Month: April 2021

New Social Sciences Chair Appreciates Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Dean Hemmer, Dean of The College of Sciences and Arts, said he was pleased to announce that Don Lafreniere has accepted the position of chair of Social Sciences.

“Leading a department housing so many different disciplines is a challenge and I am confident that Don is more than prepared for the task,” Hemmer said. “His extensive leadership experience, both inside and out of academia, together with his distinguished scholarly record, made him a clear choice for the position.”

Don Lafreniere
Don Lafreniere

Lafreniere (la-fren-YAY), an associate professor of geography and GIS, also directs the Geospatial Research Facility and the Historical Environments Spatial Analytics Lab. He holds BS degrees in geography and history from Eastern Michigan University. He earned his Ph.D. in geography from the University of Western Ontario.

He took a unique route to Michigan Tech — his first career was working for Marriott and Princess Cruises managing hotels, lodges, and portfolios. Lafreniere, who has been at Tech since 2014, answered a few questions about himself and his plans for the department.

Why Michigan Tech? What brought you here?
Growing up in the Sun Parlour of Canada, in Windsor, Ontario, I also longed to live in the north. I had a chance to live in Alaska for a few years and wished to return to a northern climate when I was seeking out a faculty position.

But the size of the institution played a large part. Tech is large enough to be a genuine research institution but small enough to be a community. Communication is easy here. “If I need to reach someone in another department, or say, the provost, It’s not hard.”

The other major factor was that we really have a robust heritage community. When I first flew into CMX, the landing path took us over the dredge (Quincy Dredge No. 2 in Torch Lake). Seeing the dredge and the stamp mill behind it I thought: This is a living, robust landscape that I want to live and work in.

The department is unique. What Social Sciences is to us at MTU, would be eight different disciplines somewhere else. That creates truly interdisciplinary scholarship because of how freely we interact across disciplines. What we do here is special.

Because geography is the scientific study of space, and everything is somewhere, geographers can study anything. In my research, I help my colleagues and students think about the impacts of spatial relationships in a different way. My expertise is in GIS (geographic information science) and using historical information to learn how populations and places change through time and impact society today.

I love it when a student realizes, through mapping some data, that the societal issues they have heard about in the news or in another class can be visualized.

What do you like about teaching?
We have hardworking students who are innately curious. And as someone who is not teaching to majors (as we do not have a geography program at Tech), I can take the best of my discipline and apply it to situations in our students’ everyday lives in ways students can understand.

I love it when a student realizes, through mapping some data, that the societal issues they have heard about in the news or in another class can be visualized. An example would be a student exclaiming, “I had no idea that racial segregation is so bad in my hometown” It connects the theoretical ideas to their actual lives. And generally what follows is a flood of questions.

You mentioned that you want to work on the department’s branding message to potential students and parents. What will your goals be?
We do need to get across the unique nature of our programs. A big focus of our department is how we work with communities in our research and teaching. This creates a unique, applied social scientific, signature experience for our students that we need to market more to potential students.

You have four children and live in Boston Location. But we need to know: What’s with the giant antenna?
I do have a 100-foot radio tower in the yard. I’ve been an amateur radio operator since I was a teenager. I met my wife of 23 years, Erin, on the radio. [Editor’s note: Immediately before this interview, Lafreniere was talking about the pandemic over his radio with someone in Micronesia.]


Undergraduate Departmental Awards Announced

The undergraduate committee of the Department of Social Sciences is pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s departmental awards. Thanks to all who nominated students and provided letters of support. Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Outstanding Senior: Tim Stone
The Department of Social Sciences Outstanding Senior Award recognizes outstanding undergraduate achievement in accomplishments in academics, research, leadership, and/or service.

Undergraduate Research: Alannah Woodring, Madelina Dilisi
The Undergraduate Thesis or Research Awards recognizes one Social Sciences graduating senior and one junior for their exemplary research, as evidenced in an undergraduate thesis, original research, or creative project under the guidance of department faculty members or other mentors. The awardees are recognized for research that is original and substantive given the standards of the discipline.

Community-Based Research: Kat Dvorak, Savannah Obert-Pfeiffer
The Community-Based Research Prize recognizes a Social Science student who is actively engaged in community-based research, a pillar of the department’s mission. The prize honor’s the student’s efforts to enhance community capacity, build relationships, and/or support community participation in research. 


Sharing Research about Women Who Fish Through a StoryMap

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Savannah Obert-Pfeiffer is a soon-to-be third year student majoring in Sustainability Science and Society. The following blog was written as part of the Department of Social Sciences’ Undergraduate Program for Exploration and Research in Social Sciences (UPERSS) at Michigan Tech University.

What was your UPERSS project?

For my project I created a StoryMap website to represent a Social Sciences Department graduate student project titled, “Connections: Stories from Women Who Fish”. 

