Tech receives $2 million in gifts

HOUGHTON – Two major alumni gifts totaling almost $2 million will fund two initiatives that will transform the way faculty teach and students learn at Michigan Technological University

A $1 million gift from William Jackson, a Calumet native who is now president of CableAmerica, will fund a full suite of classroom technologies to enhance blended learning and assessment programs. An $876,000 bequest from the estate of Waino Wahtera will fund an array of learning initiatives to help students complete their degrees.

“I’m excited to announce today that we’ve received two transformational gifts directly targeting student success, teaching and learning,” Tech President Glenn Mroz said as he introduced the gifts and initiatives at Friday’s Board of Control meeting. ” Taken together these represent an investment of almost $2 million from our alumni targeted toward our core work of teaching and learning. This is in addition to the funds we already dedicate to student success in teaching and learning.”

The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning, directed by Mike Meyer, will not only give teachers the technology to stay on the cutting edge in the classroom, but also the training to efficiently utilize the technology.

“(Meyer) has used a lot of this technology – students have loved what he’s done,” Mroz said in a Daily Mining Gazette interview after the meeting. “He seemed like the ideal guy to put at the forefront of this for other people on campus, so we’ve been very deliberate in not only getting the technology in here, but also the training that’s necessary to do it.”

Of the $1 million – which Mroz said would “very likely touch the lives of all students and faculty now and into the future” – $435,000 will go to classroom technologies. Those include lecture-capture capabilities in 20 large classrooms, expansion of classroom wireless Internet to support students’ mobile learning devices, an online response tool for lectures available to all faculty and students, installation of video management software, creation of a faculty recording studio and expanded computer/camera/display technology.

Another $395,000 will be devoted to faculty needs, helping with developing courses, learning new pedagogical strategies, creating an online system to evaluate student learning, providing tablet computers for experimentation and practice, initiating a new master’s program in educational technology and supporting awards, travel, lectures and training related to professional development training with the new technologies.

The remaining $170,000 will go toward the installation of a secure testing center for standardized tests such as the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam.

Blended learning – a teaching method in which some content is delivered online – is still in the feeling-out process around the country. Some schools offer Massive Open Online Courses, commonly referred to as simply MOOCs, which are openly accessible on the web, but Tech, after studying models from other schools, is focusing on efficiently utilizing the technology internally.

“The blended learning piece is going to be really big for Michigan Tech,” Mroz said in an interview. “There are other schools that have done it, like Carnegie Mellon. We’re paying close attention to them. They are also a school that has avoided the Massive Online Open Courses in favor of using the technology to improve the quality of education, the quality of learning and the assessment of where the students are at on a continuous basis.”

Another blended learning issue still in the early stages of addressing is the intellectual property component, which has been discussed at length at recent University Senate meetings. For example, does a recorded lecture belong to the professor or the university? The professor can claim it based on his or her lecture notes and delivery. The university can claim it based on using its equipment to capture the lecture. Then, the use of the recording both in the short and long term is still to be determined. A Senate proposal for a policy on that issue was tabled at its final meeting of the academic year, and it will be picked up in the fall.

“When you look at the whole thing nationwide, there’s a lot of people who are still struggling with ‘OK, who owns what here?’ and, ‘If you’re paid to do it, do you really own it?'” Mroz said. “We’ll see how that all shakes out. It’s not a thing that we really want to stand in the way of students being able to learn better.”

While Jackson’s donation will primarily transform teaching, Wahtera’s $876,000 bequest will fund the Wahtera Center for Student Success, specifically aimed at enhanced intervention, tracking and support for students having academic difficulty.

Some of the initiatives through the center include providing additional funding to learning centers throughout campus, which offer free peer coaching on academic subjects; developing workshops and hiring peer coaches to help students develop study habits and skills; initiating a rigorous academic recovery program for upper-level students who have been suspended and want to return to Tech; increasing cooperation with academic advisors; and remodeling the Office of the Dean of Students to bring staff together and provide better coordination of student services, including Financial Aid, Enrollment Services, Dean of Students, Disability Services and COMPASS, the Center for Orientation, Mentoring, Parents and Academic Student Success.

“We wanted to bring the academic student support services together, so we could create better programs for our students,” Dean of Students Bonnie Gorman said in a Tech release. “Then we received the bequest from the Wahtera estate, and that has enabled us to move more quickly.”

Mroz said during the meeting work would begin on both projects starting Monday, and substantial progress if not full implementation would be ready by the fall semester.

“These (donations) have been really great to come in at a time when people have met, they’ve said here’s what we need, and to be able to come up with the funds to actually launch this is really great,” Mroz said after the meeting.