Category: News

In Print: Dr. Angie Carter

Dr. Angie Carter and her co-author Dr. Rebecca Christoffel have published “Supporting Women Landowners in Wetland Conservation” in Society & Natural Resources. The article analyzes data from a state-wide survey in Iowa and finds that a lack of experience with and misinformation about wetlands, coupled with a lack of access to needed conservation knowledge networks, limits conservation action for women landowners, no matter their age cohort.

Melia Austin Takes on Costa Rica During Her Study Abroad Trip

Melia Austin
Melia Austin enjoys the view in Costa Rica


Melia Austin immerses herself in her learning. One example: is a trip to Costa Rica during the summer of 2022 with fellow Michigan Tech students interested in sustainability. Building on what they learned at Michigan Tech, they observed what Costa Rica has done to become more sustainable in terms of environment, ecology, water treatment, and more. Plus, Melia immersed herself in the Costa Rican community, where she practiced her Spanish and earned credits toward her minor in Spanish.

Melia said, “I wanted to use what I’ve learned in my Spanish classes to grow in my understanding of the world, and learn about sustainability inside and outside of the classroom.” Day trips around Costa Rica greatly enhanced her learning.

Immersed in Sustainability

The day trips brought sustainability to life. A visit to a natural hot spring showed how Costa Ricans benefit from this sustainable form of energy. They also hiked through a sustainable forest where they saw a quetzal. This is a rare bird found in Costa Rica. Sustainable forests give species like the quetzal places to thrive. The forest was not only environmentally sustainable, but also socially, and economically sustainable. As a result, Costa Rica is able to identify and manage the impacts of businesses and people on the environment and adjust accordingly to be sustainable. She noted that the rainforest and its management met the criteria of the three pillars of sustainability that they learned about in their classes.

A Quetzal bird.
Quetzal bird sits on a branch in the sustainable rainforest

There were lots Melia enjoyed during her time in Costa Rica. Melia’s favorite thing was “attending a conference about sustainability with graduate students and professors from different universities.” She was able to diversify her learning about sustainability by connecting with others from different universities. This enhanced her experience as she immersed herself in new opportunities to learn about sustainability.

Study Abroad Takeaways From Melia

When asked what advice she would give to students considering studying abroad she said, “You are at a unique point in your life where you have the freedom and autonomy to travel and learn new things that might change how you see the world. It might even change your future plans.” In Costa Rica, she learned to be independent and travel independently. She is applying those learnings in a gap year in Senegal where she volunteers on a hospital ship. Immersing herself in Senegalese culture and the hospital environment, her goal is to gauge her interest in a career in medicine.

Hot spring in Costa Rica with steam rising.
Natural hot spring in Costa Rica

Learn about Melia and the other Michigan Tech students’ experiences in Costa Rica on the Costa Rica blog. Michigan Tech offers a number of study-abroad options in Costa Rica, Cumbria, Mexico, and Wales.











Amtrak Study Away is on Track for 2023

Amtrak passenger train in the mountains
Amtrak’s California Zephyr winds its way through the Colorado Rockies

Last summer, 18 Michigan Tech students boarded a train. They spent 18 days traversing the US practicing and learning about sustainable tourism. Amtrak Study Away directors Mark Rhodes, assistant professor of geography and heritage, and Kathryn Hannum, teaching assistant professor and Policy and Community Development advisor for the Department of Social Sciences, helped the students navigate the US passenger rail service off and on across 6 different cities.

For 20 days, students solely utilized public transit to explore the concepts of sustainable tourism and planning, landscape analysis, and urban deindustrialization. They spent two nights in independently-run hotels across each of the 6 stops and cities along the Empire Builder and California Zephyr Amtrak routes. Students saw firsthand how tourism has been incorporated and resisted from national parks to major metros, to deindustrialized small towns. Students frequently met with city planners, government officials, urban and sustainability studies scholars, and stakeholders in the heritage and hospitality industries.

“Amtrak is a great means for students to learn that not all places see tourism as a net gain. Some places, especially our national parks like Glacier are beginning to combat overtourism. Our students get to speak to local stakeholders to understand many different perspectives on tourism and sustainability,” Rhodes said.

