Research as a team sport

Mike Mann is retiring from UND after 41 years of bringing together faculty, students and staff

Mike Mann (left), who recently retired after 41 years of teaching and research at UND, receives the UND Foundation/Thomas J. Clifford Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Research from former UND President Charles Kupchella on Founders Day 2006. AND archive photo.

“It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

Some who have worked with Mike Mann during his 41-year career at AND remember this slogan from his emails because it symbolized his approach to conducting research and mentoring students and faculty in a way that is likely to inspire one leaves a lasting impression on the university.

“I think this quote perfectly sums up Mike’s impact on the College of Engineering & Mines during his chemical engineering days,” said CEM Dean Brian Tande. “Later in his career, he helped establish our Institute for Energy Studies and started several new research initiatives at the college.”

Michael man

When Mann retired from UND in late June, he left behind a career of honors and a quiet legacy of mentoring and building research teams that included everyone from freshman students to senior faculty members from across campus. His research focused on answering practical questions and received broad support from North Dakota industry, federal and state agencies.

Mann will continue to serve as a research advisor and on graduate committees while transitioning from full-time to faculty emeritus status.

“Mike was one of UND’s most prolific researchers and collaborative research developers,” said Wayne Seames, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Director of the ND SUNRISE program in the CEM Department of Chemical Engineering. “Mike leaves the UND as one of the most accomplished and successful scientists, administrators and employees.”

Mann’s areas of expertise included multidisciplinary and integrated energy and environmental projects, energy strategies and optimal processes based on thermodynamics and economics, taking into account societal, political and regulatory implications.

According to Mann, his research philosophy revolved around putting teams together and then getting the best out of them.

“For me, research is a team sport,” he explains. “You can’t do much on your own, but you can do a lot when you work with other people.

“You recognize their strengths and appreciate what they can do,” emphasized Mann. “You encourage them, you empower them, you engage them, and you treat them with respect — as equals. Give them credit, but then take responsibility.

Getting the best out of people

“Keep it in a civilized and collaborative work environment,” he continued. “When you do that, people rise up in a way that exceeds your standards. They do things together as a team and do things that nobody can do alone.”

Mann said the most rewarding part of his AND career has been the opportunities to educate and mold future engineers and leaders.

“I enjoyed seeing students, mentoring them and developing them into good, mature engineers,” he said. “I get a lot of emails from alumni, but the one that got the most said, ‘You believed in me when no one else did — not even myself.’ This is the kind of relationship I want to have with my students to help them grow, learn and expand.”

The same applied to the mentoring of new faculties, researchers and research teams.

“When they graduate, they get a new scholarship, earn a Ph.D. or getting published in a high-profile publication, those are the achievements I enjoy the most,” said Mann. “I see them as the biggest highlights.”

Mike Mann (white shirt) at the CEM Research Facility during a 2021 visit by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. CEM Dean Brian Tande and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum stand to Mann’s left. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/AND Today. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/AND Today.

Mann trained the next generations of engineering scholars, including 25 Ph.D. and 34 graduate students under his patronage, mentorship and guidance while serving on 75 graduate committees from 10 different AND departments.”

Mann grew up on a farm outside of Alsen, ND and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and chemistry from Mayville State University in 1979. He joined UND where he received his master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1981.

From EERC to engineering

In the same year he worked as a research engineer at the so-called Grand Fork Energy Technology Center, which was then operated by the US Department of Energy. The center was defederated in 1983 and later became the UND Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC).

Mann was promoted to research manager in 1985 and senior research manager in 1994. While at EERC, he earned a Masters in Business Administration from UND in 1988 and a Ph.D. 1997 study of energy technology.

Steve Benson, a former EERC Associate Director, a retired CEM faculty member, and now CEO of Microbeam Technologies Inc., worked with Mann at the EERC and CEM.

“Mike was a very organized and hardworking researcher,” said Benson. “He had that calmness about him. Things go wrong and things go well in research. Mike had a great way of navigating the ups and downs of the R&D world.”

Ed Steadman, EERC vice president for research, recalled trips with Mann to power plants in western North Dakota.

“Mike has always been a great engineer and a consummate professional,” Steadman recalls. “He was the guy behind the scenes that you needed to make everything work. He was this quiet, stoic, competent person who was easy to work with.”

Mike Mann (left) shares a light moment with a colleague while working at the UND Energy & Environmental Research Center. EERC archive photo.

In 1999, Mann began working full-time at CEM. From 2000 to 2005 he was director of the doctoral program in engineering. He headed the Faculty of Chemical Engineering from 2005 to 2013 and also served as an Associate Professor at the Faculty from 1999 to 2006. He was Vice Dean for Research from 2009-2013 and again from 2021-2022. Mann was executive director of the Institute for Energy Studies from 2014 to 2022.

Dan Laudal, who succeeded Mann as director of the institute, said: “When I think of Mike I think of a great mentor and that’s what he means to me. I give him so much credit for being the engineer and leader that I have become. I’ve tried my best to incorporate some of that into my own career.”

Surojit Gupta, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said: “It was an honor to work with Dr. man to work together. He is an excellent mentor and colleague at CEM. He always helped with guidance and support in preparing scholarships and offered advice on any questions.”

Prakash Ranganathan, associate professor of electrical engineering, said of Mann: “He is a real energizer who can move people. Mike is like a Wikipedia for those who want to learn leadership lessons.”

projects and awards

Mann was the principal investigator on 35 major CEM external grants totaling $13.5 million. He is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, 140 conference presentations, and over 150 client and agency reports. He was the named inventor of three AND patents. His work is heavily cited by other researchers.

Seames said Mann was one of the most distinguished faculty members in the history of the chemical engineering department. His awards include:

  • Faculty Scholar Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service (UND’s Professor of the Year Award), 2020.
  • Prize for interdisciplinary collaboration in research or creative work, 2014
  • Excellence in Student Recruitment and Counseling, AND. 2013
  • CEM award for outstanding faculties, 2013.
  • Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, 2009.
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Mayville State University, 2007.
  • Thomas J Clifford Faculty Achievement Award for Individual Excellence in Research, 2006.
  • CEM Olson Professorship for Excellence in Research, 2003.
  • NSF Career Grant, 2001.
  • Three works selected as best works at international conferences.

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