Fostering an Innovation and Entrepreneurial Mindset: Mary Raber Recognized for Distinguished Service

Campus in Fall
Campus in Fall
Mary Raber recognized with Faculty Distinguished Service Award.

Michigan Technological University honored the winners of the 2018 Distinguished Teaching Awards at a reception held Oct. 23. Among those honored was Mary Raber, winner of the Faculty Distinguished Service Award.

Mary Raber is professor of practice, co-director of the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship (ICE), director of Global Leadership and assistant dean in the Pavlis Honors College. The Faculty Distinguished Service Award recognizes service to the University community that has significantly improved the quality of some aspect of campus life. While the award can recognize work that results in part for compensated efforts, it must have been of a quality that distinguishes itself above and beyond the normal execution of those tasks.

A Leader of Innovation

In her nominating letter, Pavlis Honors College Dean Lorelle Meadows wrote that Raber has been integral in the design, development and management of several innovative programs at the University. “Through Mary’s exceptional dedication and efforts, opportunities and resources for innovation and entrepreneurship on our campus have grown substantially,” Meadows wrote.

Meadows said Raber’s role in the encouragement of a culture of innovation on campus extends well beyond her roles at the Pavlis Honors College.

“Mary is now nationally known for her work in innovation in higher education. She has dedicated significant time over and above her assigned duties. Through her forward thinking, the Michigan Tech community has benefited in numerous ways. “

As a result of her commitment, Raber was instrumental in the formation and development of Michigan Tech’s Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship (ICE), and serves as co-director. Through involvement with ICE, students with an entrepreneurial spirit are encouraged to consider the impact of their ideas, formulate business models, and identify and take necessary actions to develop and advance a concept from idea to a marketable product.

 In 2015, with Raber’s leadership as principal investigator, Michigan Tech was awarded an I-Corps Site Grant from the National Science Foundation. The I-Corps Site Program at Michigan Tech fosters entrepreneurship by teaching students, faculty, staff and community members how to commercialize their technology and transition their ideas, devices, processes or other intellectual property to the marketplace. This program engages participant innovation teams in a lean startup curriculum and has resulted in Michigan Tech affiliated companies attracting more than $3.5 million in follow-on funding for development of their technologies, several winning high-profile venture fund competitions.

Mary Raber i
Mary Raber is the recipient of the 2018 Faculty Distinguished Service Award.

Creating The Alley

Raber also facilitated the design and creation of The Alley makerspace in 2015. The space where the old Michigan Tech bowling alley used to reside, was completely redesigned and repurposed to create an open-community workshop incorporating elements of machine shops, wood shops, art studios and computer labs where Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things. The Alley has tools and equipment available for 3-D printing, woodworking, electronics, crafting and sewing. In its first semester, the makerspace hosted over 800 unique visitors, 25 events and workshops and clocked over 1,000 volunteer hours among maker coaches. The space attracts men and women equally, as well as students at all levels of education and all majors. The Alley and its associated events and activities are completely student led and student driven.

In addition to the makerspace, Raber has cultivated a strong relationship with the Stanford, opening up additional avenues for student exploration and education. Through this collaboration, Michigan Tech has a highly active group of University Innovation Fellows (UIF). Fellows work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to make a positive impact on the world. They attend training at Stanford’s, meeting students from across the country engaged in change-making on their campuses. Michigan Tech’s UIFs have engaged with over 4,000 incoming first-year students through orientation, exposing them early on to powerful entrepreneurial tools and resources.

An Entrepreneurial Visionary

In a recent faculty spotlight published by VentureWell, Raber comments on her vision for entrepreneurial education.

“I believe that helping students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset should be an integral part of their education, starting in K-12 and continuing through their college education. Whether they aspire to start their own business or work for an established company, the skills associated with an innovation and entrepreneurial mindset will help them to succeed as they strive to create solutions to the very complex problems we face today.”

Prior to the creation of the honors college, Raber served as associate director for the Institute for Leadership and Innovation and Director of the Enterprise Program. She has overseen the implementation and growth of the Enterprise Program at Michigan Tech since its inception in 2000, and was responsible for its overall coordination and development. She is currently working on her PhD in mechanical engineering with a focus on engineering education at Michigan Tech. Before joining Michigan Tech in 1999, she held various engineering and management positions during a 15 year career in the automotive industry.

The Faculty Service Award is open to all full-time faculty. Nominations for the award are solicited from members of the University and reviewed by the Faculty Distinguished Service Awards Committee. The award comes with a $2,500 bonus.

In addition to Raber, other award winners honored were Valoree Gagnon, winner of the Diversity Award, and Richelle Winkler and Brigitte Morin who received Teacher of the Year honors. 2018 Research Award winners included Yoke Khin Yap and Feng Zhao, and Zichen Qian who received the Bhakta Rath Award.

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.