Strategic Concentrations

Transforming our World and Creating the Whole Person

Creativity

The creative process is developed through direct experience with problems whose solutions require balancing multiple factors simultaneously. Increasingly, it is assumed that a hallmark of an educated person in any profession or walk of life is the ability to solve problems creatively. It remains the case, however, that students encounter the challenges of creativity in particularly clear form in Theatre, Art, and Music. The result of the solution must be manifest in a work of art that embodies the best solution for the circumstances in a manner accessible to others. Such problems develop the intuitive and analytical functions, demand above average cognitive complexity, intelligence, concentration, and attention to detail in both the product and the process of creation. The scope of an art project is limited but complex and, therefore, allows students to practice, in a controlled environment, the skills and qualities of mind needed to attack highly complex problems in critical studies and research in any other field of endeavor. Practice in creative activities frees the mind from linear thinking models, demands grasping the problem whole and in many inter-related dimensions, and requires precise communication.

The arts, are not, of course, the only domain where practice with creative solutions can be cultivated, and the College is committed to fostering creative efforts on all departments, whether in the form of innovative strategies to experimental design in laboratory investigations, the encouragement of creative writing and literary expression, or the development of computer games as in the "Husky Game" Enterprise.

Culture, Communication, Ethics

The College's motto states, in part, that that we work to "create the whole person." Faculty and departments do this in several ways. First, through CSA's central role in General Education we provide the bases in communication, the fine arts, the liberal arts, mathematics, the natural sciences, and the social sciences to equip students with the knowledge and skills to be broad-based contributors to society. Second, we lead take students to deeper understandings of their roles in the world emphasizing the ethical issues that they will confront in the workplace and public life. We take this charge especially seriously, since the core faculty responsible for this task (Humanities, Social Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts) realize the essential necessity of developing engineers and scientists who are aware of both the challenges and opportunities that flow from modern science and technology. Finally, we enrich not only the students' lives, but those of faculty and staff as well through our research and scholarship that integrates communication, culture, and ethics into the entire work of MTU.

Diversity

Every department in the College of Sciences and Arts is committed to attracting and retaining a fully diverse body of students, staff and faculty. The college boasts a reasonably diverse group of students and has made significant strides in recruiting excellent female faculty members. We need to do more to address the under-representation of ethnic and racial minorities in all areas, recognizing that our geographic location and the type of university we are pose special challenges as we pursue these goals. Appendix 4 describes the planned activities of every department and the college during the time period covered by this plan.

Emerging Sciences and Technology

As a technological university, it is no surprise that the current academic landscape is marked by a number of new and emerging fields of study. NSF, for example, has highlighted the convergence of work in the realms of nano-scale science and engineering (nano), biological sciences (bio), cognitive neuroscience (cogno) and information technology (info). All are deeply interdisciplinary; indeed, each involves scholars from many different domains and actually blurs the traditional boundaries between science and engineering. In addition, social science and humanities scholars concerned with the societal implications of the new knowledge being developed work right alongside their science-based colleagues. Thus CSA is devoting significant attention to several fields of emerging science and technology.

Nanostructured materials and devices made from those materials are expected to become the essential building blocks of future technology. New developments in this area will impact a vast range of technologies ranging from electronics to pharmaceutical and bio-technology, within the next few decades. Research into carbon nanotubes, photonic crystals, and biomedical materials is leading to innovations in molecular-scale electronics, motors, and sensors. An interdisciplinary undergraduate minor and graduate certificate administered with the College (physics and social sciences) represent key educational activities in this area, while significant research in this area is ongoing in the physics and chemistry departments.

Computational Biophysics and Systems Biology aim at unveiling the fundamental mechanisms in living organisms through modeling these molecules and their interaction and regulation. This integrated approach, blending computer science, mathematics, biology, biochemistry, and physics allows an analysis and interpretation of genome and experimental data through modeling of molecular networks and simulation of cellular biophysics.

