Category Archives: Michigan

Winter Adventures – Lookout Mountain

I leave on Tuesday. I know, it has been approaching. This date has been set for several weeks now, but of course, I’ve been putting off packing and I haven’t submitted my dissertation yet. I’m still doing stuff in the lab. I’m not ready, even though I technically am ready.  Everything that’s supposed to say “I’m ready” actually says that I’m ready. But I’m just not.

One reason? I am not ready to leave this beautiful place. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. And I’ve been to a lot of different places, like Montana and New Zealand. And the UP is just different. It’s like a hidden secret, really. To be fair, I really shouldn’t be sharing its awesomeness with you for fear that I might get hunted down by the locals for letting the cat out of the bag.

But I just can’t help it. Last night, I went hiking at my favorite place, Lookout Mountain in Eagle Harbor. It was daylight when we started, and pitch black when we got to the top. I might be the only one that likes the shorter days; I like running in the dark, hiking under the full moon, but there’s something so awesome about the transition of between day and night. There’s also something so surreal about a walk in the woods, when you look away from the path and can’t see through the thick trees. There’s something so awesome (and I mean that in the way that inspires awe) about seeing the world from the top, the world that’s alive in the sense that’s not what we generally think of as being alive; the alive that is the trees, the cold, fresh air, the snow crunching under your feet. Not seeing more than a few houselights across the entire horizon.

And although I don’t really need to tell you why this is my favorite place, since I think it’s pretty obvious, I can show you.

On the way up Lookout Mountain

Descending from the top, with the town of Eagle Harbor in the distance

Stream crossing

 

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Detroit Free Press Marathon Race Report

Thank you everyone for the kind words about my grandpa.

Getting back into the groove of training is going to be a little daunting, with this imposing 300pg document screaming in my face. After Detroit, I decided to take an entire week off, mainly because I had a lot of traveling/family-ing on my plate, but also because I was sore. Really sore. I couldn’t walk well the day after the race, and my feet ached. In fact, my quads screamed for the longest post-race duration I’ve ever experienced, and I was still feeling the marathon on Thursday. Which, of course, I think is odd considering it was “only” a marathon, and not a super fast one to boot. Some days you have it, some days you don’t.

So, how was the Detroit Free Press Marathon, you ask?

In one word: Awesome.

I have to start with the disclaimer that I love Detroit. Sure, it has a bad rap. I admit, I used to make fun of it. It was kind of dingy. I used to call it names, maybe even show embarrassment whenever someone would ask where I was from. And, to be honest, there’s really nothing that cool about car arson or five-story apartment buildings without any windows. But things are starting to change in that town. Detroit has shown me what it takes to be resilient, to persevere. To turn the other cheek, to ignore the naysayers. I’ve been shown that those from Detroit are proud, yet they aren’t afraid to lend a hand to a neighbor in need. They have every right to be proud; it was this city, after all, that brought everyone in the US their own vehicle. Detroit has helped make driving a right, not just a luxury. Whether or not we like it, without Detroit and the Big Three, the US wouldn’t be what it is today. Yet we are quick to judge this city and its people, throwing them to the wolves. Many Americans point their fingers at the Big Three and Detroit for the downfall of the economy.  They have used Detroit as the scapegoat for their financial strives, and that is quite unfortunate. I’m looking forward to the day when the phoenix rises up from the ashes…

But, off my soapbox, let’s just say that Detroit has a special place in my heart. There’s awesome music (and no, I’m not talking about Kid Rock… he’s not even from Detroit!). Awesome food. Great parks. It’s a blue-collar town.

So, without further adieu, here’s my Detroit Free Press Marathon report!

Expectations:

Going into this race, I was hoping to cruise to a fast marathon time with my post-FullRev fitness. Unfortunately, my post-FullRev diet and activities included a lot of junk. I did a lot of sitting at my desk, I did a lot of eating candy and not hydrating well, and I did a lot of nothing. I ran ~3-4times a week, didn’t swim more than twice, and only bike once. It was pathetic. But, for whatever reason, I thought I’d be ok. I even thought I’d have a chance to snag a PR. I was delusional.

