Will Cantrell Named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

The Presidents' Council, State Universities of Michigan, has named Will Cantrell a 2013 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year. The associate professor of physics shares the honor with professors from the University of Michigan-Flint and Wayne State University.

This is the second year in a row that a Michigan Tech faculty member has been so honored.  Last year Dean Johnson, a professor in the School of Business and Economics, was also selected as a Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year.

Cantrell is being recognized for his outstanding contributions and dedication to the education of undergraduate students. Each of Michigan’s 15 public universities nominated a faculty member who has had a significant impact on student learning through their work in the classroom, research, advising and mentoring.  

This isn’t the first time Cantrell has been honored for his teaching. In 2012, he won Michigan Tech’s annual Distinguished Teaching Award.

“Professor Cantrell is enthusiastic about both teaching and his research and treats the two as inseparable,” said Physics Chair Ravindra Pandey. “His performance is exceptional in both, which is quite remarkable for such a young faculty member. He is a leading researcher in atmospheric physics. He has taken an active role in strengthening and expanding the involvement of undergraduates in our research program. A special strength is his patience in working with undergraduates. We are proud of his achievements as a teacher-scholar at Michigan Tech.”

Cantrell’s colleagues in the Physics Department agree. 

“This honor is well deserved,” said Professor Alex Kostinski.. “Will does not just cover the material, but to tries hard to inspire his students. I am reminded of an old adage: ‘A student's mind is not a goose to be stuffed, but a torch to be ignited’."

Professor Raymond Shaw’s office is next to Cantrell’s. “I am perpetually impressed by the steady stream of undergraduate students stopping in for academic advising, for help with fellowship applications, for advice about graduate school, and so on,” Shaw said.  “I think Will's demeanor has a way of welcoming students, and his teaching and advising activities as SPS advisor, SURF coordinator, and Goldwater advisor make his intentions very clear. Will is singular in his concern for the quality of undergraduate research and teaching at Michigan Tech.”

Provost Max Seel praised Canrell for using “a mix of classic and modern teaching methods in his classes, combining traditional derivations with modern approaches like Just-in-Time-Teaching.  He also makes research opportunities available for a wide cross section of students. So I nominated him for his excellence as an instructor in the classroom, and for his generosity in advising students, and I am very happy that he was a recipient of the 2013 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award.”

Cantrell came to Michigan Tech in 2001, after completing a postdoc in chemistry at Indiana University and earning his PhD at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He teaches Electronics for Scientists and Senior Physics Colloquium II. He has also taught classes in atmospheric physics, thermodynamic and statistical mechanics, theoretical physics and the physics of clouds.

“I was honored when Provost Seel contacted me to say that I would be Michigan Tech's nominee for the award,” Cantrell said. “I'm thrilled to be recognized by the President's Council, but I could not have succeeded as I have without the support of my family and my colleagues in Physics, the College of Sciences and Arts, and the University.”

  Cantrell went on to say, “preparing students for what they will encounter when they leave the    university is pragmatic, and it is a responsibility I take very seriously. That said, I also have the    privilege to show students the beauty, power and elegance of the ideas at the core of physical science.”

Cantrell’s research focuses on atmospheric science, particularly on clouds, which are a result of the interaction between water vapor and dust particles.  He is currently investigating the mechanisms underlying the heterogeneous nucleation of ice, which is freezing that is triggered by the presence of a foreign body within the water—for example, dust, which causes the water to freeze at a substantially higher temperature.  “In essence, the dust ‘teaches’ the water molecules how to arrange themselves into the crystal structure of ice,” he explained.

He and the other two recipients of this year’s Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award will be honored in Lansing on April 12. 

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.