The aurora borealis—it amazes, energizes and astounds with no two events ever being the same.
The aurora borealis—it amazes, energizes and astounds with no two events ever being the same.

2022 Provost’s Award Winner Plans to Practice Rural Medicine

Christian Johnson, an upcoming senior, won the 2022 Provost’s Award for Academics. He is pursuing a double major in Human Biology and English.  

Johnson’s goal is to go to medical school and become a primary care physician in a rural area.

 A native of Detroit, he choose Michigan Tech because the small size of the university and community appealed to him, and he found the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences so helpful.  He visited Tech many times and participated in a Summer Youth Program. “I could see myself being part of Michigan Tech community,” he says.

Christian Johnson
Christian Johnson

Johnson is pursuing a dual major in human biology and English. He worked with Greg Miodonski, a graduate student in Qinghui Chen’s lab, on a research project studying the effect of exercise training on cardiovascular function in animals.  Chen is a professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology and an affiliated professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering.

The research investigated how exercise impacts the function of small conductance calcium activated potassium (SK) channels in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) of rodents. Its goal was to assess whether exercise could augment SK channel function in normotensive and hypertensive rats and consequently sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure.  

“Christian was an invaluable assistant, and his Cool Hand Luke demeanor will be missed,” said Miodonski. “Working with rodents is challenging and can be intimidating, but Christian took to the rodents immediately. Unlike exercising humans, exercising rodents poses several challenges. Mainly, rodents are poor listeners and don't follow instructions too well. This means that exercising them requires diligence, focus and lots of patience. Christian exhibited all of these qualities. Some undergraduate assistants require a lot of mentoring and instruction before gaining autonomy, but not Christian. A quick study, he handled obstacles exactly how I would have and impressed me at every turn. Christian also aided me with recording blood pressures in conscious rodents. This is challenging and requires constant attention for many hours. Here again, Christian exceeded expectations.”

In addition to research, Johnson immersed himself in many activities at Michigan Tech, including the Blue Key National Honor Society, Alpha Epsilon Delta—the National Health Pre-professional Honor Society, the Pavlis Honors College, the Pre-Health Association, and Sexual Assault and Violence Education. He also worked as a writing coach in the Michigan Tech Writing Center, served as a resident assistant and in various other mentoring roles. He found time to serve as an active volunteer for Dial Help and recently had a piece of his creative writing published.

This summer he studied at the University of Stirling in Scotland, where he took courses to fulfill major requirements for his English degree.

“When I heard that I received the Provost's Award, I was shocked,” Johnson says. “Hearing all of the work I have been putting in and my accomplishments being read aloud; picking up the plaque; and shaking Dean Kampe's, Dean Southerland's, and President Koubek's hands is a moment I will never forget.”

Johnson is currently applying to medical schools. Being from Detroit and living in Houghton, he has had the opportunity to see medical care in both urban and rural settings. Working with Dial Help particularly opened his eyes to the struggles that rural area residents face in accessing resources and being able to see a physician. “That experience made me want to serve rural areas and help with the primary care physician shortages in those areas,” he says. 

2021 Provost Award Winner Says Research, Clinical Care Go Hand in Hand

Thomas Basala was the recipient of the 2021 Provost’s Award for Scholarship. He graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology.

Basala, who plans to attend medical school, is spending the summer as a lead intern at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. He will stay there for the rest of this year as a research associate.

The Provost’s Award for Scholarship recognizes a student who embodies Michigan Tech’s scholarship value statement:  We inspire world-class scholarship through academics, research, and continued learning.  It is awarded annually to a rising senior who has demonstrated excellence not only in academics but also in research, levels of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and communication skills.

Each department is invited to nominate one undergraduate for the award. In 2021, Basala was the Department of Biological Sciences’ nominee.

“Thomas is one of the most conscientious, reliable, and appreciative students I have met,” says John Durocher, adjunct associate professor of biological sciences. Basala worked in Durocher’s lab.

Thomas Basala
Thomas Basala

Basala says winning the Provost’s Award caught him by surprise. “There are so many talented students at Michigan Tech,” he explains.

A student in the Pavlis Honors College, he worked in the Clinical and Applied Physiology Lab throughout his years at Michigan Tech. He received two research grants while he was an undergraduate: a Michigan Space Grant Consortium young investigator award to study how nocturnal blood pressure relates to indices of cardiovascular risks such as arterial stiffness; and a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) to investigate the efficacy of pre-sleep meditation on sleep in young adults. “They were both very enriching to me,” he says.  