Expo:

The expo was extraordinary. This is probably the best expo I’ve been to. Race wear was for sale, and they had some seriously cool designs. Had I not been in a penny-pinching-gonna-move-to-another-state-soon financial situation, I’d have definitely bought plenty of Christmas gifts. We went to pick up our packets on Saturday afternoon and it was not too crowded, the flow was great. We were able to get our bibs and swag quickly. There were plenty of last-minute things if I needed anything, but fortunately I didn’t.

Pre-race:

Fortunately, Big Daddy Baberaham gave Babe and I a ride to the race start on Sunday morning, so we didn’t have to fuss with parking or People-Movering. Not that the People-Mover is bad; it’s actually quite awesome. But, easing pre-race stress is always key. It was dark, and it stayed plenty dark until the race started.

The only qualm I had about the whole race was the gear drop. It was a little chilly but Baberaham decided to ditch his pre-race clothes with his dad in case we couldn’t find the gear drop. Luckily, there was a gear drop, so I didn’t lose my layers. I ended up giving him my jacket though, since he was shivering and I felt fine. Not only did that give him a little bit of warmth, but it also encouraged other athletes to think he was a pro marathoner, and a few people approached him with questions about the race start because “he looked like he knew what he was doing.” That was funny. Anyway, back to bag drop– We found it about fifteen minutes before the race start, which apparently wasn’t enough time because the queue was quite long… and not moving. Eventually, it was 8min to race start, I had to pee, and we were still in line. About five minutes to the start of the race, we were able to make it to the front of the line and I got into line to pee… then ran to the start. I found my friend and college buddy, Kaoru, who helped me jump the fence and start with the B wave.

The waves started 2 minutes apart, and I was bummed because in my run from porta john to start line I lost Baberaham. I wanted to run with him for the first few miles, but that was a lost cause (there were nearly 20,000 people). So, I started with Kaoru. The rope held us in the gate until our wave was to take off, and I didn’t feel the jitters that a pre-race PR-seeking gal might.

The course:

The marathon course was excellent. Since I was in wave B, it was pitch black when I started. I didn’t see the first mile, which was ok, but I figured that when I got to 8minutes I had passed it. It was probably the best that it was dark at the start because the first mile or two are the ugliest of the course. Around mile 3, we headed up and over the Ambassador Bridge and into Canada. The bridge was a little slower than I wanted, because the Trolls thought it was a hill, or something. After we got off the bridge, it was a few miles of flat shoreline running in Winsor. I loved it, the spectators were great and the views were amazing. We headed into the tunnel to get back to the US and it was a hot mile underground. My arm warmers came off and I cruised through the halfway.

Right around 13miles, my legs started to fight me. I could feel feet clomping on the ground, and my joints ached. It was a strange sensation, telling me to slow down. But I was on pace for a 3:15, which would be a PR, so I pushed through. Then I saw my friends, D&T, and thought “wouldn’t it be more fun to stop and cheer the other athletes on?” But I’ve never DNF’d a marathon, and I wasn’t about to start in my home state.

We headed down Lafayette, and my legs got more and more tight. Maybe I should have stopped, I thought. The pain in my legs didn’t go away. It just got worse. But now I was the farthest from the finish line I’d be all day, and if I stopped I’d have a long walk back. My quad muscles started to get shooting pains through them.

The course headed onward into Indian Village, and the spectators were phenomenal. I took in as much as I could of what was going on around me. The tree lined streets and the beautiful, old houses… the leaves crunching under my feet, the colors. It was just awesome. I was a little disappointed to run past, or get passed, by athletes wearing headphones. I wanted to chat with them, I wanted to take it all in.

I slowed a little, but that didn’t help the pain in my legs. I stopped and stretched out, but that didn’t help. My run turned to a shuffle, and I walked through the aid stations. I physically could not force myself to run any faster. The course headed over the River Walk bridge to Belle Isle, a place in Detroit where I had never been. It was an awesome 2mile loop around the island. I wanted to enjoy it more, and I felt like I had so much in the tank to burn. But the legs just wouldn’t wake up. It was as if I had left everything at the halfway mark. I walked a bit, I’d walk backward to see if Baberaham was catching up. I’d scan every person passing by and every person approaching, to see if they were wearing a blue shirt and hat, to see if it w
as Babe. But then I thought, if he does catch me, I won’t be able to run with him. So I would start running again, only to stop about two miles later to stretch or walk. It was mile-by-mile of sufferfest. And it was only a marathon.

