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L. Syd Johnson, Humanities

On Our Minds

Crunching tackles. Punishing hits. These are central elements of football and hockey. But more on the radar now is the cumulative effect concussions and brain injuries have on these athletes. A spate of suicides has led to studies on brain tissue and has discovered some recently retired athletes with mental decay decades beyond their actual age.

Syd Johnson sees this as not only a biological issue, but an ethical one as well: since concusioins have a cumulative effect, concern should sthart when the dreams of high school games are forming for kids. Johnson syas the solution is changing the way kids play sports. By reducing the risks of concussions, the cumulative effects of concussions are delayed until kids can make more informed decisions.

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Erin Smith, Humanities

41 North

Houghton isn't on the way to anywhere. And while the remote location has its benefits, it means fewer venues that feature new independent artistic work.

Erin Smith believes it’s important that Michigan Tech and the local community have access to films that people in urban and cultural centers across the country are viewing.

That's why she curates and directs the 41 North Film Festival—an annual event where people come together to learn, question, discuss, find inspiration, and be entertained.

Smith looks for films that intersect with areas of Michigan Tech's curriculum, the University's mission, the extracurricular interests of students and faculty, and regional interests.

"It’s important to me, though, that the festival does not just reflect the community back to itself," Smith says. "One of the beautiful things about the intensive experience of a film festival is the opportunity to be immersed in many different experiences and ideas.

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Don Lafreniere, Social Sciences
Sarah Scarlett, Social Sciences
John Arnold, Social Sciences

Keweenaw Time Travel

Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula has a rich and colorful history. The miners in the boom days of the Copper Country knew that in order to find what they wanted, they had to “drill down.”

Today, thanks to Don Lafreniere, Sarah Scarlett, and John Arnold, those wishing to discover the people and the places of the Keweenaw’s past can drill down through history.

Keweenaw Time Traveler is an online map-based tool allowing visitors to explore the layers of history for any location in the Houghton, Keweenaw, and Ontonagon county region.

The seven-year project uses proven technologies and techniques of public participatory Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—a geospatial approach that works with communities to map and analyze geographic and historical relationships through space and time. It also employs collections of geographic data and tools that are interactively connected. Users can incorporate their own information about a place and store that data long-term, to create a high-resolution database that maps changes in the social, natural, industrial, and built environments of the Copper Country from 1850 to 1970.

Using GIS, visitors to will have an opportunity to dig deep through the history of a particular location, and also dig horizontally to observe an expanding geographic location at a particular time in history.

The researchers’ hope the Keweenaw Time Traveler will result in a one-of-a-kind space-time linked digital archive and provide a new way for the Copper Country heritage community to share their histories with the world.

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Min Song, Computer Science

The Speed of Technology

Min Song knows the world of computing moves fast, changing daily.

He founded the Institute of Computing and Cybersystems (ICC) to provide faculty and students the opportunity to work across organizational boundaries to create an environment reflective of that speed and contemporary technological innovation.

There are five ICC Centers, each focusing on a specific area of computing and cybersystems.

  • Center for Cyber-Physical Systems
  • Center for Cybersecurity
  • Center for Data Sciences
  • Center for Human-Centered Computing
  • Center for Scalable Architectures and Systems

Center members come from varied backgrounds and academic departments, and have diverse specialties, but they share common research interests. Belonging to a center allows members to conduct research specific to their own interests and specialties, while getting the input, support and partnership of their cross-discipline colleagues.

Members are also provided opportunities to collaborate on projects otherwise not available to them. This approach of multidisciplinary collaboration, which is prevalent in the computing world today, allows our members to conduct crucial, cutting-edge research in the most effective and applicable ways possible.

Connections in computer science aren’t just between systems. They’re critical between people too. The ICC is key to that.

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Shane Mueller, Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Practice Makes Perfect

With every look in the record books, it seems that there is always someone with nearly unnatural talent in everything in the world. But unlike the perception, it isn't innate ability or intelligence alone that makes the expert.

Shane Mueller looks at a particular kind of expertise. One of his areas of research that has gotten national attention is crossword puzzles. And what he finds is that experience beats out innate intelligence, and the two coming together can make for elite abilities.

"The top players are really phenomenal," he says. "A smart novice is about ten times slower than an expert, maybe a hundred times. Experience and practice make a very big difference."

The next time you struggle with anything from a hard problem in the lab to a layup to the answer to seven down, remember that each attempt helps you get a little bit closer to being an expert, a little bit closer to the right answer.

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Adam Feltz, Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Practice Makes Perfect

Adam Feltz wants you to make better decisions. His research in informed, ethical decision support helps people understand how they make decisions so they can make choices that best match their values.

Consider cybersecurity, where the easiest target is often the end-user. Feltz wants to know why computer users—including highly educated people with technical skills—fall prey to phishing and what can be done to prevent it. In his Ethical Decision-making and Ethical Naturalism Laboratory (EDEN Lab), Feltz is uncovering some of the factors that predict increased risk of falling for phishes and other unsafe cyber-activities.