Basala presented his meditation research at the 2022 Experimental Biology conference in Philadelphia. Additionally, he presented work on the impact of decentering—the ability to dissociate from emotional feelings—on nocturnal blood pressure patterns at the 2021 Experimental Biology conference. Both abstracts were published in the FASEB (Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal.

He fell in love with research under Durocher’s mentorship.  “He taught me the minute nuances of doing human research,” Basala says.  ‘He helped me understand what it means to be a well-rounded researcher and active community member. “

Basala wants to become that kind of clinician/researcher. “I want research always to be part of the patient care I do,” he says. “Research and clinical care inform each other and, in many cases, should not be separated.”

Basala is from Stevens Point, Wisconsin. During his time at Tech, he served as president of the Triangle STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fraternity, a lieutenant with Michigan Tech EMS (Emergency Medical Services), and co-coordinator for the Global and Community Engagement Conference.

Student Leadership Awards

Every Spring, the annual Student Leadership Awards event at Michigan Tech celebrates and rewards the individual and group efforts of students involved in organizations across the MTU campus. There are awards for student employees, student organizations, programs, and more. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Spring 2020

Due to COVID-19, the event was held online in 2020. Several students in our department were recipients in recognition of their truly incredible accomplishments! Here is a list of winners from the Biological Sciences department:

President's Award for Leadership:

  • Zachary Smith, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Department Scholar:

  • Aurora Kuntz, Biological Sciences

Dean of Students Award for Service:

  • Dana Anderson, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Exceptional Enthusiasm as a Student Leader:

  • Lucinda Hall, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Spring 2021

The Provost’s Award for Scholarship:

  • Thomas Basala, Human Biology

Fraternity Member of the Year:

  • Thomas Basala, Triangle

Department Scholar:

  • Thomas Basala, Human Biology 

Spring 2022

The Provost’s Award for Scholarship:

  • Christian Johnson, Human Biology + English with a Pre-Health minor

William and Josephine Balconi Community Service Award:

  • Bella Menzel-Smith, Human Biology

Department Scholar:

  • Tessa Tormoen, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Fish Biology

Songer Awards

The Songer Award for Human Health Research supports one undergraduate ($4,000) and one graduate student ($6,000) each year doing health-related research in the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA). Supported by the generosity of Matthew Songer (biological sciences '79), Laura Songer (biological sciences '80), and matching funds from CSA, the program has been supporting four students annually since 2018. Here are the winners from our department in recent years!


Graduate awards ($6,000):

  • Aditi Vyas (Advisor: John Durocher) for “Physical activity or sleeping-in: what is the best strategy to improve decentering, anxiety and sleep quality after a busy working day in young vs midlife adults?”
  • Manas Warke (Advisor: Rupali Datta) for “Developing a cell culture model to understand the effects of soil-Arsenic”


Graduate awards ($6,000):

  • Zhihong Wang (Advisor: Xiaoqing Tang) for “microRNA-483 protects beta-cells and prevents diabetes development.”

Undergraduate awards ($4,000):

  • Samantha Siefert (Advisor: Paul Goetsch) for “Evaluating cell cycle quiescence in ovarian cancer”
  • Morgan Smith (Advisor: Thomas Werner) for “Supplementing the gut microbiome in obesity.”


Graduate awards ($6,000):

  • Emily Washeleski, advised by Paul Goetsch for “Investigation of oncoprotein disruption of the DREAM transcriptional repression complex.”

NSF Graduate Fellowship Awards

  • Tessa Steenwinkel (Biochemistry & Molecular Bio, ’20, ‘21)
  • Megan Guyer (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, ’23)

Graduate School’s Doctoral Finishing Fellowships

Each semester, the Graduate School anticipates awarding Finishing Fellowships that provide support to Ph.D. candidates who are close to completing their degrees. These fellowships are available through the generosity of alumni and friends of the University. They are intended to recognize outstanding Ph.D. candidates who need financial support to finish their degrees and are also contributing to the attainment of goals outlined in The Michigan Tech Plan. The Graduate School anticipates funding fellowships each semester with support ranging from $2000 to full support (minimum stipend + tuition).

  • Summer 2020: Kevin Nevorski (Advisor: Amy Marcarelli)
  • Spring 2021: Rashi Yadav (Advisor: Ebenezer Tumban) and Mujeeb Shittu (Advisor: Thomas Werner)
  • Fall 2021: Erin Eberhard (Advisor: Amy Marcarelli)
  • Spring 2022: Aditi Vyas (Advisor: John Durocher) and Zhihong Wang (Advisor: Xiaoqing Tang)
  • Summer 2022: Manas Warke (Advisor: Rupali Datta)

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.