Eventually, I heard a huff and puff come from behind me and a “Finally I see you at mile 24!” Babe caught up, and was going to run with me, but I encouraged him to catch the girl in the pink skirt that ran by a few seconds before. At first he resisted, but he saw I was hurting, so he took off. Two more miles, anyone can run two more miles. Or walk. I shuffled my way to the finish line, thinking to myself what a poor attempt at a marathon that was.

But I really can’t be that upset. For blowing up completely, I still hung on to a 3:30 marathon. And I was actually quite happy when I finished. Not because of my time, I didn’t really care. I was happy because I didn’t quit. Because I experienced a part of Detroit I’d never experienced. Because I had a good time, even though I had a painful time. There was no “woe-is-me” for me afterward, I was just glad to be done. Baberaham got a PR by over 15minutes, and my friend Jess PR’d in the half. I was so glad to be done to hear their stories and congratulate them.

That’s one of the few times I’ve raced where that thought has crossed my mind. Glad-to-be-done. The finish line volunteers put the medal around my neck, and I smiled. It was worth every step.

It’s amazing how the same things can feel so different on different days. Some days you feel cold when its 70 degrees outside. I think running a marathon fits in this category. Sure, I wasn’t prepared for a PR. I admit that, hands down. But its amazing to me how hard a marathon can feel, like how hard it felt on Sunday. And yet, on other days, marathons can feel like a breeze, even after you’ve biked 112 miles and swam 2.4. I guess some days you have it, and some days you don’t.

So even though it was a crappy race for me, even though I felt sore and slow, I still had an awesome time. I enjoyed seeing parts of Detroit that I’ve never seen, even though its where I grew up. It’s amazing what a marathon can show you; it’s amazing what we don’t see unless someone else shows us. Thank you, Detroit.

Life lessons I've learned as a Race Director

I have been racing for years, but I’ve never put too much thought in the process behind the race. At least, not until I got the idea of having a long course triathlon in the UP. Since there isn’t one up here in my neck of the woods, I wanted to bring one. But I didn’t know, really, how much work it would really be.

While its fairly straight forward to put on a high school cross-country meet (have clipboard, will travel), its a tad more complicated to put together a half-iron distance triathlon. Obviously. With the Koop just passing, I have had my share of panic attacks and nightmares that woke me up at 2am double-checking that the swim caps are already in. While I didn’t direct the Koop all by myself, I did feel an overwhelming sense of overwhelmingness (?) when I thought about all the things that could go wrong on race day.

Along with all the stress of trying to execute an awesome race, Ive learned (and am still learning) a lot about what goes into these things. Before, I had an idea, but I never really knew the depth and length of the lists involved in putting on a successful and huge event. It really is putting a lot of it all into perspective. And not to mention, worrying about appeasing triathletes (uhm, hello?! We are a finicky, demanding, and needy bunch) didn’t make it any easier.

It’s interesting, really- the things that we take for granted as athletes.  I can’t help but grin ear to ear when I think about all the cool things involved in this long course tri. So without further adieu, here’s my translation of life lessons that were reiterated to me while directing my first ever triathlon, the Kuparisaari Tri, this past Sunday.

Communication is key. No one (in real life) can read minds. So if you need something done, you need to ask for it. Not only that, but other people don’t take kindly to being surprised. Communication started with local officials and businesses back in October when we decided to put on this race. Where could we have the swim? What would make a good bike loop? Can we even use the roads we want to? The Coast Guard was there, as was an ambulance, and this required planning and communication from both ends to know who needed to be where and at what time.

The most important means of communication, our live race updates, could not have been so painless without the help of KD8FPN and friends, and the Keweenaw County Repeater Association. The Ham Radio folks were stationed at nearly a dozen locations to relay information about the live race back to race headquarters, which was a huge deal since cell phone coverage is nil across most of the race course. The radio folks seriously saved our race from being a flop, in so many ways. Without them, I am not sure how painful race day would have been.