The Community/Real World is the Classroom

Amtrak Study Away directors Dr. Mark Rhodes and Dr. Kathryn Hannum
Faculty directors, Dr. Mark Rhodes and Dr. Kathryn Hannum

In creating the Amtrak program, Rhodes drew inspiration from other geographers who suggest we need more community-based learning field experiences. Much of Rhodes’s thinking comes from Houston and Lange who aim to destabilize the idea of the “real world/campus and field/classroom” in favor of a more co-constructive and integrated learning experience. Rhodes was able to bring the program to fruition through funding from Michigan Tech’s Next-Gen Gen-Ed, the Institute for Sustainabilty and Resilience, and the Department of Social Sciences.
“It is exciting to give our students a truly immersive and hands-on experience. On the Amtrak program, classes were held on the train, in hotel lobbies, in restaurants, and in actual classrooms. Simultaneously, those spaces functioned as a living laboratory for engaging fieldwork. And the train serves as a mobile dormitory, with dining, recreational, and sleeping areas,” Rhodes said. “Interactions with communities were in dialogue, not scientific observation or one-way explanations. Students brought those experiences, observations, and perspectives back to campus and the Keweenaw via a public event. Students presented key findings, engaged in Q&A, and discussed ideas for how the UP can benefit from tourism, if done sustainably.”
“Being able to compare many different cities, places, and environments in such a short period of time was eye-opening,” said Nick Hatley, an Amtrak Study Away participant and mechanical engineering major. “It was also my first time on a train. It was a unique travel experience.”

Sustainability Science in Society

The Amtrak Study Away program offered other unique opportunities for students. Of the 18 students, three students presented on the possibilities of study away and Amtrak within the realm of sustainability and equity at the Global and Community Engagement conference. Four students will travel to the Annual Meeting of American Association of Geographers in Denver, Colorado to sit on a domestic study away experience panel while also presenting their original research.
The Amtrak Study Away program changed perceptions too. Following the program, 87% of the students stated their perception of public transit changed positively. Post-trip, students responded with a 4.6/5 that they were “extremely likely” to “seek out public transit in the future” and that they were also “extremely likely” (4.7/5) to ride Amtrak again.

All-Aboard for Amtrak Study Away 2023

Applications are now open for Amtrak Tourism 2023 (application and deposit deadline is January 13, 2023), where students can pay just $1000, plus tuition, and experience 6 unique landscapes and many tourism, sustainable planning, and governmental organizations. Program fees include all lodging, transportation, activities (such as a Portland Thorns soccer game, a Local Roots food tour, and the Glenwood Springs hot spring). Students will hike Glacier National Park, help keep Portland Weird, and receive a tour of Knox Farm’s sustainable urban agriculture. Follow all the Amtrak Study Away program exploits from 2022 on Instagram. Reach out to Mark Rhodes with questions.

About the Social Sciences Department

Social Sciences at Michigan Technological University helps students apply academic concepts to real-world issues. We use tools from anthropology, geography, history, political science, and sociology to help find sustainable solutions to complex problems. The department offers five undergraduate degrees, five graduate degrees, and one graduate certificate program in public policy. Regardless of the path you choose, our faculty will help you lay the foundation for a meaningful career.

In Print

Dr. Hongmei Lu (departmental alum, PhD EEP 2020, now a postdoctoral researcher at Utrecht University, Netherlands) and Dr. Angie Carter have published “Emergent regional collaborative governance in rural local food systems development” in Community Development. The paper analyzes emergent regional collaborative governance in the Western UP’s rural food system and is a product of Dr. Carter’s REF award. The article is available open access here.

Summer Field School Draws Together a Broad Range of Collaborators and Students Across Disciplines

Summer Field School includes 8 students from Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan; 3 Instructors; 3 generations of property owners; 6 visiting heritage professionals; 5 great days on the banks of Lake Superior; PLUS a dog and a resident turkey (!) all combined for an exciting place-based learning experience!

