Michigan Tech & Hell Frozen Over


Houghton, Michigan is in the grips of one of the worst winters on record.  This is saying a lot, as the area averages over 200 inches of snow a year, the second snowiest location in North America (behind Valdez, AK).  The home of my collegiate alma mater, Michigan Technological University (MTU), the area is getting battered by as much as 25 inches of snow and winds over 65 mph.  MTU closed for weather for the third time in a month.  That’s a remarkable data point because they had never closed the school for any more than two days during a school year in its history – heck, they only closed it once the whole time I was there.   The school was brutal enough since it was an engineering-focused campus sending you through class after class of very technical course work – all while trying to survive the 4-to-1 male to female ration during early adulthood (when we were just figuring out how cool it is to like girls).  This to earn a degree at one of the most underappreciated schools in the country — we used to say ‘You want to be respected, go to Ann Arbor.  You want to learn something, go to MTU.  (You want a job at Wal-Mart, go to Northern Michigan U).’  This massive storm comes when students are deep into the throws of their winter session with months of hopeless weather to come.

In other words — MTU today is proof that hell is freezing over.

On a related story … In April, I’m visiting the campus.

I will be presenting a Graduate Seminar on Quality Assurance & Space Flight.  This seminar was born out of a chance meeting last fall when I presented at a conference on Aerospace Quality.  Also at that conference were a group of MTU students presenting on cube sats (small satellites the size of a shoebox) they are working on.  One thing led to another, and we saw connections that could be made to learn how JPL implements quality assurance practices and how MTU can improve on these areas.  We might get time to blossom the discussion further, but for right now it’s kind of an exciting prospect.

Thing is, this is a long time coming in many ways.  I graduated from MTU with a degree in Materials Engineering way back in November of 1995.  I took a day or two to pack my stuff and leave town.  Now, 24 years later, I am returning there for the first time.

It probably is hard to believe that someone wouldn’t visit their old campus for such a long time.  The problem was, it’s just hard to get there.  Houghton, Michigan is located on the Keewanaw Penisula, the finger sticking up on Michigan’s Upper Penisula.  Going due south, it is 90 miles to the Wisconsin border, and then another four hours to reach any significant city.  You can fly into an airport up there, but the actual ‘local’ airport is 30 country miles from town – and then it may get 4 planes a day.  You might say “why not fly into Detriot and drive up from there” … well, it’s almost 10 hours to drive there from Detroit, and the fastest way may be through Chicago (yeah, as in leave Michigan, drive through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin before driving back into Michigan).  It’s part of what made going to school up there so hard; when you were there you were stuck there – and that’s before you get the snow dumped on you.

So to go back, I needed a good reason.

Turns out I just had to wait until Hell froze over.

More to come on this, surely.  Like I mentioned, it’s been in the works for a while, and though it firmed up a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a good chance to announce it.  So there it is, announced.


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