Computing and Information Science: Integral Part of all Curricula

Advancing computing capabilities drive developments in nearly every field of academia. These developments in turn require further advances in computing as scholars tackle larger and more complex problems. New domain-based computational fields continue to emerge as the interplay of computing and specific disciplines require depth of knowledge in both a given discipline and computation. In 2007, the College proposed to develop a Faculty of Computing and Information Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET) involving every college and school at Michigan Tech, similar to Cornell University's virtual Faculty of Computing and Information Science (CIS).1 This idea has moved forward slowly, but CISET definitely could encourage interdisciplinary collaboration to accelerate knowledge creation and discovery by bridging science, engineering and technology and their applications to sustainable economic development. Michigan Tech grants M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science, Computational Science and Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, along with undergraduate majors in Bioinformatics, Cheminformatics, Computer Engineering, Computer Network & System Administration, Computer Science, Computer Systems Science, Electrical Engineering, Management Information Systems, Software Engineering, and Scientific & Technical Communication. Students in any degree program can enhance their credentials with a minor in Computer Science. Programs in the digital arts are being developed. Interdisciplinary research is enriching all academic disciplines and stimulating a new level of student interest in computing. Just as the needs of computational science and engineering have led to dramatic advances in high-performance computing, other areas such as biology, business, communication, and the social sciences are calling for new software methods, tools, and products that serve a broad spectrum of commercial and individual users.

Psychology/Human Factors

Technology is built for, and exists to be used by people. Yet by disregarding and misunderstanding human behavior, human needs and wants, technologists often design unusable, confusing, and unappealing technologies. Human Factors is the science of human-centered technology; it is the science of how humans interact with technology and built environments. Human Factors is interdisciplinary, integrating psychology with engineering, technology, and computer science. It is focused on the primary goal of making humans and things work better together. Technologies are often inherently unsafe by design. Although major hazards and disasters are often attributed to human operator error, the true culprit often turns out to be design error, e.g. a failure by designers of technology to take into consideration how humans actually operate. Human-centered design is safe and profitable design. Unusable and confusing products will eventually be abandoned by consumers, in favor of usable and understandable products. Finally, work settings with poor ergonomics tend to be wasteful work settings, causing more materials to be used than necessary. Human-centered design is environmentally benign design. The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences will launch its doctoral program in this field in fall 2010, with support from several faculty in Computer Science, Exercise Science, and other departments across CSA and COE. The growth of the program in Human Factors Psychology in will allow the university to support and sustain research projects that explore the interface of human and technological systems.

All these emergent sciences and technologies pose challenging questions about ethical, legal, and societal implications—questions posed and explored especially in the humanities and social sciences. Our teaching program of courses and a minor and graduate certificate in nanotechnology places special attention upon ethics, risk communication, and study of the social interactions surrounding emerging technologies.2

Health

Health has become the largest field for scientific research in the country, primarily because there is an obvious benefit to all citizens from the findings of medical researchers. As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invest more than $30.5 billion annually, with 80% of that dispersed through more than 50,000 grants supporting 325,000 researchers 3,000 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state. By way of contrast, NSF's 2010 budget request was for $7.045 billion, an increase of $555 million (8.5 percent) over the 2009 appropriation of $6.49 billion (a one-time appropriation of $3.0 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009); the 2011 budget request is for $7.424 billion.3

