How to Succeed in College: Husky Grads Share Strategies and Support Systems

The graduate and undergraduate student speakers for spring commencement smile in the sunny walkway between Rehki Hall and the Library
The graduate and undergraduate student speakers for spring commencement smile in the sunny walkway between Rehki Hall and the Library
Graduating Huskies Tinu-Ololade Folayan, left, and Anderson Piercey give their advice on living your best life at Tech.

A university degree represents years of dedication. Michigan Tech’s 2023 Spring Commencement student speakers share what showing up and doing the work looked like for them — and where they found joy and support along the way.

Anderson Piercey, earning a bachelor’s degree in management with a minor in psychology, and Tinu-Ololade Folayan, receiving a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, offer additional insights and inspiration in this Husky Nation Q&A.

Undergrad and Graduate Student Experiences at MTU

Why did you choose Michigan Tech and how did you decide what to study? 

AP: I chose Michigan Tech because I'd been awarded a good amount of scholarships to come here. In my second year, I found myself captivated by the efficient processes and lean manufacturing mindsets present within the College of Business management program. Amazing professors like Roger Woods gave me challenging but rewarding courses that made me excited to explore project management.

TF: I was looking for a chemical engineering grad program with courses and research in sustainability. At the time of my application to the Graduate School, there were several sustainability-related research projects. More importantly, the chemical engineering graduate program at Michigan Tech provides the flexibility to use elective course credits to earn a minor in a secondary discipline. This worked out well for me, as I also earned a certificate in sustainable futures after the completion of my master’s degree.

What have been your most meaningful activities at Tech?

AP: Getting involved at Michigan Tech was another reason I found myself loving the Copper Country so much. In terms of work opportunities, I've worked in multiple research positions and have presented at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. I worked in Residence Education and Housing Services for four years as a resident assistant and senior resident assistant, which has helped me get to meet and build relationships with an incredible amount of our students at Tech. I also worked as a success coach in the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success the past two years, an opportunity that allowed me to give students tips on time management, study skills and social skills in a peer-to-peer environment.

As for club involvement, I've been a part of the Society of African American Men (SAAM), Mitch's Misfits and the Sexual Assault and Violence Education (SAVE) student organization. When I joined SAAM, I entered a tight-knit brotherhood that discusses diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging topics both within and beyond Michigan Tech's campus. Mitch's Misfits has been an incredible experience that helped me get connected with current students and alumni through an amazing sport. I learned the importance of supporting student-athletes at home and away. My time with SAVE helped me understand how to support survivors and inform the general student population with tips to help keep ourselves and our fellow Huskies safe. 

Mitch's Misfits Broomball Team is one of the 2023 commencement speaker's favorite memories.
Broomball with the Misfits. (Image courtesy Anderson Piercey)

TF: I benefited a lot working as the Write-D (Writing in the Discipline) facilitator in my department. I gained a lot of soft skills from managing and preparing for each session. The Write-D program itself helped me to be more focused in my writing assignments. My active participation in the National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) gave me access to more conferences to build my network and participate in external competitions. 

My social life may have been very sad if I were not a member of the African Students Organization (ASO) at Michigan Tech. The organization helped me have a well-rounded experience at Tech. Their social activities and gatherings made it easy to meet and learn from people from other parts of Africa. And, my initiation into Tau Beta Pi is definitely an experience I will never forget. All the outdoor activities at Michigan Tech, including cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, cycling, kayaking, hiking and camping, are fond memories for me. I learned to swim here at Michigan Tech. The Adult Huskies swim lessons were so much fun!

Watch African Students Organization chats with Tinu-Ololade Folayan. video
Preview image for African Students Organization chats with Tinu-Ololade Folayan. video

Watch Folayan’s interview on the African Students Organization YouTube Channel

Top Tips for Incoming Michigan Tech Students

Anderson, what advice do you have for undergraduate students coming to Tech?

AP: For incoming Huskies: Keep your doors open and your rooms clean! I've had countless conversations with residents just because they stopped by my open door or they left their doors open for me to chat with them. I can't begin to explain how much leaving your door open provides the simplest inlet for connection and community. Try it at least once. You might find your next best friend just because they felt like "bugging" you!

When you keep your room clean, you'll find that you fight less with your roommates and feel less stressed out when you have big assignments due. A clean environment isn't just mentally healthy, but physically healthy, too. Plus, if your room is clean, you can have friends over and leave your door open to meet new people.

You've only got four or five years at Tech, so really try to become the best person you can be. Find your club, your faith or any way that you want to feel involved, and dedicate time to it.

"If you gave me a chance, I'd do it all over again — and I wouldn't change a single thing."Anderson Piercey ’23, Spring Commencement undergraduate student speaker

What did your role as a resident assistant mean to you?

