Category: Awards

Visual and Performing Arts Student Awards

The Department of Visual and Performing Arts has announced its student award and scholarship recipients. Each year, a nomination and selection process is conducted by VPA faculty and staff with input from department students to identify outstanding student achievement. Below is a list of recognized students.

Department Scholar: Madison Wentela

Madi Wentela is a Theatre and Entertainment Technology major/Art minor scheduled to graduate in April 2023. She is an active, engaged member of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, whose scholarship, artistry, and leadership is a model for other students. Her interests span theatre, visual art, art history, and museum studies. In our department, Madi frequently serves in a leadership role. Most recently, she served as the Stage Manager for the theatre production of The Arsonists, and as a Student Gallery Assistant for the Rozsa Galleries. There, she has led the installation of more than twelve exhibits over the past three years, including the exhibit Hero City: Portraits of Modern Mongolia, which took place in five different venues on campus. Madi is an inquisitive, thoughtful student, and a leader both in class and out. 

Student of Promise, and Theatre Award: Laurel Schmidt

Laurel is a 3rd year Theatre and Entertainment Technology major from Saline, Michigan. Her recent projects have included co-assistant stage managing “The Arsonists”, directing one of the one act plays, “Shaped By You” and acting as Lilith in “She Kills Monsters”. Outside of the theatre department, she is vice president of Mu Beta Psi National Honorary Musical Fraternity along with enjoying hiking and exploring waterfalls around the Keweenaw.

All Arts: Bebe Villanueva

Bebe is from Bangor, Michigan, and is in his fourth year of Theatre and Entertainment Technology with emphasis in Media and Crafts. He is a multimedia artist creating work in multiple mediums, focusing on digital media. His work consists of personal endeavors such as 2D animation, photography, video production, editing, directing, music, and crocheting. He has contributed to many media projects held by Michigan Tech such as, camera operation for Miasma, content creation for projections for She Kills Monsters, animations and special effects for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, and being Video Lead for Talking With. He wants to continue his work combining multiple art forms and create future works of art, music, and media. Currently he is venturing into 3D animation with Unreal Engine and Blender to create landscapes suitable for live productions and projections.

Arts: Maisie Whitaker

Maisie is from Hart, Michigan and is a third year Theatre and Entertainment Technology major with an Art minor. She has emphasis areas in mechanical and crafts. She’s had the opportunity lead installations and work with many artists as a gallery assistant in the Rozsa gallery. She also assists in the scene shop on special projects. She has found a lot of joy working on many productions with our department, most recently as the head of props for “She Kills Monsters”.

Sound: Matthew Anderson

Matt is a 4th year Audio Production Technology major from Midland, MI. Over the last two semesters he has been doing loudspeaker research as well as being a TA for several courses. During his time as a TA he was able to help other students reach there creative goals by giving them the tools necessary for the job and pushing people to use everything they have access to. Over the past several summers he has honed his live sound skills by working full time as a Systems and Mix engineer.

Milton Olsson Music Award: Jordan Zais

Jordan is a 3rd year Biomedical Engineering student from Excelsior, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. She has been a part of the conScience Chamber Choir at Tech since Fall 2019 and has greatly enjoyed it and plans to continue participating until she graduates next spring. Outside of choir, Jordan participates in student organizations like Keweenaw Pride and Tau Beta Pi. After graduation, Jordan is planning to attend nursing school to become a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and hopes to make reproductive healthcare and education more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

Music: Sarah Kempin

Sarah is a chemical engineering senior from Midland, Michigan, and is graduating with her bachelors this spring. She has always had a love for music, and has been playing the flute since the 4th grade. During her time at Michigan Tech she has played flute in the Superior Wind Symphony, the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra, and the Pit Orchestra. She has also started and conducted a local handbell choir. In addition to her musical endeavors, Sarah has been involved with Concordia Student Ministries, Circle K International, and Residence Education. Upon graduation Sarah will be entering industry to work as a process engineer.

Marian and John Irish Award for Environmental Art: Madalyn Tudor-Duncan

Madalyn Tudor-Duncan is an Applied Ecology major and an art minor. Her work frequentlyconnects arts and environmental issues. As a member of the 2022 Advanced Sculpture class, she developed large-scale sculptures that focused on inclusivity and touch, showcased in the student Rozsa gallery exhibit, Perpetual Motion Machine. In 2022-23, Madalyn will develop new works of art that bring together her studies in ecology and painting as part of the course, Art and Nature.

