A Tech family legacy
The Harris family ties to Michigan Tech read like a chapter from the Old Testament.
Arthur begat Norman and Bernard '38. Bernard '38 begat Timothy '81; and Norman begat Ted '49, Gene, Richard '49, and Jerry '53.
Ted '49 begat Michael Pingel '95 and Thomas; and Thomas begat Laura, Class of 2014. Jerry '53 begat Geri Lynn, Michael '80, Steven '81, Gregory '83, James '85, and Donald '89. Geri Lynn begat Jessica Mariano '09.
And, in conclusion, at least for the moment, Michael '80 begat Ben, Class of 2011.
All told, that's twelve alumni, a senior, and a freshman, all members of the Harris clan, whose Tech connections began in the 1930s with Uncle Bernie. That's not even counting the Harrises who attended Tech but didn't graduate, the alumnae spouses, and those who chose a different path all together.
Three of the Harris alumni and the two Harris students helped the University kick off the Generations of Discovery capital campaign in September during Homecoming 2010: Jerry, Mike, Jessica, Ben, and Laura.
Jerry's story began in the late 1940s while he was still a high school kid in Escanaba. On weekends he would travel up north to ski with his three brothers, who were already at Tech on the GI Bill. Jerry passed on a football scholarship at Case Western Reserve because he wanted to be an engineer, and, from his brothers, he knew Tech was the place for engineering. Plus, the skiing and golf were too good to pass up. "Michigan Tech had no competition," he said.
Since earning his civil engineering degree in 1953, Jerry has lived several professional lives: first as an officer in the navy's Civil Engineer Corps, then as an engineer with the Michigan State Highway Department and Standard Oil. Next, he managed a cable television company, taught at Northern Michigan University, and finally consulted in Indonesia with the Louis Berger Group.
He never regretted his decision. "Everything I've done in my life after college was influenced by Michigan Tech," he said. His schooling laid the groundwork for a successful career, but the best outcome, Jerry insists, was his wife, Carole. "The highlight was the commission in the US Navy," he said. "There I met the very attractive daughter of one of my fellow officers."
Jerry and Carole raised six children in Escanaba, and all five sons followed their father's footsteps to Michigan Tech. Mike was the first. "I was looking at schools that were reasonably close and affordable," he remembers. He also wanted to study premed, "but didn't want to go to a big downstate school." And, like his father, the skiing and the outdoors lured him to the Keweenaw.
Mike enrolled at Tech in 1976 and was followed in quick succession by brothers Steven, Gregory, James, and Donald. Jerry and Carole, faced with a steady stream of sons attending the same university, developed a cost-cutting strategy.
"After my junior year, Dad bought a house on Wright Street in Hancock we called the Harris Hilton," Mike said. "We converted it into a guys' dorm. At the end of their freshman year, each of my brothers would move into the Hilton. We'd split the utilities, and the non-Harrises paid rent. There was room for eight."
"Carole and I also provided a car, though there was sometimes a question as to whether or not it would run," Jerry said.
In any event, transportation to Tech was never a problem in those days. "You could always get a ride," said Mike. "If you'd walk out on the street, invariably someone would pick you up."
Mike came to Tech because he hoped to get into med school, and he did, at the University of Michigan. There, he soon learned to appreciate his undergraduate preparation and the Tech culture.
"There was a certain attitude among some of the med students," he said. "You could always tell who went to certain universities because they were better than everybody else—just ask them."
He also was surprised to learn that competition was so rabid in other schools' preprofessional programs that students would sabotage each other's work. It didn't pay to leave a lab in mid-experiment. "But here at Tech, we formed a society to encourage success among our peers," he said. The results spoke for themselves: fourteen of Mike's fifteen classmates who applied to medical school were accepted.
Mike recently closed his urology practice in Traverse City and is now in the Detroit area researching the effectiveness of various prostate cancer treatments. He practices at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and West Bloomfield Henry Ford Hospital and is the chief of urology at the Dingell VA Hospital.
Studying biological sciences at a school best known for engineering helped make it possible, said Mike's wife, Joan. "He understands the logistics of everything, from business to quality assurance," she said. "The foundation that Tech gave him and his brothers is just phenomenal."
Mike's brother Jim followed a similar path. After graduating from Michigan Tech and the University of Michigan Medical School, he completed a surgical residency and a fellowship at
Harvard and now is a surgeon in North Carolina. Brothers
Steve, Greg, and Don all are successful mechanical engineers.
The next generation of Harrises is carrying on the Tech tradition. Freshman Laura is still settling in: "So far, so good," she says after her first month of classes.
She became enamored of the Upper Peninsula during childhood visits to her grandparents' farm in the tiny town of Trenary. Later, when she began taking aptitude tests, environmental engineering kept popping up to the top of the list. "The more I learned about it, the more I fell in love with it," Laura said. "I chose Michigan Tech once I decided on engineering."
Her second cousin Jessica Mariano became the first female in the Harris line to earn a Michigan Tech degree, in 2009.
Despite the preponderance of engineers and scientists in her family, Jessica soon realized that engineering wasn't for her and majored instead in psychology. She earned her degree in 2009 and is now in graduate school at Western Michigan University.
Jessica has discovered that, like her uncles and grandfather Jerry, Tech prepared her very well. "We were doing things in our research methods class at Western that I had done as an undergrad," she said.
Tech's opportunities for leadership, community involvement, and research helped to give Jessica that edge. While an undergraduate, she volunteered with local crisis intervention service Dial Help and worked with Greek organizations to provide escort service so female students didn't have to walk home alone at night.
She also researched why some secondary students pursue higher education in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math, and some don't. "They need a mentor," she said.
There's no shortage of mentors in the Harris family, which is one reason Mike's son Ben expects to graduate in 2011 with a BS in Chemical Engineering.
"It's working out really well," he says. "The school has been good in a multitude of ways. The Unit Operations Lab is a good example of why Tech is a great school for hands-on academics. But the thing I'm most impressed with is how much Tech offers in terms of activities, opportunities for leadership, and growing socially."
Ben has participated in Tech's Enterprise program, conducted research, and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. He was also a program coordinator in Wadsworth Hall and a resident assistant in Douglass Houghton Hall. Plus, he plays his heart out in broomball and frisbockey, a relatively new Tech tradition combining hockey and ultimate Frisbee.
Ben has no doubt that he will be ready to uphold the Harris legacy when he crosses the podium next May at Spring Commencement.
"Being here," he said, "has made me think like an engineer, perform like a professional, and play like a Husky."