Perseverance pays off. Between you and me, there were a lot of behind-the-scenes situations that may have exploded in our faces. For example, we ran dangerously low on water at one of the bike aid stations, we nearly ran out of cups on the run course. The buoys didn’t get out for the swim course until the morning of the race. But the athletes weren’t aware, and/or didn’t care, and we at least made it appear that everything went off without a hitch. In reality, it really did; no one was injured, no one got into any serious accidents. There were no broken bones Smith Fisheries Road descent and no one needed an IV after the race. The race crew did a great job of defining a problem and immediately establishing a way to remedy it, so the athletes were none the wiser.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. There are a bajillion costs tied into making a successful race. Seriously. Aside from all the things that the athletes get to take with them (in the Koop, we gave out medallions: $5, shirts: $15, swim caps: $3, age group awards: $5-10 depending on the placing), there’s also things that the athlete might not realize. Timing costs about $8 per athlete. The swim buoys are around $100 each (for the cheapest ones!), water jugs are about $20 each (and there’s usually two at every aid station) and water/food for around the course really adds up. Plus, there’s the PortaJohn or two (or five)? That’s $100 a pooper. Renting tables (and chairs too) for aid stations and the finish area cost about ten bucks a piece, which isn’t a lot, but that adds up, too. For sanctioning, we had to pay for registration to USAT ($150), plus pay for permits for land use around the race area. There’s always something good that comes out of offering the volunteers a (tangible) gift to take with them, too, so for the Koop, I wanted to treat our volunteers well. I offered a race shirt or visor and pasties and coffee for them. A hungry volunteer is an unhappy volunteer. I’m not sure who told me that, maybe it was my mother? Anyway, turns out that the coffee and pasties (and shirts!) were a huge hit! The biggest point of the matter is, things don’t just come together, there is a lot of penny-pinching and renting and borrowing involved, especially with a first-year, small scale event.

There are some really incredible people in this world. Dare I say that the Keweenaw is home to many of them? There were plenty of people that let us borrow their services for free (whether it be their time, their loot, their sleep, or their energy, or all of the above). Luckily, we had some awesome sponsors (The Bike Shop, Downwind Sports, and Cross Country Sports) that donated swag for us to give away to athletes as prizes, and Churning Rapids Trails, Portage Health and The Keweenaw Co-Op donated food and gear for us to use for free, too. We didn’t have to pay for photography, because some awesome friends (Juskuz and xmatic) volunteered their services for free. We had two extraordinary bike aid stations, sponsored by Team UP and Northwoods Endurance, and the groups didn’t need any guidance, they just stepped up to the task and held down the fort.

Hands-down, we could not have had this race without the volunteers and local businesses. For the Koop, our volunteers and sponsors were AMAZING! Some of our biggest support came from The Bear Belly Bar and Grill, who made nearly 200 pasties for the athletes and workers, and scavenged for cups for the finish area when we were bombed out and depleted.  Without Cathy and Troy and family, the volunteers would be eating coffee beans off the table instead of drinking fresh brewed coffee from cups. The family and staff at The Lac La Belle Lodge worked their buns off helping out all day on Sunday, and I am forever indebted to them. And they did it, all day, with a smile on their face. They even said (dare I repeat?) that they had FUN!

Without our volunteers, spread out across the course, the world would be cold and empty and our race courses would be barren and dry. People showed up, offering their awesome services for nothing (aside from the best spectator spots ever), and just did what needed to be done. People were shifted from one job to another, some stood out at the aid stations for hours just waiting for the last of the athletes to come by.

Grin and bear it. Most of our athletes were really happy, excited that such a big race could be found in the quiet Keweenaw Peninsula. But there were some that just did not seem to enjoy their time up here. They didn’t get enough swag in their race packet, they didn’t like the awards, they didn’t understand why the race was so expensive (in my defense, early registration was $95 online, which is the cheapest half iron distance tri I have ever seen). What could I say? Could I do anything to defend myself from their insults? We put a lot of hard work into the race, the weekend, the event; was I just going to sit back and take it? You bet. It’s not my place to cry about it, nor is it my place to tell an athlete that they are wrong. In their opinion, they didn’t get enough. So whenever the race would get criticized, I was getting criticized, but I would just bite my tongue, nod my head, and grin and bear it.

