Gierke Named Michigan Professor of the Year

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

John Gierke is one of three faculty members statewide to receive the first Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award from the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan.

Gierke, an associate professor in Michigan Tech’s Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, was cited for excellence in both undergraduate education and research.

The winners were selected from a slate of 15 candidates, each nominated by one of the state’s public universities. This is the first time the Presidents Council has presented the awards, which recognize superior achievement in undergraduate education.

Gierke advises the Aqua Terra Tech Enterprise, which developed a watershed model for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and has worked in Nicaragua to help provide a town with a clean, reliable water-supply. His students have also helped a Detroit-area school develop a rain garden to minimize runoff and restore groundwater.

“I have watched this program closely and am continually impressed with it, using it as a model for others,” said Wayne Pennington, chair of geological and mining engineering and sciences. “Dr. Gierke and his student groups publish regularly, and students present their work at conferences among professionals. Sometimes, they are not even recognized as undergraduates.”

Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School, supported Gierke’s nomination. “He has an easy-going, down-to-earth approach that allows him to interact in a collegial way with people from all walks of life,” she said. “His ability to motivate students and community members is phenomenal. I can think of no other person who is more deserving of this honor.”

Former Michigan Tech student Kathleen Lindstrom appreciated Gierke’s teaching style, which relies on “hand-written notes and equations on the chalkboard.”

“Rather than dazzle his student with pretty PowerPoint presentations, he really took the time to plan and carry out his classes in a way that led his students to a true understanding of concepts and techniques,” she said.

Gierke stressed the importance of integrating mentoring and teaching. “Teaching without mentoring is for me only a transfer of facts and information,” he wrote. Mentoring, especially through projects such as Aqua Terra Tech, “has allowed me to have the greatest impact on the most students, helping them develop practical and leadership skills that otherwise might not be experienced until their first professional position after graduation.”

The other two recipients of the Distinguished Professor of the Year Award are geology professor Mark Francek, of Central Michigan University, and Heather Neff, a professor of English literature at Eastern Michigan University.

Undergraduate education is a central mission of the state’s 15 public universities, and the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year recognition program honors the outstanding contributions made by faculty in this arena, said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council.

"Our universities are only as good as our faculty,” he said. “These 15 nominees demonstrate the quality of education we celebrate. We'd like to thank every faculty member for their dedication to higher education and to each and every student."

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.