Founded in 1885, Michigan Technological University (MTU) is a public research university that enrolls approximately 7,000 students in 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The school is known for its STEM focus, and its students embrace rigorous academics.
To ensure student success, academic support is woven into the student experience from day one. Freshmen and transfer students transition to university life and navigate its many challenges and opportunities with help from the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success.
“The Wahtera Center provides outreach programs designed to help students meet their goals,” says Susan Liebau, Center Director and Michigan Tech’s Associate Dean for Student Academic Support.
The Excelling the Student Experience of Learning (ExSEL) Program is a comprehensive partnership between the center and all of Michigan Tech’s colleges and schools. “ExSEL provides year-long support that includes a dedicated staff member for each participating student as well as peer mentoring and our Frameworks for Success course,” says Liebau.
“Midterm outreach provides a contact point for students who may be struggling with coursework or balancing their college experiences.”
Approximately 20 percent of students are first-generation students who often experience “college shock” compounded by family stress when they don’t understand why the transition to college is so difficult.
In 2018, the Wahtera Center partnered with MTU’s College of Engineering to host a “First-Gen in STEM” panel featuring university faculty and staff who were first-gen college students themselves. The event was well attended with many panelists sharing their college experiences.
This inspired the center to further refine first-gen programs, including how and who offers help. To support a culture that expresses collective pride in the accomplishments of first-gen students, Wahtera Center staff and student mentors who were first-gen students volunteer as counselors and provide students with first gen swag. While the road to successful outreach hasn’t been without bumps, the center remains focused on expanding efforts to provide a welcoming, inclusive environment for all first-gen students at Michigan Tech.
Here, two MTU Annexstad Scholars share their experience:
David Soderman graduated in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Soderman’s Senior Design focused on redesigning a locomotive wheel lathe for a steel manufacturing company. “The Annexstad Scholarship enabled me to be the best version of myself,” Soderman says. “By not having to be burdened with college finances, I was able to excel in my academics and give back to the community. The Foundation’s generosity has shown me the power of giving and compels me to want to give back too. I am forever thankful.”
Riley Saldana also graduated from Michigan Tech in 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. During his final year, Saldana participated in Senior Design where his team focused on improving a railway company’s assets by zeroing in on new track alignment. “The Annexstad Family Foundation’s generosity allowed me to pursue my degree and have an amazing support system,” Saldana says. “As a first-gen freshman, adapting to college was intimidating, but the Foundation coordinators encouraged and reminded me how you can achieve anything with a great support system.”