There is a lot of power in the words “Thank You”. The behind-the-scenes-craziness of race directing is overwhelming, to say the least. but there always seems to be someone there that comes to the rescue. Every time I turned around, someone was there to help me complete a task that I didn’t think know I wouldn’t be able to do by myself, like put up the 20×30 foot tent, or help get the buoys in the water. It blows my mind how helpful and selfless people can be; athletes were helping set up the finish area the day before their big race, community members were spending their Sunday of leisure running errands and carrying gear from point A to point B.

The other side of this: When athletes came up to me post-race and said thank you, for putting on the race, inviting them up, showing them my favorite part of the UP. That was it. That was all I could ever have asked for. People were happy (generally speaking) with the race. Sure, there are tweaks and things we can improve, but our athletes enjoyed themselves. Practically everyone crossed the line with a smile on their face. When I look through the race photos, I see happy faces, smiling faces, joy, excitement (and yes, a little bit of pain, but hey, it was a long course tri! What do you expect). In the end, it was a very rewarding day.

Note: The kind of pasties I’m taking about are a Yooper thing. It’s a food, a Cornish meal-in-a-pastry-shell that is best eaten with ketchup. Meat, potatoes/rutabaga, and onions. mmm… if only they were gluten free.

Fresh tastes of summer

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love the UP.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think I could ever live for an extended period of time in a place that doesn’t have four seasons. I also really love the fruit and wildlife of the temperate areas, where several weeks out of the year include foraging for fresh berries and eating more than you throw in your bucket for later.

I am blessed to have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from a local farmer. He has somehow acquired the green thumbs that I obviously do not have. Along with his CSA partners (like me!), he sells his pickins’ to local markets. Marg even had some of his spinach and mixed greens for her wedding dinner. Every week, I get a bag or three of vegetables in my cooler, ready to eat (after I rinse them off in my greens spinner, of course). Last year, the weather was poor for growing and I ate my lifetime supply of spinach (or so I thought at the time). This year, the sun and rain ratio must be superb, because I’ve been eating beans and peas and courgettes to my big heart’s content.

The best thing about eating fresh in a UP fashion is the availability of these great foods. Sure, they are seasonal. Don’t expect to find good quality strawberries at the market in March (because they have to travel how far?!). But during the summer months, you can either pay $5 for a pint of fresh raspberries (handpicked, of course, at the roadside stand), or you can go exploring in the woods and find your own. The blueberry bushes are everywhere, and the thimbleberries are beginning to turn as red as rubies. Buy a jar of thimbleberry jam from a jam pot up here, and you’d second guess their value as jewels themselves.

So when the growing season is here, I dive right in. Sure, I still spend head to the grocery store, but bypass the produce aisles and shoot straight for the frozen meats and gluten free grains. I even get  eggs from a local farm for a few bucks a dozen.

Here’s a little taste (from a visual perspective) of the scrumptious UP:

wild blueberries

fresh picked raspberries from my CSA

Here’s one of the easiests recipes that I used, inspired by Marg’s bridal gathering at The Tea Room in Houghton:

Veggie Salad

5 courgettes (small ones)
4 carrots
1 pickling cuke
2 roma tomatoes
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I use Kraft’s Tuscan Italian)

Chop/slice vegetables into 1/4in thick slices. Place into bowl. Toss with dressing. Add 1 can of garbonzo beans if you want! (I hate chick peas, but I strangely love them in this salad!)

veggie salad

Wisconsin-raised buffalo gluten free spaghetti (extra sauce!) with Reggiano

Detroit FreePress marathon, and something a lil' special! #fb

I’ve been honing in my fall marathon schedule (that’s right, already looking ahead, past the Cedar Point FullRev), mostly because I absolutely loved doing a post-Ironman marathon last year. Not only was it awesome to visit Columbus, Ohio, where I got to hang out and race with Kendra, one of my MegaTough teammies, but I also ran myself to a three minute marathon PR, something I hope to do again in 2010.