Why did you use StoryMap rather than creating a “regular” website? 

StoryMap is a platform that can be used in many different ways, including creating a web page designed around a specific map, it can be used like I did with more of a website but fun and interactive pieces, as well as making it a guided tour of the webpage. StoryMap is a good platform to use to portray information in a very personal way, rather than just scrolling through a one dimensional website StoryMap can take the reader with the creator on the journey of what the website has to offer. It is easy to work and play around to add fun experiences like moving text while the pictures stay until the next paragraph is ready. I would highly recommend StoryMaps because I have worked with many website platforms but nothing as creatively independent as StoryMap.

For the purpose of this particular project I used StoryMap to share background on the project, information about what Photovoice methodology is, and display women’s fishing stories and images (combined as “photostories”) in an interactive map showing some of these anglers fishing spots. I used the information that Erin Burkett (PhD, Environmental and Energy Policy, ‘19) had compiled for her graduate research and condensed it with the information she felt was most important to have on the website. Rather than focusing on women’s fishing participation rates or large-scale patterns among recreational anglers, I focused on sharing information produced by 15 women who participated in the photovoice project. The emphasis is on their unique experiences and perspectives. There were a lot of photos that anglers gave to Erin and I wanted to show off as many as possible while still keeping it interactive, which is why I made the map. For me this was the highlight of being creative with the website because it gave me the opportunity to see what I could create and I really enjoyed the process. 

Why did you want to work on this project? 

At a young age I would always go fishing with my mom and grandparents on their pontoon, as well as with my dad at our family friends’ pond. My life was highly influenced by these trips and as I got older I slowly stopped, which makes me sad. When I saw this project on the UPERSS project page I knew I wanted to do something, It had such a meaning to me that I honestly did not realize I missed it. This project was something that seemed like a really fun activity to do and I was right. 

Also, it is exciting to think about having a website that can bring joy to people that were involved. Other people that saw the process of Erin’s project, even some of my friends, wanted to look at it because they were so impressed by the fish these women caught. 

What was challenging?

I remember when I was starting out I was so scared of making something for someone that compiles a lot of what their graduate project contained. I was also very nervous to step out of my comfort zone with getting involved and meeting with her, but it was amazing in every way. I highly recommend any undergraduates that have the opportunity to start on a project that they feel passionate about, because if you are interested in the topic it makes discussing it that much easier. Also being proud of the end product helps to gain a strong support system, by growing better relationships with professors and others who can help out later in my career.  A challenge I had with the actual process of the website was at one point the map I created would not show up anymore, so I had to recreate it. It is not hard work but it was frustrating to know that the part I spent the most time on was gone. A personal struggle I have was tracking my time, I found it somewhat like a stress reliever to work on after or before I finished my other homework, so I would just start working on it and 20 actions and changes on the site later I would realize I had no idea when I started. So, for anyone that is looking to do this type of project and needs to track hours put a text in at the top of the site so that when you start working on it you will see that note and just look at the time, then delete it before publishing. 

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What did you learn through the course of this project (knowledge, skills, etc..)? 

Some of the key points that I learned from this project are how to use story maps, I have never used this before so I had a lot of fun. I also learned about working with people and trying to collaborate, it was a very good learning curve.                                                                          

How will you apply what you have learned in the future? 

This process will definitely benefit me because of how I learned how maneuvering different platforms for creating content can be very beneficial, as well as knowing more people, and just getting my name on something that I can show people. I would highly recommend undergraduates to participate in UPERSS personally, I know I will be in the future so this was a fantastic starting point. 


Storying a Tribal Landscape System – Undergraduate Research Opportunity

Graduate student Larissa Juip has a unique opportunity for a student to work with her on “Applying an Indigenous Methodology: Storying a Tribal Landscape System.” Indigenous storywork, as described by Jo-ann Archibald (2008), combines traditional and life-experience stories to produce a holistic narrative by building “on the storywork teachings of respect, reverence, responsibility, reciprocity, holism, interrelatedness, and synergy.”

These stories recognize different ways of knowing, such as those present in Indigenous communities and they often reflect a great emphasis on place-based knowledge and relationships. This storywork project is designed to complement a National Science Foundation research project (Tribal Landscape Systems) being conducted in partnership with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), Keweenaw Bay Natural Resources, Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), and Michigan Tech researchers.

Storywork has great potential to serve as an important method and pedagogy to reflect on responsibilities of Indigenous-University partnerships. Students will assist her in producing stories shared by partners in this project that reflect place-based connections and relationships as they form or are strengthened through research. The collection of stories shared by partners will become an iterative process that sheds light on the importance of place-based knowledge within the research project.

