In the Spring of 2015 Kealy Smith received a bachelor's degree from Michigan Technological University. In December his sister Alyssa earned a master's degree. In earning their respective degrees, the siblings continued a family tradition that began in 1927.
When Alyssa Smith, graduated from Michigan Technological University with a master’s degree in Civil Engineering in December 2015, she did more than receive a diploma. She wrote the latest chapter in a family history that began nearly 90 years ago.
Smith is the latest member of her family to attend Michigan Tech, an odyssey spanning four generations. She is also the third generation of female Tech graduates. Alyssa earned her undergraduate degree in 2014 and her older brother Kealy received a degree in computer and electrical engineering last spring.
The sibling’s family journey began in 1927, when their great-grandfather, Paul Edgar Young, left the University of Toronto and came to Houghton to attend the Michigan College of Mines. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering and won three varsity letters in basketball, his final year playing for legendary Tech coach Don Sherman. He also was a member of Theta Tau fraternity.
In the years before the Great Depression, Paul Young began an educational tradition that his son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren would follow.
Young’s son, Michael, attended Tech from 1961 to 1965 and, like his father before him, majored in mining engineering. Young was a member of Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Gamma Epsilon and Blue Key. He was also a member of Sigma Rho fraternity and remembers causing a stir during the 1963 Winter Carnival.
“In those days Sig Rho built their statues where the Rozsa Center now stands, next to what was Sherman Gym,” Michael Young said. “The theme was ‘Bygone Buffoonery,’ and we caused quite a controversy on campus by creating a pregnant Statue of Liberty.”
Michael Young fondly remembers his father’s return to the Houghton campus and eating “greasy pizza” with him at the Golden Pheasant (affectionately referred to as "the Brass Duck" by three generations) and other local landmarks.
It was at Michigan Tech that Michael Young met Priscilla Mae Schaffer, a geology major who would become his wife. Michael and Priscilla live in Portage, Wisconsin where Michael still consults in the mining industry. He started a small company recently and is currently writing a book about management.
Priscilla Young’s tales of her days in Houghton would influence her granddaughter decades later.
“My Nana would always talk about Tech when I was younger,” Alyssa Smith said. “She would talk about how she was one of a small population of women up at Tech, and so she had to show all the boys up in academics, which she did.” Priscilla was a member of Tau Beta PI and Sigma Gamma Epsilon.
Priscilla recalled the gratifying feeling of being the only woman in the Geological Engineering Department, yet having the highest GPA. She also recalls being the target of an odorous college prank.
“I remember having some lovely ‘toots’ (local nickname for Tech students at the time) putting a bunch of smelt around the engine of my Jeep. I didn’t find them until the smell overtook my vehicle,” Priscilla recalls.
That incident didn’t taint her Tech experience. Even though she left campus in 1965, before earning her degree, she did return 18 years later to receive her degree in Geological Engineering.
“There I was, in 1983, traipsing through the woods with the ‘youngsters’ to take the final class I needed to get my geological degree from Michigan Tech,” Priscilla says. One of those “youngsters” just happened to be her daughter Leora.
Priscilla and Michael’s daughter, Leora, became the third generation of Youngs to attend Michigan Tech in 1984, majoring in medical technology. In 1982 she participated in the Summer Youth Program where she took "bicycling Biology and Geology" and was hooked.
"Walking across that stage to receive my diploma with my husband, both of us with honors, was a special memory."Leora Smith
Like her father and grandfather before her, Leora embraced Greek life, joining Alpha Xi Zeta. She also experienced another historical aspect of life at Tech, broomball. She said she was one of the first females to work with flooding and upkeep on the outdoor broomball rink . There she encountered a not-so-subtle form of sexism.
“The boys would not allow me to run the snow blower because they felt I couldn’t handle it,” Leora Young recalls. “So instead I got to shovel. Funny how that works.”
A year after she arrived at Tech, Leora was joined by her brother David Young, an electrical engineering major. However it was another man who provided her with her fondest Tech memory.
“Walking across that stage to receive my diploma with my husband, both of us with honors, was a special memory,” Leora Smith says.
Brett Smith agrees. “I felt so proud walking across the stage with my wife.”
And like his mother-in-law a generation earlier, Smith says he experienced some vehicular shenanigans as well.
“We were living in Dollar Day in 1989, the record breaking snow year. We left our car in the street over Christmas Break,” Brett says “When we came back, someone had cross-country skied right over our car.” Brett also has memories of when family came to visit, saying, "We would do donuts in the parking lot, in grandma's Cadillac, after hours of tubing on the hill behind Pamida."
Leora and Brett live in Iron Mountain where Brett is in mining/manufacturing, and her brother David is a sales manager for Great Northern forestry products in Elk Mound, Wisconsin. He started at Michigan Tech as an Electrical Engineering major but moved to management.
With her family history entwined with Michigan Tech, it is no wonder that Alyssa Smith says her career path and education choice were determined pretty early on.
“When I was in middle school, I already knew what I wanted to do — design buildings,” she says. “I was good at math in high school and having been heavily influenced by all the engineers in my life, I decided to go into civil engineering. Michigan Tech was the obvious choice.”
Kealy also had an obvious choice in terms of his major, "I have always had a love for anything electronic". When it came to choosing a college the answer was clear. After one semester he added the electrical engineering Major.
Like their mother before them, the Smiths embraced all that Michigan Tech had to offer, especially broomball.
Alyssa was the only female player on the Average Pros team that advanced to the semi finals in 2012. Kealy, also on the team, took it a step farther. “I was a player and a ref during the 2012 season, and referee manager in 2013” he says. They were teammates on more than the Average Pros broomball team and worked together to take first place in the Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education (PACE) competition.
Alyssa is currently living and working in St. Paul while her brother is working in Grand Rapids. Both are planning weddings in the near future—both to Tech Alumni.
So there it is, the latest chapter in the Michigan Tech saga of the Youngs and Smiths, but it might be best to leave the book open. It may be a couple of decades away, but there’s no telling how many great, great grandkids will be Huskies.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 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.