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Alumni Gifts Fund Two Major Learning Initiatives at Michigan Tech

By Marcia Goodrich

HOUGHTON -- Michigan Technological University is launching two major initiatives aimed at improving student success and providing faculty with new tools for enhancing student learning.

Both efforts are made possible through generous gifts from alumni.

An $876,000 bequest from the estate of Waino Wahtera, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Michigan Tech in 1942, will fund the Wahtera Center for Student Success.

The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning is supported by an outright gift of $1 million. The president of CableAmerica, William G. Jackson graduated from Michigan Tech in 1958 with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering.

The Wahtera Center for Student Success will coordinate an array of initiatives to help students complete their degrees, including:
• providing additional funding to the learning centers, which offer free peer coaching on academic subjects
• developing workshops and hiring peer coaches to help students develop the study habits and skills needed to succeed academically, based on the successful model of the learning centers
• initiating a rigorous academic recovery program for upper-level students who have been suspended and want to return to the University
• increasing cooperation with academic advisors
• 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 concept behind the Wahtera Center for Student Success arose over a year ago, said Dean of Students Bonnie Gorman.

"We wanted to bring the academic student support services together, so we could create better programs for our students," she said. "Then we received the bequest from the Wahtera estate, and that has enabled us to move more quickly. We are very grateful to the Wahtera family for making this possible."

The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning will address another aspect of student success: the learning experience itself. The center will bring together a full suite of technological tools to upgrade teaching, learning, learning assessment and student assessment of teaching.

It includes $435,000 for classroom technologies that will allow faculty to easily bring more content into the classroom and record the class, so students can refer to it later to review difficult concepts. Plans are to install the new technology in 20 classrooms.

An additional $395,000 will be devoted to meeting faculty needs: providing staff to help with course development; 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 the new learning technologies.

A secure testing center for standardized tests such as the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam will also be installed at a cost of $170,000.

Together, the programs have the potential to revolutionize learning at Michigan Tech, said university president Glenn D. Mroz.

"The Wahtera Student Success Center will give our students the skills they need to succeed, no matter their discipline, and the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning will help them learn more and retain more of what they learn," he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the Wahtera family and thanked Jackson for his transformative donation.

"Your gift will likely touch every student and nearly every faculty member, and it will provide people the opportunity to do their best work," he said. "We are deeply grateful."

Jackson, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has received the Board of Control Silver Medal and Michigan Tech's Distinguished Alumni Award and is a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Academy. In 1999, he and his wife, Gloria, established the William G. and Gloria J. Jackson Endowed Scholarship.

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