Tech Forward: A Refinery for #Tenacity

Drone image of Michigan Tech campus
Drone image of Michigan Tech campus
Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, discusses the value of tenacity, also known as the growth mindset.

Michigan Technological University’s thought leaders share their ideas to prepare students and the University for a rapidly changing future. Janet Callahan, dean of the College of Engineering, explains the value of a growth mindset.

We’ve entered a new era: enabled by 5G, the internet of things and overwhelming amounts of big data. As with most new eras, we characterize it first by descriptive analytics (hindsight, what happened), then by diagnostic analytics (insight, what happened and why) and finally by predictive analytics (foresight, what will happen and why). But now we can add prescriptive analytics: simulation-driven, decision-making analysis of all this data in order to prevent accidents, diagnose and treat health conditions, and more. Cognitive analytics, using self-learning and automation, is the new challenge. In other words, the new era requires us to leverage and integrate simulation and actions using artificial and augmented intelligence (AI).

I’ve just returned to Houghton from travel that took me from an engineering conference in Minneapolis, to leading an international accreditation team for engineering programs across Asia. I met Michigan Tech alumni at all stages of their careers, ranging from a PhD student enrolled at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, to an alumnus who graduated more than 50 years ago, who transformed his father’s family business from simple metal working to manufacturing mufflers on a global scale. It was incredible to hear these stories and to reflect on their common elements. It turns out that Michigan Tech is a refinery for tenacity—the belief that hard work, perseverance and unwavering single-mindedness will eventually solve the problem.

Our students and alumni—and the University itself—converge with this new digital era, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, as described in the book by Klaus Schwab. In this new era, what should we do in order to continue to meet workforce needs and graduate alumni who continue to be as aggressively recruited as they were at this year’s near record-breaking Career Fair? How can we further distinguish Michigan Technological University in this emergent world?

Alumni who are actively working in an engineering role in the workforce reassure us that we’re on the right track by saying, “Michigan Tech taught me that I can do anything,” and, “You need to keep doing what you’re doing.” They report that they have the tools for learning and the confidence to know they can do it.

From those out in the workforce less than 20 years, there is a clear interest in exploring the new skills that are coming to bear in this AI/big data/digital world. It seems a cluster of courses focused on a topic, such as machine learning, data analytics or computational modeling, would be very attractive to help them learn the new technical art. Our alumni have the wherewithal and the tenacity piece: they’ve “got that.” Helping our alumni to augment their talent with new skills for a new age, and integrating these new skills into our curricula, is certainly an area where we will focus in the College of Engineering.

From our global corporate leader alumni, I heard their companies are moving so swiftly in this digital world that a big challenge is to find and grow employees with these new skills. They emphasized that the basics in science, math and engineering are still the backbone, but as each company aggressively leapfrogs forward in this digital space, and looks beyond, having employees who can be nimble and adaptable in this space is critical.

The overwhelming value of tenacity was the message that resonated from everyone I spoke to–or, if I may use a modern educational term, the “growth mindset.” The most important thing we can continue to foster here at Michigan Tech is this general idea that you can succeed with hard work, looking again and again at difficult problems, confident in the belief that you can solve them. When we solve any sort of problem, it strengthens us, it gives us confidence, it helps us know that we belong. Tenacious problem solving and critical thinking skills distinguish our alumni.

And yes, there must be something about the relentless snow in Houghton that contributes to tenacity. Like tea steeping in hot water, our alumni were soaked in snow, emerging with the flavor of tenacity. I heard stories about students losing their cars for the depth of snow upon them; stories about driving home with a companion car in tandem, taking turns getting stuck going up the hill. In meeting our alumni, some one-on-one and some in group settings, snow always gets mentioned, often with a grin and shrug of the shoulders.

Artificial and augmented intelligence? We’ve got this.


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, the University offers more than 125 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.