The Jazz Award recipients can be viewed here.

Congratulations to the award recipients and best wishes to all of our graduating seniors.

Don Keranen Jazz Awards

Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler, has announced this year’s student recipients for the Don Keranen Endowed Scholarship Awards.

Each year, excellence in Jazz is recognized by way of the Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Scholarship. Three students are chosen by their peers in recognition of improvement, excellence, and leadership. Our award winners this year include R&D drummer Zane Smalley, Workshop Brass Band trombonist Matthew Plansinis, and Lab Band Lead Tenor player Grayson Dunham. These students all showed leadership, dedication, excellence, and improvement this year. I am grateful for them, and wish them continued success in the coming years. – Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler.


Zane Smalley is a 3rd Year Software Engineering Major with a minor in Mathematical Science. He is a founding member of the Video Game Music Ensemble, and a member of the R&D Big Band, a Jazz Combo, and the Huskies Pep Band at Michigan Tech. Zane has been consistently involved with various bands and choirs since the age of 10 and started playing drums when he was about 13. When he isn’t in rehearsals, Zane enjoys spending his free time playing Super Smash Bros and Risk of Rain 2 with friends or playing and watching disc golf. 

Matthew Plansinis has had many aspirations in his life, but by far mathematics and music held most of his interest. From a young age, he liked to build stuff and was just curious how objects worked, so pursuing a career in engineering was an obvious choice. He only decided to major in biomedical engineering due to his youngest of two brothers, who was born with type 1 diabetes.

A majority of my life I’ve worked with and used equipment designed by biomedical engineers, so in hopes of improving my brother’s physical health, I chose to follow their path.”

 As for his interest in music, it started in 2011, when he started learning trombone for the first time in his middle school’s concert band. For the nine years following then, he would learn much, play in a variety of bands, and grow his appreciation for many genres of music. At this moment in his life, Matthew desires to gain a better knowledge of the history and theory of jazz, and to continue playing music in the future.

Grayson Dunham is a 4th year Audio Production and Technology student here at Michigan Tech. He has played in the Jazz Lab Band, as well as the Jaztec combo, for his entire collegiate career – as well as pursuing a minor in Jazz Studies. Some of his hobbies include backcountry skiing, mountain biking, music production and performance, and cooking. 

Don Keranen Jazz Awards

Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler, has announced this year’s student recipients for the Don Keranen Endowed Scholarship Awards.

Each year, excellence in Jazz is recognized by way of the Don Keranen Memorial Jazz Scholarship. Three students are chosen by their peers in recognition of improvement, excellence, and leadership. Our award winners this year include Jazz Lab Band drummer Izzy Waldie, Jazz Lab Band trombonist Nicholas Bussey, and R&D Big Band lead trumpeter Matthew Fisher. These students all showed leadership, dedication, excellence, and improvement this year. Given the limitations of rehearsals, concerts, and recording sessions due to the pandemic, the work these students put in this year is especially impressive. I am grateful for them, and wish them continued success in the coming years. – Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler.

Most Improved Player 
Izzy Waldie, Percussion
Jazz Lab Band

Izzy is a 19 year old Audio Production and Technology Major with a Computer Science Minor here at Tech, and the drummer for the Jazz Lab Band and top combo.  One day she hopes to work as a recording/mixing engineer or high fidelity loudspeaker designer.  She has been drumming since the second grade, and started playing jazz music in High School.  When not behind the kit or doing homework she is most likely making music, spending time with friends, or camping somewhere in the Keweenaw, or all three.

Most Valuable Player 
Matthew Fisher, Trumpet
R&D Big Band

Matt just finished his first year here at Michigan Tech as a Sound Design major. Music has always been a passion of his, and was excited to be a part of Tech’s Jazz Program.

“I’ve never had an opportunity to be a part of a legit jazz band, so I had a blast this year being a part of two bands and a combo. I’m looking forward to the next three years here at Tech and excited to continue performing in the jazz program!”

Most Valuable Player
Nicholas Bussey, Trombone Jazz Lab Band

Nicholas is a Second-Year Chemical Engineering student and trombonist in MTU’s Jazz Lab Band and top jazz combo. Also a composer, arranger and former Ravinia Jazz Scholar, he is constantly growing as a musician, and uses his skills to create multitrack music videos on top of his contributions in the Lab Band and combo. In his free time, he enjoys cycling long distances and playing niche board games. After graduating, he hopes to work to improve sustainability in the specialty coatings, food or plastics industries.