AP: Gosh, what didn't it mean to me? Being a resident assistant (RA) for four years took patience and — as many students say — tenacity. It meant late nights making door decorations and bulletin boards for my residents, very early morning calls from Duty Phone to handle emergency situations on campus, and being the first person that some of my residents ever told one of their secrets. It meant coming back from my summer vacation several weeks early every year to train the RAs on my staff and help them prepare for their years. It meant being the only person that some residents trusted to fight for them and advocate for them when they needed help with their issues. Being an RA was more than a community of student leaders willing to dedicate their time to helping others; it was a family that cheered on my achievements and was the first to show up at my door when I was upset. I am eternally grateful.

A group of student leaders at Tech with the 2023 student commencement speaker for undergrads in the foreground outside wearing Husky t-shirts.
Piercey says the students he worked with are more than a community of leaders: they're family. (Image courtesy Anderson Piercey)

Tinu, What advice do you have for graduate students coming to Tech?

TF: Definitely do it. Michigan Tech is a very safe campus. The community here is welcoming and warm. The campus is beautiful all year round and you get to see the pretty transition from season to season. Once you get here, keep an open mind. Adjusting might be tough if you do not have experience with very low temperatures, but getting used to it and building that tenacity makes you strong mentally. You become equipped to excel anywhere in the world you might find yourself.

Tell us about your Ph.D. advisor.

TF: Dr. Lei Pan of the Department of Chemical Engineering is my advisor and he’s the absolute best. We work very hard in our lab and he ensures we have access to all the resources we need for a wholesome research career. It helps that he was very understanding during my low moments and he celebrated all my wins and successes. I appreciate his support when I needed to go back to Nigeria for my wedding in the middle of the pandemic. Thank you, Dr. Pan!

A researcher and four Michigan Tech students in Lei Pan's lab where they study lithium-ion battery recycling. The student second from left is commencement speaker.
Lei Pan, left, in his lab with his research students in 2018 including Folayan, who is holding papers.

Why do you care so much about sustainability?

TF: I had the opportunity to visit Port-Harcourt, a South-South Region in Nigeria, and saw the effect indiscriminate crude oil exploration and other industrial activities had on the environment. The air was polluted, with black soot everywhere. This made me very interested in industrial sustainability, because I realized that there is always room to make a process or product more sustainable, and this in the end would make the quality of life better. 

"I care about my environment, I care about global warming and I want people around me to live healthy and happy lives. I think sustainability is very important in achieving all these, so that’s why I care."Tinu-Ololade Folayan ’20 ’23, Spring Commencement graduate student speaker

Is there a special friend, family member, campus mentor or someone else who supported your journey that you'd like to thank?

AP: I want to thank every part of every community that's been stuck with me since day one and the communities that have adopted me since. My family, immediate and extended. My friends: Adam Grady, Jemel Thompson, Anna Browne, Izzy Idsardi, Rose Antczak, Kaitlyn Klapatauskas, Carlee Benjamin, Charlotte Jenkins and Nathan Palmer. Student staff, staff and faculty — past and present — in Residence Education and Housing Services. My brothers in SAAM. Everyone in the Waino Wahtera Center. Staff and faculty in the Pavlis Honors College. Each and every single Misfit who waved a flag, held up a poster or chanted with me. My four years of residents — and the neighboring halls that I inevitably adopted as "my own." The Copper Country, ever-willing to accept "trolls" like myself.

Every single person had a beautifully irreversible positive impact on my time at Tech. They gave me confidence when I was anxious, praise when I was worthy and comfort when I was worried. They reminded me to slow down and appreciate the good things in life instead of moving on to my next big project. I refuse to believe I could've done this whole college thing without their support and love. College is a journey with your community, and that's why I listed everyone in my communities.

TF: My husband and the love of my life, Ibukunoluwa Adebayo, was super supportive throughout my program. In fact, he was one of the very first people who encouraged me and believed in me when I didn’t feel adequate enough to embark on a Ph.D. program. He always hypes me up every time I feel down or when I am facing a challenge at school. To him, I would like to say: I know I couldn’t have excelled and surpassed all my expectations for my degree program without you. I know and see how you work so hard to ensure I have the best environment to help me concentrate on my research. Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made to help me balance my academic and emotional life. Thank you for being my biggest fan and cheerleader.

My family and close friends make themselves available to me when I am free because they know how busy and lonely it can get for me sometimes. We are always texting and catching up on social media. It helps that we have family groups on WhatsApp, which makes it easier to keep in touch with everyone in one space. With my close friends who I consider family in other parts of the world, I set reminders to make sure we have long update calls when I am less busy. I love them all and I am thankful for their support and encouragement.

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.