Friends since first grade, scholastic competitors, Summer Youth Programs campers, fraternity brothers and 2022 Michigan Tech grads A.J. Alexa and Cody Slagle share their journey from Pokémon cards to diplomas.
Summer Youth Programs (SYP) and academic excellence brought the pair to Michigan Technological University from their small Upper Peninsula communities near Iron Mountain, Michigan. Alexa hails from Sagola; Slagle, from Felch. They met at North Dickinson County School. “We became friends through A.J. giving me his extra Pokémon cards and we’ve been close ever since,” said Slagle. “We lived together our first two years of college, joined the same fraternity and now we’re moving to the same area. Can’t avoid this guy even if I tried to!”
Alexa said it feels like fate never wants the pair to be farther than 30 miles from each other. “Cody’s mom was our third grade teacher,” he said. “We played football together, ran track together and took a lot of the same classes together. We have always been close, and throughout middle school and high school it was a friendly competition on who got better grades on tests.”
Vying to be the best took them to the top of the class. “We were both enrolled in high school classes beginning in middle school,” said Slagle. “A.J. ultimately won out, with him graduating as valedictorian and me as salutatorian.”
But there’s more than geography involved. “I think the shared hobbies and morals we have kept over the years have kept us together,” said Slagle.
Michigan Tech’s Summer Youth Programs kept them together, too. SYP, now in its 51st year, is an extraordinary summer camp that, in addition to the expected outdoor adventures, offers middle to high school age students a university experience that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“At our middle school, there was a scholarship from a very generous donor who wanted to give kids the opportunity to go to SYP and explore different majors that Tech had to offer,” Alexa said. “Cody and I both got the scholarship in seventh grade. We went every year after that. I took robotics, chemistry, civil engineering, and anatomy and physiology.”
Slagle said the pair was the first to take advantage of the scholarships offered by David Brule. “With David being a Michigan Tech grad himself, they wanted to try to provide individuals with a taste of the Michigan Tech experience,” he said. “I took Wild World of Chemistry, Introduction to Robotics, App and Web Development: Designing for Humans, Backpacking on Isle Royale, Engineering 101 and Chemical Engineering.” From his first experience, Slagle sensed that like him, students here constantly strived for success. “As I came back every year, I began to fall in love with the campus and the people on it,” he said.
"As I began to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in an engineering-related field, it only made sense to attend Michigan Tech. Attending a well-respected university close to home worked out well for me and I'm glad that Summer Youth Programs was able to introduce me to MTU."
Michigan Tech is a Good School Close to Home
“There were multiple things at SYP that really drew me to do my undergrad at Tech,” said Alexa. “First, being a native Yooper, the culture and people in the area felt like I was right at home. Second, the vast knowledge that each program exposed me to was unlike anything I had experienced. I was able to learn about building robots, learn about cutting-edge prosthetics and dissect a cow’s eye all in one week!”
Alexa, who graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and minors in bioprocess engineering and mathematical sciences, said he chose his major for the challenge. “I heard that it was one of the hardest engineering majors offered at Tech,” he said. “ Originally, I wanted to go into pharmaceutical manufacturing.”
Slagle, who earned his B.S. in Engineering Management, started off college as a general engineering major, giving himself time to figure out what kind of engineering to pursue. “I ultimately saw engineering management as an opportunity to put one of my best skills to use, which is talking to people,” he said. “I’m super happy with my decision. I truly love the work I've done during the numerous internships I had over the years.”
Fraternity Brothers Make Michigan Tech Memories
Alexa became a Sigma Tau Gamma member in fall 2018. He convinced Slagle to join the following semester. “Joining a fraternity at Tech was one of the best decisions I made, academically and socially,” said Alexa. “I learned real study habits through a lot of the members, I became more involved in the community by volunteering and raising money for charities and I met some of my best friends along the way. The motto at Sig Tau is that we are ‘Damn Nice Guys.’ I try to live by that every day because of who the fraternity molded me to be.”
One of Alexa’s favorite MTU memories is designing and running the 2021 Winter Carnival statue site for the Sig Taus with the help of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority’s statue chair.
“At the end of All-Nighter, when the final details were getting put together and the sun was coming up, the pure feeling of satisfaction and bliss that I felt was overpowering,” he said. “Our two organizations had come together and built a masterpiece on display for the whole community. It was a great achievement that I was glad to share with my closest friends. That year, we also won first place in our co-ed division and second place overall for the statue competition.”
Slagle also said his college days wouldn’t be the same without the Sig Taus.
“I've had many great memories throughout my time as a Husky, but I think my favorite was the day I was initiated as a brother of Sigma Tau Gamma,” said Slagle. “To be able to join such a respected organization with amazing principles was an honor that enabled me to grow as a leader, friend and individual. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t crying that day. I knew great things were to come.”
Both Huskies say the hardest circumstances they had to deal with during their time at Tech were the deaths of people close to them. Michigan Tech and its tight-knit Greek community provided comfort. “I’m grateful each and every day for the amazing support system I was able to form around me at Michigan Tech,” said Slagle.
What the Future Holds for Michigan Tech Graduates
Both graduates are headed to jobs in Wisconsin’s Fox River Valley area. Slagle joins Miller Electric’s commercial solutions division as a production coordinator. Alexa is an associate sales representative at Nalco Water.
Both describe commencement as a bittersweet marking of endings and beginnings.
“On one hand, I worked so hard while at Tech to get up on that stage and graduate, to become an engineer and start my career,” said Alexa. “It was a dream come true, and it truly felt that life was working out exactly how I wanted it to. On the other hand, I was leaving behind some of my closest friends, the house where so many memories were made and the organization that made me a caring and loyal friend. As with everything in life, your friends are often the ones that help you through challenges and trials, and that is certainly no different in my and Cody’s case. I know that he has helped me during college.”
"I am proud to say that we did this together."
“A.J. and I have worked hard at this from day one and it was amazing to be able to walk across that stage on the same day at the same school,” Slagle said. “For me, it was a proud moment; I’m the first man in my family to graduate from college. Being able to serve as a role model to my younger family members — I'm the oldest — made the moment even more special for me.”
While their lives are now taking them in different directions, albeit not too far away, Alexa and Slagle say time and distances aren’t impediments to their relationship. “No matter how long we go without talking, I know that we can always have a genuine conversation that can last for hours,” said Slagle. “There are very few people in this world that I respect more than A.J. He's going to do amazing things and I can't wait to support him throughout.”
“I’ve known Cody for most of my life,” said Alexa. “I'm sure that as time goes on we will talk less, but I'm even more sure that when we do catch up with each other it'll be like we never missed a beat.”
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.