Fortune 500 Companies At Home in Houghton
Two major national corporations are partnering with Michigan Tech to provide hands-on work experience in Houghton. GE Aviation of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is expanding its University Development Center, and Ford Motor Company has opened an information technology development center.
GE Aviation’s center has brought fifty jobs to Houghton, employing up to forty engineering students. Students perform the kinds of work they are studying at the University, in teams led by senior technical specialists and junior graduate engineers. A $1-million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation helped the City of Houghton renovate and expand the Powerhouse building and encouraged GE to choose Houghton as the site for its center.
Ford’s new IT development center recruits students across many disciplines, from computer science and mechanical engineering to business and technology. They do programming development and support for vehicle computer systems and the plant-floor device systems used in manufacturing.
“Providing hands-on, experiential education is a top priority at the University, and these new centers provide superb opportunities for our students to develop professional skills that will make them outstanding employees and entrepreneurs,” says Tech President Glenn D. Mroz.
Carlton Crothers, CEO of the Michigan Tech Enterprise SmartZone—a state and local partnership to develop high-tech businesses—calls the centers a boon to the Upper Peninsula in many ways. “They bring outside money in, create jobs, and enable students to earn money doing meaningful work while going to school,” he notes. “They also can help recent graduates stay in Houghton to work and pursue graduate studies at Michigan Tech.”
PANK Continues Literary Tradition
A new journal is emanating from Michigan Tech and turning heads in the literary world. PANK’s second issue is hot off the presses, and the third is receiving more submissions of poems, art, nonfiction, and fiction than its small editorial staff can handle.
“It’s continuing a Tech tradition,” says Matt Seigel, assistant professor of diverse literatures and creative writing and editor of PANK. “There’s been a history of student ’zines, literary or otherwise, on campus. There’s Blue Ice Anthology and the now-defunct, in-house student literary magazine, C, upon which we built PANK.”
While PANK aims for a much broader forum than its predecessors, students are still at the heart of the publication. Humanities students edit, design, and produce PANK, while business students work on the financial and marketing end of the publication. Seigel is also proud of the number of student readers he has. “There are a lot of Tech students reading top-shelf contemporary literature because of PANK.”
With a modest print run of five hundred annual copies, PANK is still managing to attract positive attention from the national and international writing markets. “We have two new poems from Ernesto Cardinal,” Seigel says of the Nicaraguan poet who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. “It’s a nice mix of prominent, new, and local voices.”
And, about the name?
“We wanted something that reflected the cultural experience of Michigan Tech and the Keweenaw,” Seigel says, “and my assistant editor, Megan Hess, a recent graduate in liberal arts, dug out a mining dictionary and found ‘PANK.’ We test-marketed the word, it was positively received, and most knew its meaning.”
For the record, “PANK” is both the local combination of “pat” and “spank”—as in “Pank down the snow”—and the act of packing dynamite into holes for blasting in mines.
Riding the Rails into the Future
The closest railroad track is a narrow-gauge loop that transports tourists around a local museum. But Michigan Tech is betting on the future by establishing a rail transportation program within the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute (MTTI).
CSX Transportation, one of the largest freight railroad companies in North America, recently donated $33,000 for the new program with continuing support in following years. “CSX recognizes the importance of rail engineering programs as the rail industry continues to flourish, providing unlimited opportunities for new engineers,” says Lisa Weldon, CSX’s manager of professional recruiting.
“The railroad industry is hungry for young people with training and interest in rail transportation,” said Pasi Lautala. A research assistant professor at MTTI who earned his PhD at Michigan Tech, Lautala has been named director of the new program.
The United States “forgot” rail transportation for decades, but the rest of the world kept right on developing it, Lautala observes. “Rail transportation is about to enjoy a renaissance in this country,” he said. “It’s an alternative that makes sense, and it is something that this country is going to need.”
Growing numbers of Michigan Tech students seem to agree. In 2004, Lautala established an international summer program in railway engineering: Summer in Finland. In its first four years, sixty-two students from six different disciplines have completed the intensive five-week program, a collaboration among Michigan Tech, the Tampere University of Technology, and the North American and Finnish railroad industry.
Enthusiastic Tech students have established a Railroad Engineering and Activities Club, and it now has more than thirty members.
“Michigan Tech’s rail and Summer in Finland programs turned a childhood interest into a career opportunity,” says Bill Sawin, a 2007 civil engineering graduate who now works as a design engineer with the Norfolk Southern transportation company.
In addition to Summer in Finland, the University is offering three rail-related courses on campus: introduction to railroad engineering, track design and construction, and public transit planning and engineering.
Lautala hopes to see the initiative grow into a multidisciplinary certificate program in rail transportation. His enthusiastic vision includes a rail transportation enterprise or rail-related projects within the current Enterprise Program, where a student-run company tackles real-world challenges with funding from industry. He also foresees faculty research projects that cross departmental lines, internships and co-ops, and more support from the railroad industry.
By focusing on the future, the Tech rail initiative is on the right track.
Tech Nobel Connection . . .
