Moving Forward: Tech projects popping to meet future needs of workforce, economy

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Technological University President Richard Koubek introduces Wednesday’s Tech Forward presentation at the Rozsa Center.

HOUGHTON — Over the next year, Michigan Technological University will be rolling out nine initiatives as part of its Tech Forward campaign.

People got a look at the projects during brief presentations at the Rozsa Center Wednesday.

The initiatives came out of a series of forums Tech held last fall to discuss ways to make the university more responsive to changing workforce and economic needs.

Proposals were developed in advanced materials and manufacturing autonomous and intelligent systems; data revolution and sensing; diversity and inclusion; education for the 21st century; health and quality of life; natural resources, water and energy; policy, ethics and culture; and sustainability and resilience.

Over the next week, a four-person steering committee will meet with the leaders of each initiative, said John Lehman, vice president for university relations and enrollment. They will then recommend to President Richard Koubek which ones will be funded first.

The first five selections will be rolled out around July 1, Lehman said. The ones not chosen this year will go forward around the same time in spring 2020.

Lehman said he was impressed by the presentations.

“Universities tend to work at glacial speed, and this really gives a sense of energy on campus,” he said. “It’s a fantastic way to head into the end of this academic year.”

Committee leaders gave presentations Wednesday under stiff constraints: five minutes, and no more than two slides.

In autonomous research, the goal is to move beyond its traditional focus on cars to study autonomous functions on land and water in unstructured spaces and extreme conditions.

“These systems will have to operate under much different scenarios, interact with humans under much different scenarios … there’s not necessarily a perception of how these systems will interact with people in the real world,” said group leader Jeff Naber.

They would develop platforms for land and water vehicles, as well as building virtual environments tied to unstructured physical environments.

Policy, ethics and culture’s plans include creating an institute that would study ethical and cultural issues related to emerging technologies. The first three projects would be on an algorithmic culture, designing the Anthropocene and biomedical ethics.

Algorithms have huge influence over daily life, being used everywhere from airline safety to Tech’s recruiting efforts, said group leader Jennifer Daryl Slack.

“IPEC will address how and why that matters, how algorithms are designed, the policies with which they are implemented, the ethical choices about data included and excluded and the cultural biases that support or challenge our technological choices,” she said.

Aleksey Smirnov, a geophysics professor at Tech, agreed the presentations were strong. He was most interested in the presentation on the new computing college.

“I like that direction,” he said, adding it would help students better prepare for the future.

Abby Kuehne, an undergraduate majoring in humanities and cognitive learning, worked on the 21st Century Education group.

“There’s a lot of ideas you can’t put on two slides,” she said.

Kuehne appreciated Tech Forward’s focus on interconnectedness and getting people talking to each other across disciplines. Aside from her own group, she most liked the diversity and inclusion presentation.

“I feel that maybe bringing diversity and inclusion at the forefront of Michigan Tech can help create change and open mindsets and (help us) be more willing to work with one another,” she said.