Barton on Grad School at Tech: Short on Thai Restaurants, Long on Good People
by Marcia Goodrich, senior writer
Rodwick Barton admitted to feeling a little "awkward" at the July 10 reception celebrating his brand new PhD. "I know smarter PhD candidates, others who have gone through more than I have," he noted.
By accident of birth, Barton has found himself at the center of a small celebration, but who can blame the party-goers? When he came to Michigan Tech in 2004, he set foot on the road to becoming the University's first African American to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering. Now, he is off to Seattle to take a position with Boeing.
Born and bred in Detroit, Barton earned his BS and MS degrees in Chemical Engineering from Wayne State University and worked at GM and Henry Ford Community College. He was also involved with DAPCEP, a Detroit-based nonprofit devoted to increasing the number of minority students pursuing careers in STEM fields.
He had barely heard of Michigan Tech, and getting a terminal degree was at the bottom of his to-do list. Then Barton encountered Tech's former assistant director of admissions, Rochelle Danquah, who talked him into visiting Houghton. "I met [chemical engineering professor] Julie King, and I saw how dedicated she was to her research. I came back in May 2004, and here I am now," he says with a happy shrug.
King and Associate Professor Jason Keith (Chemical Engineering) were his advisors, shepherding him through the completion of his dissertation on the electrical connectivity of composite materials in the bipolar plates used in fuel cells.
"I owe them a huge debt of gratitude," he said. "They made me a better student; they were dedicated to my finishing my PhD and to my personal well being."
As for the community, "I've had the fortune to meet many good-hearted people," said Barton. "I have had some bad instances—the 'N' word thrown out—but I try not to judge the people by the person."
Among the many good people are Laurie and Sander Ansingh of Houghton, who took him under their collective wing after meeting him in the Library restaurant shortly after he arrived and fed him many home-cooked meals.
"It's been great here, and I've had a good time," Barton said. "When I leave, tears will be shed."
For a person accustomed to urban amenities, Houghton takes some adjustment, he said, especially the dearth of ethnic restaurants; the mention of Thai food in particular elicits a melancholy sigh.
That said, his advice to fellow African Americans weighing whether to come north for a graduate education is simple. "Just do it," he said. "Be open. I learned how to cross-country ski and how to sail here.
"And I am so happy to have 'Michigan Tech' on my resume."