MTU holds ribbon-cutting for H-STEM building

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University celebrated its new H-STEM Complex with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the state-of-the-art facility Friday.

The 63,000-square-foot building connects to the existing Chemical Sciences and Engineering Building. Along with workspace for 84 graduate students and 34 faculty, it contains multiple conference rooms and three teaching labs.

“It’s emblematic of the commitment our institution has to advance the outcomes and the welfare of the citizens,” said President Rick Koubek. “We’re using our engineering and science prowess at Michigan Tech, and focusing on health care outcomes. I think it’s directly in line with the mission of the institution and advances us where we’re going.”

The space will host a number of disciplines, spanning biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering, chemistry, computer science, and kinesiology and integrative physiology.

This puts health research at the center of campus, instead of scattered across disparate sites, said Caryn Heldt, director of the Health Research Institute. And instead of being hidden behind solid walls, the glass-walled labs allow more people to see the research being done.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Assistant teaching professor Travis Wakeham demonstrates a large touchscreen display showing detailed digital models of the human body in the anatomy and physiology lab.

That can get more students excited about doing research, Heldt said. It also creates more spaces for the collaborations between disciplines that can lead to unexpected progress.

“Now that we have a central hub of health research here on campus, now people know where to come,” she said. “If you want to talk about your research, and you want to find new people to work with, this is where you come. …Having a centralized area where people can collaborate and work together, that is how we’re going to really push technology forward, how we’re going to push research forward. The research that we’re doing is looking to 10, 15 years out how we can improve the health of people in our state, people across the world.”

The Health Research Institute helped design the lab space along with other PIs and researchers in the lab. Along with other departments, the HRI has also worked on the best places to put people and to increase collaboration. One important piece is having multiple departments in each lab, Heldt said.

“At other places on campus, the labs are assigned by department,” Heldt said. “Here, we have multiple departments, and so they’re able to collaborate and work together. And really, I think that’s what’s going to push research forward at Michigan Tech in the health area, is this collaboration between departments.”

When departments moved in, they brought projects underway with them. Some are in better heart stents that will degrade with time as people’s bodies take over. Other groups are looking at tissue regeneration and how to use exercise as medicine.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette MTU administrators, politicians and more pose at the ribbon cutting and grand opening of MTU’s state of the art H-STEM complex bringing health sciences research to a new level on campus.

Through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Tech now also has a genomics center.

“Now we can start looking at the genetic disposition of different cells learning about what could cause cancer, and what could cause other diseases,” Heldt said.

As the university hires more faculty, that will continue to diversify the types of research being done, Heldt said.

The new research space is also part of Tech’s movement to R-1 university status as measured by the American Council on Education. Tech expects to achieve the designation in 2025, placing it at the highest level of research activity.

“Out of the 3,600 or so universities in the country, only about 3% of them are R-1 designated, but I think it reflects the stature of the faculty and all that they have accomplished,” Koubek said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette

Friday’s ribbon-cutting followed five years of planning, beginning under former President Glenn Mroz, and two years of construction.

The H-STEM building is the first large-scale construction on the campus since the building of the Great Lakes Research Center. More additions are coming, including a new dorm and an ambulance bay by the football field.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Koubek said. “But Michigan Tech had been poised and positioned to go through this phase of growth and expansion. People are just finding out about how great this institution is, and they’re making investments both philanthropically, the state’s doing that, students are coming. It’s an exciting time to be at Michigan Tech.”

While Friday marked the grand opening, the H-STEM building opened its doors on March 11. Heldt said students are excited.

“These collaboration spaces have been filled with students talking, working,” she said. “There are whiteboards around and they’re moving the whiteboards around and writing on them, and they’re working together. And so it has been absolutely amazing what has transpired.”

The glass-walled labs got a new set of observers Friday afternoon, as attendees toured the three floors of the building. In some cases, they were able to enter labs for a closer look.

At the anatomy and physiology lab, biological sciences assistant teaching professor Travis Wakeham demonstrated large touchscreen displays showing detailed digital models of the human body.

“These are real humans, so they’re essentially taking small little slices from that CT and then gathering all the information to create this digital model, where you can actually interact with it,” he said. “They painstakingly go through and create each individual muscle, each blood vessel nerve. So then you’re able to really go through within that detail.”

Students could be given detailed exercises to practice diagnoses, pull up different models to examine the differences in their systems, or highlight muscles to provide a visual aid.

Friday’s ribbon-cutting was followed by one at the new Alumni Gateway Arch on the west end of campus. Mike Trewhella, a Negaunee native and 1978 Tech graduate, provided the donation towards the new landmark.

After the ceremony, graduating students were invited to take photos under the arch.


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