crucial yardstick for measuring how well the college meets its mission.

Indeed the college and its faculty take pride in excellence in the classroom.  A significant part of CSA’s mission is delivering core foundational courses in calculus and statistics, physics, chemistry, composition and communication, global issues and other courses in the general education program to EVERY student in every major. For example, the Department of Mathematical Sciences instructs more than 7,000 students in its courses each year, at a time when the university enrollment is just over 7,000. Yet the math faculty also maintain a high level of scholarship and each authors an average of 2 research articles per year. That type of balance is found in every department, for the college’s faculty must be good teachers as well as good scholars. And many are excellent!

I consistently take pride in the efforts of our best teachers, and this is the time of year when those individuals are recognized. This spring, I highlighted the efforts of five college faculty for their exemplary teaching approaches and goals in the Dean’s Teaching Showcase. The showcase is a weekly event inaugurated by the Director of the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning, with each dean selecting exemplary faculty whose instructional efforts are less likely, because of the topic or the course, to achieve recognition through the regular teaching awards.

Beth Reed, Mathematical Sciences
Beth Reed, Mathematical Sciences
Raymond Shaw (2nd from left), Physics
Raymond Shaw (left), Physics
 Loredana Velenzano, Chemistry
Loredana Velenzano, Chemistry







The showcase continues the rich and valuable dialogue that has taken place among the faculty over the past 15 years or more about teaching and student learning. You can read more about the showcase nominees from CSA in Tech Today: Elizabeth Reed (MA); Raymond Shaw (PHY); Loredana Valenzano (CH); Donald LeFreniere (SS); and Steven Elmer (KIP); each brings something special to our students and is well deserving of this recognition.

Don LaFreniere, Social Sciences
Don LaFreniere, Social Sciences
Steven Elmer, Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology
Steven Elmer, Kinesiology & Integrative Physiology







As the Showcase unfolded this spring, the process of nominating the faculty to be inducted into Tech’s Academy for Teaching Excellence proceeded on its own pathway, culminating in a dinner on April 4 to honor the new inductees into the Academy as well as others nominated for a teaching award more than once.  This year the college was again well represented: 2 individuals were nominated in the Lecturer/Assistant Professor Category, and another faculty member in the associate and professor category.  The first nominee was Senior Lecturer Beth Reed from Math, who was inducted  into the Academy in 2012 and has since been nominated several times for the outstanding teacher award.  Beth’s repeated nominations reflect her intense dedication to help students succeed in her statistics classes.

Brigitte Morin, Biology
Brigitte Morin, Biological Sciences
MC Friedrich, VPA
MC Friedrich, Visual & Performing Arts







A first-time nominee to the Academy is Brigitte Morin from Biological Sciences, who is an integral part of the Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS) program.  Her nomination highlighted the amazing enthusiasm she brings to teaching and learning.  A graduate of our MLS program, she returned to Tech several years ago and has made an an exceptional contribution from day one.  She mentioned herself how thrilled she was to be back here with the people whose teaching had made such a difference to her.  Now she is doing the same for another generation of Tech students! But the highlight of the evening may have been the comments from MC Friedrich in Visual and Performing Arts, nominated (again!) in the professor category.  MC chose to read a few comments from students she found posted on They seemed to have a different idea about excellent teaching.

“The class was a little too slow for me but others needed the time.”

“Stop expecting us to remember and do what we learned earlier in the class.”

“In the future add in some more evil twists to the projects so we can brag to the following classes that we did not have to do that.”

“The projects are hard.  Make them simpler.”

“And I wish you wouldn’t give us a chance to fix mistakes for points.  That’s too much pressure.”

Behind the humor, however, we can see the commitment to preparing students for their future careers that is the mark of every good teacher.  It’s a hallmark of our faculty, and yet another reason for pride in what is happening here at the college!

Undergraduate Students and Research

Chemistry Lab Updates 201610130007The pace of the academic semester picks up in mid April, with students and faculty alike realizing that the end of the semester is looming.  Students hustle to complete projects and papers, but I am especially impressed by the number of research activities in which CSA undergraduates are involved.

Michigan Tech has sought to connect students to research as early as possible in their time here, believing that research, like other experiential activities, can transform their education. The following list of their work is, I believe, impressive.

In Biological Sciences, fourth-year Biological Sciences student Rebecca Hobmeier recently presented a department seminar on “Drosophila Gene Regulation in the Formation of Complex Color Patterns in Yellow Evolution of Guttifera.” Thomas Werner was her adviser.

In the Physics Department, a number of seniors presented summaries of their projects at a department colloquium. These included:

  • Floyd Johnson — “Free-standing and Substrate-Supported Cytosine Molecules: Molecular Dynamics Study, advised by department chair Ravi Pandey
  • Austin Hermann — “Quantum Confinement Effect in Silicon,” advised by Ranjit Pati
  • Colin Sheidler —”Unidirectional Emission from Microring Lasers,” advised by Ramy El-Ganainy
  • David Russell — “A Search for Exotic Particles Using AUGER Data”, advised by Brian Fick
  • Michael Foetisch — “Iron Electrowinning: Proof of Concept and Optimization,” advised by Timothy Eisele
  • Nick Videtich — “Pico-second Pulsed Laser System Using Neodymium-doped Yttrium Vanadate Crystal,” advised by Jae Yong Suh
  • Kelci Mohrman — “Searching for Emission from the Geminga Pulsar Wind Nebula in GeV Engines,” advised by Petra Huentemeyer.

And in Social Sciences, three students presented their undergraduate theses in anthropology to the department.

  • James Wezensky — Stamp Mill Technologies: The Industrial Past of Isle Royale National Park, advised by Pat Martin
  • Jakob Williams — The Party of Trump: Understanding the Rise of the Billionaire Populist, advised by Melissa Baird

This list could be multiplied many times, as faculty in the life sciences (especially Biological Sciences, Chemistry and  Kinesiology) eagerly recruit undergraduates to work in their labs, so that some of them leave Michigan Tech as co-authors or contributors to a publication in an academic journal.  These outcomes explain why many of us talk about the unity of teaching and research and see them as deeply complementary activities.  These student projects offer only the most recent example of effort to integrate these core responsibilities.