VPA Student Awards and Scholarship Recipients

The Department of Visual and Performing Arts has announced its student award and scholarship recipients. Each year, a nomination and selection process is conducted by VPA faculty and staff with input from department students to identify outstanding student achievement. Below is a list of recognized students.

Department Scholar: Maddy Hunt

Maddy is always producing incredible work, willing to teach others, and excited about new opportunities in sound. She keeps a positive attitude and is simply kind to others. She is Vice President of Soundgirls, involved with Sound and Lighting Services, Huskygames, and Pep Band! She was recently a regional winner of the Sound Design Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival sound design in the Tech Theatre production of Eurydice. She always stays organized, comes through on her commitments, and communicates when she needs a hand. She has a very positive way of encouraging others to improve the quality of their work and to get everyone on board with deadlines and working earlier and more regularly rather than in last minute scrambles.

Women of Promise: Ally Southgate

Ally is a person of theatre. Although she is a Theatre and Entertainment Technology major, she is an actress and singer as well. She wants to know how everything works together; so, she cheerfully takes each new job that comes her way, thereby, excelling in stagecraft, scene painting, and management. She has recently appeared in Tech Theatre productions of Sunday in the Park with George and Eurydice.

In advanced acting, she demonstrated her ability to play against type. She is tenacious and meticulous. The acting profession places great stock in taking emotional risks. During auditions, I asked her to use her body tension as the foundation for her voice and the motivation of the character. She went very still, thinking. Then her demeanor shifted. She became focused. She whispered very quietly; “This is hard.” Then she did it. She became a very different person right there, quietly, intensely. She finds value in trying new experiences. She is a Woman of Promise, the “real deal” all around.

All Arts: Aaron Christianson

Aaron is a Theatre and Entertainment Technology major, a Music minor, and an Art minor. He is dedicated and active in all three areas. His work is dynamic and thoughtful – he often makes projects that balance craftspersonship and concept, and he enjoys making works of art that have a playful edge.

Aaron is a considerate collaborator: he brings strong ideas to the table and he is open to (lots of) change. He is often seen working in the theatre scene shop, or backstage, for productions. He is passionate about all forms of art. Aaron is a leader to whom the other students often look to for guidance. He’s been an asset to the music ensembles and particularly the Jazz program. We will miss him when he graduates!

Art Award: Kassie Baril

Kassie is a Theatre and Entertainment Technology major, an Art minor, and Lead Student Gallery Assistant for the Rozsa Gallery. In her time as the Rozsa Gallery Assistant (2017-present), she has installed eight exhibitions and supervised four undergraduate peer gallery assistants. Kassie is an exceptionally hard worker with a keen eye for artistic quality. Her attention to detail, and her care in handling fragile works of art, has allowed faculty to delegate special projects to her with confidence.

Collaborators note that she is calm, clear and organized–student actors and technicians likewise respect her very much. It’s important to her to take good care of a production as a whole. She is detailed, friendly, considerate, thoughtful, careful, specific, and always working to improve. We have been tremendously impressed by her dedication to her creative work and to the department.

Music: Sean Hanson

Sean Hanson is the go-to mallet percussionist in the Superior Wind Symphony, and can work out any part (including the transcribed guitar solo from Steely Dan’s “I Got the News”). We have witnessed him organizing recording sessions where he plays piano in a jazz combo, which records his original compositions. He is also a member of the Pep Band, and so plays many events, on drums.

Sean is a fantastic person and budding jazz piano player and composer/arranger. He took it upon himself to start a video game music ensemble along with fellow jazz musician Ryan Briggs that met regularly on Thursday nights. They rehearsed a large amount of music, and gave a performance. He’s a go-getter, works hard, and adds to whatever he’s involved in a positive way.

Sound Award: Drew Stockero

Drew has been widely active in the VPA department as a Sound Design major. Early in his MTU career he took a leadership role in developing helpful content for the VPA Hub website and working with the Husky Game Enterprise. He helped the Husky Game Enterprise develop more professional workflows and helped the organization to use professional middleware that allows more sound students to be involved in the enterprise–because it no longer requires putting sounds directly into the code. He instituted many of these changes as the head of the Husky Games sound department. He is now President of the organization, not ‘just’ sound.