According to Feltz, these factors involve abilities (such as numeracy), beliefs (for example, whether the link is safe), and values/attitudes (like whether it came from a trusted source). Feltz and other researchers are working to model how these factors are involved in cyber-behaviors like those that result in being phished.

But Feltz is not simply interested in predicting who is likely to fall for a phish. He wants to develop educational interventions to help people make better choices when confronted with phishing-type attacks. The plan is simple but challenging. To model people’s decisions, researchers assess a person's abilities, knowledge, and values to create adaptive, user-specific interventions to efficiently inform people about their decisions. Feltz then evaluates the intervention's effectiveness.

"Informing people is the most ethically defensible way to help people make better decisions," Feltz says. "Given an adequate model of decision-making about cyber security, we can create interventions—like education about cybersecurity—to help people make safer online decisions."

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Matt Seigel, Humanities

PANK Magazine and Tiny Hardcore Press are based in the Walker Arts and Humanities Center, on the campus of a STEM-centric research university in a secluded corner of the country. And that is exactly what has put them on the map, at the vanguard of articulating what's next.

"We aren't Brooklyn," says M. Bartley Seigel. "Or San Francisco or Iowa City. We're in a different place, and that's given us a lot of power and space to try something different. We aren't battling anyone already entrenched, we aren't threatening anyone's turf. I mean, Houghton, Michigan… where's that?"

Launched in 2006, Seigel describes PANK's beginnings as "part hubris and part ignorance. We had no idea how to do this." Flash forward seven years, and PANK has hit a niche at just the right time.

"When we launched, online magazines were just starting to be taken seriously," he explains. While also a print publication, PANK publishes more frequently online. "We established print first for the old guard and to build our credibility. But three-quarters of what we do is online."

PANK's mission is to broaden the literary perspective. That's not some abstract mission or vision statement, either. PANK pushes the envelope, whether it's in form or in content. It takes risks. It's risque. "Publishing is conservative," Seigel explains. "They make their bank on safe, middle of the road stuff."

"That's not us."

Instead, the focus for PANK is a place for voices new and established to try to make words do something new, to hit us from directions we don't expect. A trip through the contributor notes of any given issue yields fellowships and editorial positions galore. The names might not be familiar. Not yet, at least.

Tiny Hardcore Press, a small publishing house under the same umbrella, sits in much this same place. It, too, can fly under the radar, thanks in large part to this unique placement in Michigan Tech's ecosphere. "I mean, we're a place that sometimes doesn't even appear on its own state's maps," Seigel says. "There's a mythology around us."

"We're such outsiders, and people love it."

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Tim Scarlett, Social Sciences

It wasn't a door to anything in particular anymore. Rusted, warped, with cracks repaired some time in the distant past, the old iron stove door was dug from the ground near the old settlement of Clifton on the Keweenaw Peninsula. For Tim Scarlett, behind this door is a story, one that connects physical objects to their environment. More than anything, however, objects like the stove door tell a uniquely human story. From this door Scarlett is able to pull details like the stove's expense, where it was probably installed, and how it came to have parts of it in a field.

The past they study physically and philosophically connects people with each other and their surroundings. Ultimately, that means the industrial archaeologist has to be a bit of an intellectual dilettante, bringing together knowledge from a variety of fields to build wisdom, but it also requires being aware of what there is to know, what knowledge there can be.

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Jared Anderson, Visual and Performing Arts

The Republic of Ragusa was a maritime state centered on the city of Dubrovnik. Their citizens were renowned as skilled diplomats and ambassadors: the city made a name for itself through the connections it forged.

Jared Anderson and the Concert Choir from Michigan Tech fostered connections on their tour of the region as well, a new generation of diplomats in the spirit of Dubrovnik, tucked at the far southern tip of Croatia. From nearby Mostar to Trebinje to Ljubljana, the choir acted as ambassadors, exchanging their musical experience for the wash of history and culture throughout the region.

For many of us, these are places we only know from the news, from reports of conflict in the last few decades. To have these places become performance spaces, to forge musical connections to place and time, is much more positive, much more representative of life there.

"These wouldn't necessarily be the first places students would go in Europe," Anderson explains. "It has such a rich history as well as recent conflict, it's so important for us to understand. We needed to be here."

The choir only tours every three or four years, and the members vote on where to go. On previous excursions, they've gone to places like China, Brazil, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Mexico. In 2017 the choir traveled to South Africa.

"When we approach touring, we try to find places that interest the choir. Some of the community members of the choir had been to the region spoke very highly of it, and we do enjoy being off the beaten path."

For many of their concerts, in fact, American choir groups were rare to unheard of. Anderson attempted to select music that reflected both the diversity of the choir and its travels as well as the legacy of the regions in which they performed. Music ranging from regional folk songs to selections from composers such as W. A. Mozart, Arvo Pärt, and Morten Lauridsen were featured throughout the tour.

More important, though, is connecting with these places, experiencing the people and culture, roots that we know better than we realize.

"There was a real warmth for our singing, and we had a real warmth for the region by the end of the tour."

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