Where will I do this? Well, I’ve got my sights set on the Detroit Free Press Marathon. There are many reasons for this, but it boils down to the following:

  1. Close to home: I don’t have to worry about traveling to a city where I have to pay money by going out to dinner, renting a hotel, etc. etc. Plus, I know Detroit, and I love Detroit!
  2. Weekend trip: Yeah, its actually quite a long haul for me to get to Detroit from school (about a 9hr drive), but at least I don’t have to worry about delayed flights, lost luggage, and $450 airfare!

Why do you care what fall marathon I’m doing? Because you could do it, toooooo! It’s an international race [you run across the border into Canada!], and Detroit has some really awesome areas (believe it or not). Some of you are my Midwest crew, and I am super excited to meet and greet with ya’ll at races. Why not head out for the Freep? Not only is there a marathon, there’s a half marathon too, and a 5K, and a marathon relay.

Want something even cooler?

Trakkers, the GPS trakking device for athletes that has been at all the Rev3 races, is considering their schedule for this fall.  I used one of these devices at Quassy in June. The device enables friends and family to follow athletes using the device online in real time during their race.  One of the events they are considering being available for is the FreePress Marathon. Trakkers will make this decision based on the desire and interest of athletes to have the device available for this event.  Since I will be down there and have quite a few friends that are planning on doing it as well, I am pushing for Trakkers to be here.

If you are interested in racing any of the FreePress Marathon weekend events, let me know. If I can find enough people interested in renting a Trakkers device, we’ll be able to wear them! Race day rental will be $19.95 per device.

So, are you interested?? Feel free to email me directly (mlkillia [at] gmail [dot] com) or comment on this post, and I’ll be pulling to have Trakkers at the Detroit Free Press Marathon!

A Day in Da Harbor

This weekend is special. Not just because it’s Memorial Day weekend, but also because:

  1. a friend is in town
  2. it’s one-week-until Rev3 Quassy
  3. the weather is amazing

Baberaham has been geeked all week about our friend that is now in town, because for him, that means sharing funny stories, endless hours of mountain biking, and barbecue. Yesterday, we made breakfast the best way we know how- with local groceries (including nitrite free bacon and farm fresh eggs) and a boatload of coffee. We then threw the bikes in the back of the pickup (me with my roadie and B & friend with their mountain bikes) and made the trek to Copper Harbor for some glorious outdoor fun.

With just a week before my early season A race, I wanted to get some juice flowin’ and test my legs on some hills. What better way than to venture up Brockway Mountain?

Overlooking Eagle Harbor

Brockway has some of the best views in the whole Keweenaw of Lake Superior and the surrounding landscape. The roads aren’t in fabulous condition, but that’s part of the allure. And it’s definitely argued which side is more difficult to go up.

I rolled along M26 to the south entrance of Brockway, along the shoreline that provided a cool breeze. The Lake was calm and glassy, and the occasional car that passed me was driving slow and cautiously – another reason why I love riding in the UP. I rode up the south side, because I wanted a good warmup and wanted to transition into my mile repeats (running) quickly. I was shooting to get a few climbs in, but my legs were still feeling gassed and I decided to hold back a little.

On the up, I did a lot of standing, which is an amazing feeling. I feel fast and in control, and my road bike (Jamis Xenith Race) is easy to maneuver, light, twitchy, and aggressive. I had my gearing dialed in well, and I hit it perfectly when to up shift, down shift, stand up, sit down. My front wheel didn’t leave the ground once (which for me means I wasn’t pulling on my handlebars too hard). It was a perfect climb.

The disheartening part of Brockway, especially coming from the south side, is that the climb never seems to end. Turn a bend, still going. Turn another, keeps climbing. But I was ready, mentally, to handle that and I almost felt disappointed when I got to the top. Almost. My legs were not disappointed, and my quads and hips burned.

Once I got to the top, I lollygagged for a few minutes. My legs felt alright, and I debated doing another. I was thirsty and the temperature was higher on top of the hill than at the shoreline. It was time for the descent.

Copper Harbor

Copper Harbor was fairly quiet, considering it is a holiday weekend… but I am guessing it’s much busier today with the Bike the Keweenaw festivities taking place up there. It definitely wasn’t busy enough to scare this girl-

After my mile repeats, I basked (baked?) in the sun for a bit while waiting for the boys to get back to the truck. At that point, their legs were tiring but they wanted to keep riding, so I shuttled them up to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge where many of the IMBA Epic mountain bike trails start. Gravity was a friend yesterday.

