‘Challenges’ the theme of Sonderegger21 Symposium
Wide range of topics discussed at Friday conference
MARQUETTE — “Challenges” was the theme of Friday’s Sonderegger21 Symposium at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University.
The annual event serves as a conference on Upper Peninsula historical, cultural, economic and scientific topics.
This year, the “Challenges” theme referred to the issues facing the region and how to address them. They ranged from “Rural Health in the Upper Peninsula” to “Native American Intergenerational Trauma” and others.
“What are the things that we are facing?” Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center Director Dan Truckey asked in his introduction. “The U.P. faces a lot of challenges and opportunities in the future.”
Close to home
One of the challenges featured was “NMU Enrollment (Past and Future).”
Truckey focused on past enrollment.
“It really also sparked in me really thinking about how Northern’s enrollment changed in the past and how we became this university that we are today,” Truckey said.
A graph showing enrollment from 1906 to 1983 showed an increase in enrollment from fewer than 1,000 students to over 9,000 students.
Various factors over the years contributed to that statistic, Truckey said, including soldiers on the G.I. Bill coming home from the Korean War and the “right to try” concept championed by the late NMU President Edgar Harden.
“Higher education should be accessible to all who have sufficient mental, physical and moral competence to profit from an opportunity to attend college,” Harden was quoted as saying.
Truckey said of the past growth, “I think the biggest thing is that there’s a growing middle class in America, a middle class that wants to get out of working in labor roles in the United States like their parents and grandparents did.”
However, the former upward trend is not expected to return, at least not in the coming years.
Jason Nicholas, director of institutional effectiveness and assistant provost at NMU, addressed potential future enrollment numbers.
An enrollment graph from 2010 to 2037 projects an approximate enrollment of 6,500 at the end of that time period.
“Luckily, this year we had a really nice freshman class,” Nicholas said. “We were up about 10%, but we’re still sort of at a net loss of 5% over the last couple of years.”
Many factors are influencing NMU’s projected declining enrollment, he said.
A major factor, according to Nicholas, is lower fertility rates.
“It probably has the biggest impact on us moving forward,” Nicholas said.
So, how is NMU preparing for the future?
Nicholas said NMU has identified key steps, which include:
≤ investing in broader partnerships to improve enrollment, better student experiences and stronger post-graduation outcomes;
≤ cutting-edge sales/marketing solutions, additional personnel capacity and regular review of admissions criteria;
≤ staying committed to NMU’s “rural identity” by developing initiatives such as the U.P. Center for Rural Health, and better understanding rural economies; and
≤ focusing on student mental health, social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion and post-graduation support.
“In the last couple years, we’ve doubled-down on listening to our students, in particular during COVID times,” Nicholas said.
Vertical launch opposed
“Stop the Rocket!” focused on the proposed vertical rocket launch at Granot Loma and the efforts of the group, Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior, in opposing it.
Dennis Ferraro, a founding member and president of the nonprofit citizens group, said, “We are dedicated to stopping and preventing a project that proposes to construct a heavy industrial commercial rocket launch site on a beautiful pristine stretch of shoreline about 10 miles north of Marquette near Thoney Point at Granot Loma.”
The Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association is leading the Michigan Launch Initiative. According to the Marquette County website, when the county learned of the request for information related to the MLI, it saw the project as an opportunity for continued redevelopment of the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.
However, MAMA determined K.I. Sawyer was unsuitable for the vertical launch facility due to launch trajectories and the population over which the rockets would travel. The downstate Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport was ultimately selected as the horizontal launch site, the county said. The Explorer Solutions report identified other sites off of county-owned property, such as the private Granot Loma site, that better met the requirements of a vertical launch site as proposed by MAMA.
“The industrial complex plant is going to be built in 2,892 acres of wetlands,” Ferraro said. “Hundreds of acres of that will be clear-cut. That will result in erosion.”
He also said it will have an adverse effect on the watershed, which includes two creeks, as well as the Little and Big Garlic rivers, and strip the habitat for many plants and animals.
In an informational sheet passed out at the presentation, CSCLS alleges that there will be a risk of explosion during a launch, which would require evaluation of six to 11 nearby residences as well as closure of roads. In the informational sheet, the group also claims that even with successful launches, rocket parts will fall. It also mentioned what it believes will be “extremely explosive” launch noises.
“The driving idea behind this was that we need to launch these rockets to put these little satellites up in the air so they can provide GPS for all the driverless cars we have in Michigan,” Ferraro said. “I looked around the parking lot today. I didn’t see one driverless car.”
Ferraro said there is no need for the vertical rocket launch since similar facilities have been unused or not well used.
“There is excess capacity and under-use,” Ferraro said. “There is no need to spoil this land, this shoreline, this lake, with an industrial, purely commercial rocket launch site.”
He noted that to create the rocket launch site, the developers would have to apply and obtain a permit to rezone the land for industrial uses. They also would have to convince Powell Township to amend its zoning ordinance to redefine industrial, since there is no “heavy use” determination — which he said the launch site would need — that is currently described in the township zoning ordinance.
Ferraro, who stressed that raising public awareness of the situation is key, said people can visit stoptherocket.com to learn more about the project.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com.