Martin Jurgensen has a long history of service to Michigan Tech and commitment to providing excellent education and experiences to students.
Jurgensen came to Tech in 1970. He was an excellent teacher for many years, winning the School of Forestry and Wood Product’s teaching excellence award in its first year of existence in 1987-88, and then winning it three more times, once in the 1990’s and twice in the 2000’s. In the year 2000, he won Michigan Tech’s university-wide Distinguished Teaching Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the Society of American Foresters with their Carl Alwin Schenk Teaching Award.
A key to Jurgensen’s excellent teaching was getting students out into the field for hands-on experience and providing soils knowledge that can make a difference in their ability to manage forests and other natural systems in a sustainable way.
“When I was an undergraduate forestry student, I wanted to manage forests in a sustainable manner to benefit society and future generations,” he said. “However, my graduate studies and subsequent research activity showed me that to maintain healthy forest ecosystems you have to manage the soil.”
Jurgensen won Tech’s Faculty Research Award in 1978 as a result of his early research on the impacts of forest harvesting on soils.
The same research knowledge that Jurgensen used to develop standards for coarse woody debris and surface organic matter retention during harvest that are widely used by the US Forest Service was incorporated into his undergraduate teaching from day one. Knowledge of management impacts on soil properties and forest productivity gained from his efforts with the Long-Term Soil Productivity study was similarly immediately integrated into his teaching.
“My teaching and research program emphasizes the interaction of plants, animals and soil, and how they impact forest ecosystem productivity and sustainability. All students in my classes and working on my research studies learn not to treat soil like dirt!”
Jurgensen’s commitment to instruction is further illustrated by his endowing of the Jurgensen Teaching Excellence Fund at Michigan Tech. This fund provides an annual award to a faculty member for short-course training, special classroom equipment, or visits from outside speakers to augment specific topics within a course and enhance the College’s educational mission. Similarly, he has co-endowed the Shetron-Jurgensen Annual Fellowship, which helps provide financial support to graduate students studying soils or below-ground ecosystems.
Jurgensen has been key to the initiation and success of multiple long-term research efforts. These projects have aided the career development of numerous scientists and produced research results that have been used for decades to provide standards to ensure soil sustainability in managed forests. This began with his early work on the impacts of forest harvesting on soils, which resulted in standards for conserving soil and surface organic matter during timber harvest and site preparation. These standards are being incorporated into USDA Forest Service management plans across the country to this day.
His most significant long-term contribution has been developing wood stakes as an ideal test material for large-scale forest ecosystem decomposition studies, as they can be inserted into mineral soil with little disturbance, and decomposition can be measured by both wood strength loss and wood mass loss at different soil depths.
Not only has Jurgensen always helped students academically, he has worked to create opportunities for students to develop connections and relationships with their classmates. He was always active in organizing campfires, bowling, and games of football to ensure students feel at home at Michigan Tech. He has been instrumental in planning Summer Potluck Picnics for Forestry alumni—just to get together and share stories and discuss how their time at Michigan Tech helped shape their careers.
Jurgensen, who retired from tenured faculty in January 2013, continues to serve as a research professor in retirement. He was bestowed Michigan Tech's Honorary Alumni Award in 2022.
Updated May 2022