What does MTU History Associate Professor of History Sarah Fayen Scarlett get when she takes on leadership of the 2024 Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) annual conference planning committee? Well, perhaps a few headaches between now and 2024. But also, several unique opportunities to engage in local fieldwork documenting everyday buildings and their cultural meanings for people in the Keweenaw—past, and present.  She’s sharing the opportunities this responsibility brings with Upper Peninsula students and professionals. Together they’re working on publishing a conference guidebook featuring local vernacular architecture and conference tour sites. Themes include exploring cultural identity, environmental change, industrial communities, and contemporary heritage practice. Scarlett’s “Barns and Beaches” field school gave upper peninsula college students a great applied learning experience.

Image of Summer Field School students documenting Kemppa Farm
NMU student Tori Conquest takes a break from documenting the c. 1907 animal barn at Kemppa Farm in Misery Bay. Photo S F Scarlett

Barns and Beaches Field School Uses the Keweenaw Community As A Classroom

The Summer Field School attracted students in a variety of fields such as history, anthropology, folklore, and material culture studies. The June class included two Michigan Tech Social Sciences majors, an incoming Industrial Heritage & Archaeology grad student, four Northern Michigan University anthropology students, and an MTU graduate student as a teaching assistant. The four-week 3-credit course was team-taught by Scarlett, Keweenaw National Historical Park Historical Architect John Arnold (Industrial Heritage PhD 2017), and Finlandia University Finnish Studies Associate Professor and folklorist Hilary Virtanen. The instructors contributed their expertise in documenting everyday buildings and cultural landscapes. They mentored students in the collection of information from people associated with such places.

The group of eleven formed an instantly cohesive team. Their skills and interests were well-matched for the task at hand: to document and create materials describing a Finnish American homestead farm in the Misery Bay area of Toivola and an adjacent summer cottage built in the 1940s. Both properties had remained in the families that established them.

Students Develop Field Work Skills

Image of Lieutenant Dan the Turkey
Kemppa Farm resident “Lieutenant Dan” the turkey (along with Ruby the little black dog!) kept the crew on their toes around the campsite! Photo Hilary Virtanen.

During the second week, the class met at the Kemppa farm in Misery Bay, Toivola. Students camped in the farm’s front pasture, thanks to the owner and steward of the property’s heritage Luann Hayrynen. This made it convenient for students to document the Kemppa family farm and the neighboring summer cottage, Dell Shack. This intensive fieldwork was augmented by a visit to the Hanka Homestead Farm, a Finnish American homestead farm museum in Baraga County affiliated with the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) as well as lecture and demonstration visits from area professionals including KNHP staff historian Jo Holt, landscape architect Steve DeLong, Park superintendent Wendy Davis, and MTU’s geospatial scientist Dan Trepal.

Students and instructors precisely measured, photographed, and created field drawings of buildings. They conducted oral history interviews of occupants and their family members to gain insights into the history of the sites’ developments over time and their cultural significance to the families and their neighbors. And they investigated materials offered for examination by the study participants, including family photographs and documents that helped solve building history mysteries. All of this activity generated a vast amount of data. Over the final two weeks, students converted raw data into computer-generated architectural floor plans of each selected building. They deepened their understanding of the properties’ histories with creative research with archival documents, deep geological and cultural historical data, and even aerial and satellite photographs of the Misery Bay area over time.

Read about Robert Hazen’s experience as an undergraduate student in the Summer Field School

Image of a Hay Barn built in 1907
c. 1907 Hay Barn. Photo John Arnold.

Students Present Findings to the Local Community

Students acquired skills in historical architecture documentation and interpretation. They learned to conduct semi-structured oral history interviews. And they wrote interpretive content for use in the 2024 VAF guidebook. The first week centered on intensive readings, lectures, and in-class fieldwork skill-building activities in the Archaeology Lab. One highlight was a virtual visit from Professor Emerita Carol MacLennan on Indigenous land use in the Keweenaw.

During the final week of class, students prepared a group presentation of their findings for local community members at the Misery Bay School. The goals of this culminating event were to spread the word about the upcoming conference and our work at the Kemppa Farm and Dell Shack, but also to have another opportunity to learn more about these properties from people who have their own important perspectives: long-term neighbors. As a result, many stories and memories were shared over refreshments between students, property owners, and neighbors. These relationships will continue to develop as preparation for the VAF conference continues.

For more information about or to participate in the VAF conference in 2024 please contact Dr. Scarlett at sfscarle@mtu.edu.