Michigan Tech has recognized the opportunity offered by the presence of such large sources of funding for health-related research. Key steps include designating Health as an SFHI target for 2010-12, and the decisions of CSA departments to recruit new faculty in this area. CSA considers health a priority target for the expansion of faculty expertise and research activity. Importantly, CSA is determined to grow its research through collaboration and integration of many disciplines in the fields of physiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, exercise science, statistical genetics, biophysics, and biomedical technology. While programs are growing in biology, chemistry and exercise science, almost every department in the College of Sciences and Arts has or is developing connections to health research and education, as can be seen in the department updates below. Thus humanities hopes to recruit a bioethicist, while physics continues to strengthen its computational modeling of biophysical systems and mathematical sciences faculty pursue projects in statistical genetics. Perhaps most significantly, the exercise science department intends to press forward with development of a graduate program with a target date of fall 2012. With the new faculty coming on board in fall 2010 (Chen and Durocher) and supporting faculty in psychology (Paul Ward), the department will explore a PhD/MS program in Kinesiology. All faculty involved already are research active and working with graduate students through other programs (i.e., Bio, BME, HF). The chemistry and biology departments are exploring the option of an interdisciplinary PhD degree in biochemistry in order to attract students who do not consider traditional degrees in chemistry or biology.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education

In order for the US to remain competitive, it is essential that American high schools graduate more students with strong math and science skills and that more students be attracted to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. This has been established as a national priority in numerous reports from a multitude of government agencies. It is estimated that US schools will have to hire 200,000 middle and high school mathematics and science teachers during the coming decade just to replace teachers who will retire. Until the economic recession, the demand for certified teachers was growing as states are increasing high school graduation requirements in mathematics and science. This is likely to return as a priority as the economy returns to a more normal situation.

This increasing need for STEM skills and more rigorous high school requirements will require a high quality math and science teaching force. Michigan Tech is particularly well positioned to respond to this national priority, and the central elements reside within the college. Our teacher preparation program has focused on certification of mathematics and science teachers for secondary schools, and earned a solid reputation for our graduates. The department of cognitive & learning sciences, working with other academic units on campus, has offered a M.S. program in Applied Science Education (MSASE), as well as professional development programs for teachers to improve their content knowledge and pedagogical skills. Tracks in the MSASE program allow students seeking teaching skills to pursue Peace Corps service, and to science teachers who wish to become certified in the Earth sciences. Moreover, the unit has secured external support for a range or educational research and implementation plans, working with a variety of local school partners, including the Copper Country Intermediate School District. We intend to pursue aggressively further external opportunities.

Sustainability

Building a sustainable world is intrinsic to the Michigan Tech strategic plan, which incorporates the goal of integrating sustainability into all our endeavors. Thus, a consideration of the long-term effects of our activities on human and environmental health must be incorporated into research and education efforts throughout the campus. Developing a sustainable society is a multi-dimensional challenge requiring shared talents drawn from many disciplines, and this is the second primary research priority of the CSA that reaches to nearly every department. Within the College of Sciences and Arts faculty in the humanities and social sciences departments address the ethical, philosophical, and policy aspects of designing a sustainable society. The department of biological sciences provides fundamental knowledge on the functioning of ecosystems and organisms, which is essential to preserving natural environments in a human-dominated world. In particular, the presence of Lake Superior and the natural settings of the Upper Peninsula provides natural laboratories for understanding the interaction of people and nature. Meeting our needs for energy now and into the future without compromising the health of the planet requires innovative basic research in chemistry and physics. And faculty in several departments contribute to the interdisciplinary study of atmospheric chemistry, while Green Chemistry aims to meet our material needs while minimizing our impact on the environment.

The American Chemical Society, the State of Michigan, and companies that employ our graduates are all advocating an increased awareness of the principles of green chemistry in the graduate and undergraduate curricula. Green chemistry differs from previous approaches to many environmental issues. Rather than using regulatory restrictions, it unleashes the creativity and innovation of our scientists and engineers in designing and discovering the next generation of chemicals and materials so that they provide increased performance and increased value while meeting all goals to protect and enhance human health and the environment. Climate and environmental issues are ultimately issues of material and energy flow, the basis of chemistry. An increased focus on green chemistry is inevitable in both research and teaching realms.


1. See http://www.cis.cornell.edu/about.html.

2. See http://nano.mtu.edu/nanominor.htm.

3. See http://www.nih.gov/about/budget.htm; http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2010/index.jsp; and http://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2011/index.jsp.