At least two members of the Michigan Tech community have ties to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to former Vice President Al Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Tech people were involved in the birth of the group and in its recommendations that ultimately earned the prize.
Barry Solomon, a professor in the Department of Social Sciences, worked
in the US Environmental Protection Agency when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was just getting under way.
“I helped staff the secretariat in Washington, DC, from 1989 to 1991,” Solomon says. “We were working on climate change, and when the IPCC was first established, it had only minimal resources.”
Solomon helped develop and coauthor some of the panel’s initial reports and reviewed chapters for several later reports.
Susann Nordrum ’86 , a scientist at Chevron studying carbon dioxide, coauthored two chapters of the UN panel’s 2006 Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, part of the panel’s work on climate change that earned the Nobel Prize. As Taka Hirashi, chair of the IPCC Guidelines effort, said in an email congratulating the authors and editors of the guidelines, “you all are winners of this prize.”
The Nobel recognized the panel’s efforts to provide information about climate change over the last two decades and to lay the groundwork for sound policy-making.
There were certainly other Michigan Tech connections, but Solomon’s involvement at its very start and Nordrum’s involvement with the work that earned it the Nobel Peace Prize are two indications of Michigan Tech faculty and alumni in service to the world.
. . . From Unit Ops Lab to Nobel Prize
Susann Nordrum credits her Michigan Tech education for prepping her for Nobel Prize-winning work with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“The practical part, the hands-on experience in the Unit Operations Lab, was priceless,” says the 1986 chemical engineering graduate.
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering John Sandell ’86, one of Nordrum’s teammates in the lab, now teaches the senior UO Lab classes. He also remembers that “practical part,” especially the fourteen-hour days (and sometimes nights) in the lab.
For decades, surviving Unit Operations Lab has been a badge of honor for Tech’s chemical engineering graduates. “It was a lot of work,” recalls Katie Torrey ’00, MS ’01. “We were here from 7:00 am until the reaction was done, hopefully by 5:00 pm, but sometimes later.
“It was such a big production, and you only had one chance to get it right.”
The lab’s industry-standard training has prepared generations of chemical engineering students to stride from the classroom to the factory floor with nary a stumble. The lab remains among the nation’s best, thanks in part to a recent $50,000 donation from Dow Corning Corporation.
“We are very grateful to Dow Corning,” says department chair Komar Kawatra. “This is a world-class facility, and with these improvements, we will continue to provide our students with the very best hands-on chemical engineering education.”
“Dave Caspary, manager of laboratory facilities, continues to do an excellent job of keeping our UO Lab the best, most up-to-date facility of its kind in the US,” Kawatra adds.
Students produce a chemical used in making shampoo, and the Dow Corning upgrades have cut the processing time nearly in half, to about seven hours, while introducing students to the latest technology. The shorter processing time also allows precollege students in Tech’s Summer Youth Program to run experiments.
In addition, Dow Corning funded improvements in the control room (pictured left), where seniors monitor and control the process via a computer network. This year’s cohort has been redesigning the display to reflect the changes in the production process.
“We’re getting good, industry experience,” says senior Jeff Schricks. “It’s really interesting.”
His teammate Chad Daavettila says the UO Lab takes his Tech education to another level. “Compared to anything else we do,” he says, “it’s pretty cool.”
Sandell attributes that level of excellence to a longtime collaboration.
“UO Lab is built on the generosity of our industrial partners and the quality work of our staff—those who built the lab and have kept it world class over many years,” he says. “As a result, I have the privilege of teaching some of the finest students in this University in the best UO Lab in the country. I owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Wolf/Moose Research Celebration
Scientists have been studying the interactions and interdependence of wolves and moose at Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park for half a century. Now, a consortium of educational, governmental, and natural resource organizations is banding together to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest continuous predator-prey study ever conducted.
The Isle Royale wolf-moose study, conducted by researchers from Michigan Tech, began in 1958. Throughout 2008, the National Park Service, Tech, and partners in three states will host a series of events and programs and produce anniversary posters, books, lesson plans, and other special materials commemorating the study’s anniversary.
The activities will focus on education. “The anniversary is a fantastic opportunity to get kids excited about science and to inform the public about wolves, moose, conservation of natural resources, and the conduct of scientific research,” says Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park.
More information about the wolf-moose study, lesson plans for teachers, and a schedule of anniversary events can be found at www.wolfmoose.mtu.edu.
Clean Snowmobile Challenge Wrap‑up: Huskies Teams Succeed
They moved up to fourth place overall and won the award for best performance. It was a very good year for the Michigan Tech team in this year’s Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Clarkson won the internal combustion division of the challenge—teams had to use biofuel this year—and Wisconsin–Madison won the zero emissions division.
One of the best stories came from the Northern Illinois Huskies. Despite entering for the first time and enduring the tragic campus shooting just one month earlier, NIU’s was one of only four sleds to complete the endurance run of 100 miles.
“Classes were canceled and the campus was shut down, so access to our resources was severely restricted,” said team member Matt Davis. “We’ve been trying to use this project to get everyone’s mind off what happened.”
Michigan Tech’s thoughts and prayers remain with the Northern Illinois Huskies and their families.