Drew also applied for and got a SURF Grant that funded his undergraduate research project on sound pollution of Keweenaw Land Trust sites. His research clearly showed holes in the soundscapes of locations close to the roads–where the roads were occupying that portion of the frequency spectrum.

Theatre: Makenzi Wentela

Makenzi is a Theatre and Entertainment Technology major and has been involved in numerous VPA productions at Michigan Tech. She has worked her way from stage crew for West Side Story through scenic artist for Sunday in the Park with George. She has been an electrician, a props artisan, stage managed 3 shows, and designed lighting for I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change for which she received a certificate of merit from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region III. She is a national honor society member, as well as president of the Alpha Psi Omega chapter at MTU, and received the Don Childs Stage Institute of Las Vegas award through KCACTF region III.

Marian and John Irish Art Award: Alexander Pohl

Alex graduated in December with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has been active in visual art since 2016, when he enrolled in Anne Beffel’s courses, Color and Meaning, and Art and Nature. Alex’s effort is born of his curiosity about creative processes and his appreciation for their potential to make us more conscious of our relationships with our environment. His work was featured in the 2017 Michigan House of Representatives Art Exhibition. He has volunteered many hours to art initiatives in the department including the community art project, Every Color of Eyes.

His art career at Tech has culminated in the first-of- its kind installation of student work on the fifth and sixth floors of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Building, a site thoughtfully chosen for his work using pigments found locally in nature: blackberries, acorns, and iron acetate. The installation will continue on through the 2020-21 school year.

Milton Olsson Music Scholarship: Ry Swaty

Ry Swaty has been an active participant in the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra where he is an important member of the cello section and conScience: Michigan Tech Chamber Choir. He brings strong technical skill and fine musicianship in all that he does and is eager to collaborate with other musicians. The Milton Olsson Scholarship is awarded annually to a student who has made contributions to the choirs and orchestra at Michigan Tech.

Pep Band Endowed Scholarship: Noah Ekdom

Noah Ekdom is extremely valuable, both as a musician (a fine Concussionist), and as the Pep Band Equipment Manager. Given the roughly 70 times per year that the band is asked to play in environments that are not the Walker/Rozsa Complex (which is where all of the instruments are stored) the band always needs a calm, detail-loving person to align the needs and requirements for all ten sections of the Huskies Pep Band, so that those instruments can can be sent back and forth, up and down the hill, with no errors, so that in turn the band may: encourage, support, entertain, distract and annoy to the best of its abilities, no matter what the environment.

Don Keranen Jazz Awards a separate announcement was made for the students listed below.

Most  Valuable Player
Alek Ertman, Bass – Jazz Lab Band

Most Valuable Player
Ryan Briggs, Bass – R&D Big Band

Most Improved Player
Steven Turnbull, Trumpet – Workshop Big Band

Student Jazz Award Winners Announced

Director of Jazz Studies, Adam Meckler, has announced this year’s student recipients for the Don Keranen Endowed Scholarship Awards.

This fund provides cash awards to students for Outstanding Jazz Musician and Most Improved Jazz Musician. Individuals who participate in the Jazz Lab Band, the Research and Development Big Band, and the Workshop Big Band are eligible.

Most Improved was awarded to Steven Turnbull, while the Outstanding Jazz Musician was awarded to two students – Alek Ertman and Ryan Briggs.

These awards were slated to be announced during the Don Keranan Memorial Jazz Concert on March 20th, but was cancelled.

Jazz Award winner Steven Turnbull
Steven Turnbull is a first year student pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and a minor in Technical Theatre. As a trumpet player, he loves listening to and playing in all kinds of bands, especially jazz. Although he thinks mathematically, he is able to express his artistic side through music. He takes his education seriously and loves to learn new things from any kind of subject.
Alek Ertman is a third year student at Michigan Tech. He is an Electrical Engineering major with a focus in Automation and Controls. In addition to his studies, Alek also plays bass in the top jazz ensemble, and top jazz combo. Some of his musical influences include Stuart Zender, Paul Chambers, and Charlie Haden.
Ryan Briggs jazz award winner
Ryan Briggs is a first year Computer Engineering
student also pursuing minors in Mathematics and Music Composition. Here at Tech, Ryan is the Bassist for the R&D Jazz Band, a Huskies Pep Band ‘Rumpet, and co-founder and bassist of a student run Video Game Music Jazz Ensemble. While he enjoys studying engineering, his other passion lies in music. He hopes to one day compose music professionally on the side.