I love the UP

It’s starting to hit me, all the things I shouldn’t take for granted.

Watching the sun set over Lake Superior, the water is calm and the sky fills with stars. There’s nothing but the soothing splash of the waves on the beach and the distant howl of a coyote.

I have great friends, a great place to live, and an amazing life. Where I am is my absolute favorite place in the world. And I’m here. Now. Living it.

I love the U.P.

Lake Superior sunset

Campfire at Great Sand Bay

Michigan's Graduate Education Day 2010

This week, I traveled to Michigan’s capitol to talk with legislators about my graduate education and research. Three other graduate students from Michigan Tech joined me on the long trek to Lansing (Michael Brodeur-Campbell of Lake Linden, Mich. – PhD in chemical engineering; Melanie Kueber, Munising, Mich.-  PhD in civil engineering; and Christopher Morgan of Jenison, Mich., PhD in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics). We met up with the dean of Michigan Tech’s Graduate School, Dr Jacqueline Huntoon. Luckily, we had Jacque Smith with us to lead the charge and take care of all the very important details of the event for us.

Graduate Education Day, as proclaimed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, is an event which is part of Graduate Education Week. More than 70 graduate students from around the state join together and presented their research and graduate experiences to legislators, the public, and other graduate students.

“To attract and grow quality jobs, we must have the best trained, best educated work force,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said during her Feb. 3 State of the State address. The event was presented by the Michigan Council of Graduate Deans, and was an incredible opportunity for us as graduate students to connect with other students from different fields of study from many other universities around the state. It was also a great chance for me to get to know other graduate students from my own school from other departments (by spending over 18hours in the van with them!), and hear about their graduate experiences and research.

I was given the opportunity to meet with my hometown representative, Kate Ebli, of 56th District (Monroe County), who received her MBA from Oakland University after working in industry for several years. She is an incredibly nice woman with great insight into the importance of graduate education. It was fun chatting with her about Monroe, and the future developments that they hope to see in Southeastern Michigan related to energy and sustainability.

What do we get out of Graduate Education Day? I think the biggest thing was the awareness that it creates regarding the importance of pursuing a graduate education and the necessity for maintaining and encouraging students to follow that path. Kate Ebli mentioned that it’s practically necessity to pursue a graduate degree nowadays. Opportunities in graduate education from other Michigan schools were presented, and discourses into how different fields can collaborate and advance both science and rhetoric were engaged.

For Michael Brodeur-Campbell, it was the first time he had visited the capitol. “I think that’s valuable,” he told me. ” I think being politically engaged is important.  I got to see some different research going on in Michigan, learned about a few colleges and programs that I didn’t know about.  (Graduate Education Day) did some good for increasing the visibility and value of graduate studies in the state.”

Why is graduate school important? For me, it offers the opportunity to learn, grow, and build on the ever-expanding knowledge base of the field I am so passionate about. I have realized that I am capable of contributing to science and research, and I continually desire to do so. All Miss-America quotes aside, I want to make the world a better place, and I have fortunately found a way of doing so through my research and studies. No matter how miniscule I feel that my contributions are at times (and it’s more times than not), I find confidence when my research is successful, when someone pats me on the back and tells me ‘good job’, or someone offers constructive criticism that makes my research stronger.

Brodeur-Campbell agrees. “Graduate research is important to me primarily because I want to make a career in research. Frankly I’m a chemistry geek and I love playing with solutions and beakers, and getting a Ph.D. is how I turn that into a job.  But more importantly, I do it because I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and I think that it’s how I can make my greatest contribution to society with my work.  And then I found out that I get all these unexpected opportunities to learn and experience things I never would have considered on my own, and that’s like the icing on the cake.”

Graduate education is a key to a prosperous future for Michigan. Many of our students are working on solutions to real-world problems. These solutions will have an immediate benefit to society and have the potential to positively impact our state’s economy as well.
–Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Tech

Is graduate education important to you?

Below are some of the posters that the Michigan Tech students, including myself, presented at Graduate Education Day.