This project is funded through an NSF-CNH2 (Convergence Research: Bridging Knowledge Systems and Expertise for Understanding the Dynamics of a Contaminated Tribal Landscape System) and is part of a larger undergraduate research initiative in Social Sciences, the Undergraduate Program for Exploration and Research in Social Sciences (UPERSS).

Check out the other opportunities that include:

  • Ethnic Organization and Diaspora Engagement in the Keweenaw (Kathryn Hannum, SS)
  • Developing a University Partnership offering Educational / Cultural Outreach to State Prison Inmates housed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Susanna Peters, SS)
  • Food-Based Plants as Living Heritage (Mark Rhodes, SS)
  • Michigan Tech Inventory of Historic Scientific Instruments (IHSI) (Steven Walton, SS)
  • Historic Cemeteries: Mapping, Management, and Memory (Timothy Scarlett, SS)

On the Road

Shan Zhou (SS) presented her paper “The Interplay between Renewable Portfolio Standard and Voluntary Green Power Market in the United States” in the session “Determinants and Challenges of Environmental Policy” at the the 78th Annual Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conference, which was held virtually April 14-18.

This paper evaluates the efficacy of utility-based voluntary green power programs implemented in conjunction with government-led (mandatory) renewable energy policies.


2021 Undergraduate Research Symposium

Congratulations to all four of the Social Science majors who presented their work in this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium!

Brooke Batterson (History) “Analysis of the Labor Market & Landscape of 1900 Lake Linden French Canadians”

Tim Stone (Sustainability Science and Society): “The Daily Spaces and Environmental Hazards for Youth in the Industrial City”

Alannah Woodring (Sustainability Science and Society): “What Are the Best Practices to Integrate Therapy Gardens into Programs Servings At Risk Populations?”

Ava Miller (Sustainability Science and Society): “Community Response to Renewable Energy Project Siting: A Case Study in L’Anse, MI”

And special congratulations to Ava Miller whose project tied for the second place award as “best undergraduate presentation” among all undergraduate presentations! 


On the Road

Industrial Heritage and Archaeology PhD students, Emma Wuepper (SS) and Kyle Parker-McGlynn (SS) presented posters at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers.

Wuepper’s poster explored the material culture of settler colonialism in Copper Harbor and Parker-McGlynn’s asked how space and place could and should be considered within the design of digital heritage.

Mark Rhodes (SS) also organized a poster session on cultural geographies, presented a paper on the living heritage of the Paul Robeson tomato, and sat on an invited panel discussing the role of critical geography at technological institutions.


Social Sciences Undergraduates Join International Geography Honor Society

Five Social Science students joined Michigan Tech’s inaugural chapter of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the International Geography Honor Society.
 
-Nev Indish (History)
-Brooke Batterson (History)
-Cal Quayle (Anthropology)
-Lynette Webber (History)
-Timothy Stone (Sustainability Science and Society)

Organized by Assistant Professor of Geography Dr. Mark Rhodes, the honor society will promote geography-related activities and connect students with opportunities to share research and compete for awards. The five Social Science students join twelve other undergraduate, graduate, and faculty members in founding the Michigan Tech chapter.


Recent Talks

Sarah Scarlett (SS) and Don Lafreniere (SS/GLRC) presented two talks this week related to the Trois siècles de migrations francophones en Amérique du Nord (Three Centuries of Francophone Migration in North America) project that studies the French-Canadian migration around the continent.

Scarlett spoke at the Centre De La Francophonie Des Amériques and the Québec Government Offices in Chicago, Boston, and Houston. Her presentation was on the micro-histories of Joseph Grégoire, a prominent Lake Linden resident and founder of Gregoryville. The presentation can be seen here.

Lafreniere spoke at the Centre interuniversitaire d’études québécoises about how to utilizing deep mapping techniques to map migrations. He outlined how the Keweenaw Time Traveler can be used as a model for studying populations around the continent. 

Lafreniere outlined how the Time Traveler is being used in concert with censuses from the US and Canada to uncover the French-Canadian diaspora in the Copper Country and model migration flows.


In Print

Professor Emeritus Barry D. Solomon (SS) and Shan Zhou (SS) published the article “Renewable Portfolio Standards: Do Voluntary Goals vs. Mandatory Standards Make a Difference?” In Review of Policy Research.

This paper investigates whether an obligation to meet a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) target in U.S. states affects the policy effectiveness. A voluntary RPS target can serve as a political device for signaling a commitment to certain goals, though there is no penalty if the goal is not met.

Alternatively, mandatory RPS targets have varying stringency and uneven enforcement. Our results indicate that the compulsoriness of a state RPS is an insignificant determinant of RPS‐related renewable electricity capacity additions. Factors other than compulsoriness are more important in influencing renewable electricity development, such as state political ideology, income, electricity price and electric market deregulation status.