Alumni meet at NMU

Reception held at Wawonowin Country Club

Jason Schaen, left, a project manager with Innovate Marquette SmartZone who is involved with Invent@NMU, talks with Dean Laitinen, a 1994 Northern Michigan University graduate, about Invent@NMU Wednesday at an alumni reception. The event took place at the Wawanowin Country Club in Champion. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

CHAMPION — Northern Michigan University alumni heard updates on some of the latest projects at NMU as well as an overview of Invent@NMU during a Wednesday night reception at the Wawonowin Country Club.

President Fritz Erickson highlighted a number of efforts underway at NMU, including the building of new residence halls called The Woods, with the first phase having opened in the fall of 2017.

He noted student feedback played a part in the plans.

“It’s never enough for us just to build pretty new dorms,” Erickson said. “We wanted something that would really, really embrace who we are as a university.”

Since NMU is situated in the often frigid Upper Peninsula, it wasn’t surprising to hear Erickson say students indicated they didn’t like to go “outside quite so much.”

NMU President Fritz Erickson talks about the university’s most recent projects at the reception. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

As a result, a big “main street” was built in the middle of The Woods so students could walk directly into the dining hall and walk within 200 feet of the academic mall, he said.

“No longer do they have to walk up the hill both ways in the winter in February in the 40 mph wind,” Erickson said.

The Lodge, which has a fireplace and comfortable furniture, acts as the “family room” for the new development, he said.

Another addition is the new Student Success Center, which Erickson said will open this fall in The Woods.

If a student has a problem with calculus at 10 p.m., there’s a place they can go for help from fellow students and other people, he said.

“We’ll staff it in all kinds of areas,” Erickson said. “Whether it’s math or biology or chemistry or English, we’ll have that all set up, and just as a drop-in place.”

Also, 40 percent of the new rooms have private sleeping areas, which he said are popular.

The challenge now, he noted, is there’s more demand than NMU has space, so lotteries and drawings are being used.

“What we did, by the way, was we used this to replace the old Quad I — Payne, Halverson, Gant and Spalding — except our enrollment demands for this year were so high, we had to keep Spalding just to handle some of the overflow,” said Erickson, who noted enrollment for this year’s freshman class is expected to be up 10 percent following an 11.6 percent increase in 2017.

Erickson briefly discussed other projects at NMU, including renovation of the University Center that will include a new ballroom to serve the community and seat between 1,200 and 1,300 people.

He mentioned a recent donation of a bronze Wildcat that measures 17¢ feet long and 6¢ feet tall, which will be situated in front of Jamrich Hall.

Erickson called it an “iconic piece” that will be in many students’ photos.

Innovative NMU academic programs, he said, include the Forensic Research Outdoor Station, which will involve the use of donated human remains whose decomposition will be monitored.

“We are only the eighth such site anywhere in the world and the only site that is in cold weather,” Erickson said. “No one has studied decomposition under 3 feet of snow.”

NMU also has the medicinal plant chemistry program, which Erickson called a “hard core” science degree.

“As the students in the program will tell you, this is not a degree for stoners,” Erickson said.


Invent@NMU, which is housed with the Innovate Marquette SmartZone on Presque Isle Avenue in the city of Marquette, involves students and professionals working to help bring product ideas to fruition.

Two professionals involved with Invent@NMU spoke about the project Wednesday.

“We consider ourselves an idea incubator,”said Paulette Perttunen, who is in charge of finance and administration at the SmartZone. “Anyone can come to us with an idea and we can help them vet the idea, whether it’s a product or a business, and then we can help them move it along and bring it to the market if necessary.”

Although Invent@NMU originally started as a place purely for product development, Perttunen noted small business owners now are requesting help for marketing.

“They’ve asked us for help with things that they just can’t afford to hire real professionals for,” she said.

Perttunen said that Invent@NMU has had about 370 ideas that have come through the door, which turns out to be one idea for every three business days. The goal, though, is to garner “400 ideas in four years” by Oct. 16.

Perttunen said Invent@NMU wants to expand its reach, so plans are for special kiosks to be placed all over the Upper Peninsula.

Perttunen said people can enter their ideas in a kiosk and receive a response within 72 hours about what’s already on the market, and then can decide whether they want to move forward.

Jason Schaen, project manager at the SmartZone, talked about a few of the notable products and clients who have worked with Invent@NMU: the Posture Plank, which helps people stand up straight; Lumi, a sustainable clothing line; Patagium, which offers a stand-up paddleboard sail; and the Tinknucker, a tool that can be inserted into a hammer drill to connect ductwork.

“It used to take minutes, and now it takes seconds,” Schaen said of the Tinknucker.

Perttunen said alumni can help Invent@NMU by letting graduates know of jobs via LinkedIn, connecting with it on social media or serving on a virtual advisory panel, which allows them to review and provide feedback on client projects.

Of course, alumni too can bring their ideas to Invent@NMU.

“Our motto is: ‘All ideas are worth exploring,'” Perttunen said.

For more information, call 906-227-6253 or visit