Our featured alumnus in this issue of IMPACT is Michael (Mike) W. Lane, Director of UVM's Instrumentation and Technical Services (ITS) program. Mike and his colleagues have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 healthcare response and challenges.
IMPACT: Mike, tell us where you grew up, what you were interested in as you grew up, and where you went to college for your undergraduate degree.
Mike: I was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, and moved to Vermont at the age of five, settling in Colchester. During my youth I was actively involved in Boy Scouts — camping, hiking and community service were (and are) particular activities that I enjoyed. I also played the trumpet from middle school through high school. We had the fortunate opportunity to work with the band conductor in high school to create the first jazz band for the school. Playing trumpet was a passion I also carried into college.
I was a "tinkerer" — taking things apart to see how they worked. Sometimes I was successful at putting them back together and at other times, I might have had a leftover screw or two. Being math-science minded and with a desire to have a career in a healthcare-related field, I pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering with a Biomedical concentration at the University of Vermont.
IMPACT: What was it about UVM that eventually led you to want to attend grad school here?
Mike: During my sophomore year in the Electrical Engineering program, I had the opportunity to participate in a semester-long cooperative education experience at a UVM department called Technical Services Program (TSP), a division of Instrumentation and Technical Services (ITS). The department provides clinical engineering consultation and maintenance of medical instrumentation on the UVM campus and at regional healthcare institutions.
I worked at UVM-TSP throughout my sophomore semester, then part-time during the following semesters of my college career and full-time during the summers. Upon graduation, I was offered a full-time position as a clinical engineering systems analyst and I accepted. I found the work, the team and the experience particularly rewarding. However, I knew I wanted to continue to learn and grow. I chose the MBA program at UVM, which I was able to attend on a part-time basis while working full time. Many of the classes were later in the day or at night.
IMPACT: That was a great career path. You noted that you were in the MBA program when in grad school at UVM, tell us what you hoped to achieve while in grad school?
Mike: My goals in attending the MBA program at UVM were centered on my desire to better understand organizations, organizational development and financial management. I truly enjoyed solving problems in the engineering program and learning to think inquisitively. The MBA program taught me a new and different type of problem solving.
IMPACT: Who was your advisor while at UVM? Tell us about him or her, and any other faculty in the program who were particularly helpful.
Mike: Dr. William Cats-Baril was my advisor. He is engaging and thought provoking, and he did not hesitate to challenge me. I was particularly appreciative of his approachability, sense of humor and willingness to provide professional guidance. The classes he taught gave me unique insights into information systems and the systems to strategically manage information to effect change. Another professor I have fond memories of is Dr. Barbara McIntosh. On one sunny day outside Kalkin Hall, I learned to juggle handkerchiefs in her class. Each handkerchief was a different color representing different skills, talents, people. Dr McIntosh emphasized and illustrated the importance of valuing diversity — a lesson that I value to this day.
IMPACT: Tell us about your capstone work for the MBA, Mike.
Mike: One course that truly stood out for me was on Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation. The culmination of the course centered on a semester-long, partner-based project.
The topic of our project was the prospective implementation of living systems on the treatment of sewage in the city of Burlington. My partner and I spent a couple of days learning the details of sewage processing at the plant at the head of North Avenue in Burlington and also at the plant near the ferry docks. We took field trips and talked to experts in the field of water treatment using living organisms, and we envisioned systems of implementation that would have an impact on treating waste and have a positive impact on the quality of water in Lake Champlain.
Although the project was a little "stinky" at times, I certainly learned about the importance of innovation and the importance of never being satisfied with the status quo. Innovation is a key value in UVM's Our Common Ground and I have sought to apply the UVM spirit of forward thinking that was fostered in my time in the MBA program.
IMPACT: After graduation (twice!) from UVM, what did you do next?
Mike: After graduation, I continued my employment at the University of Vermont. I assumed the role of Associate Director for Instrumentation and Technical Services upon graduation from the MBA program and, as of almost two years ago, I became Director. I have been fortunate in my career at UVM to work with an incredibly talented team. Together we work to have a positive impact on the research enterprise at UVM and on the citizens of the communities we serve
IMPACT: Did you feel like UVM prepared you well for that path?
Mike: The UVM MBA program without a doubt helped prepare me for my career. My career at UVM — from my undergrad days, through my graduate studies and throughout my career — has been filled with learning and growth.
IMPACT: Tell us about the recent pivot by you and your team to Covid-19 related work.
Mike: The Covid-19 pandemic has required ITS to pivot multiple times. In a COVID-19 situation response meeting with our team, I described it as like being on a race track going 200 miles per hour, then having to stop and go in reverse, and then having to do it all over again. The situation was changing rapidly as we gained greater data and insight into the challenges we were facing.
Our department assisted the healthcare teams and State of Vermont evaluate and test ventilators for deployment. We assisted hospitals and the national guard set up surge hospitals for the possible, and expected, surge of patients related to the crisis. The clinical engineering team worked with researchers, healthcare professionals and the State of Vermont to evaluate a variety of techniques for sterilization of personal protective equipment. Our research engineers, whose time on student research projects was cut short due to their departure, began working with Dr Jason Bates on his concept of an inexpensive ventilator ideally suited to patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, like those impacted by Covid-19.
In addition, we had to pivot a sizable majority of our team to working from home. This required indoctrination into tools such as MS Teams, a tool we had been using routinely for education but now we expanded the functions that were used on a day-to-day basis. Along with these new tools, it has been important to recognize the upending that has occurred in home life for all of us — school out for children, college students returning home, being unable to visit close relatives and friends — the list goes on.
None of us has ever faced such an immense and immediate challenge throughout all aspects of our lives. I am proud of the work our team at UVM has accomplished and I know that the challenges ahead will be faced with an equal amount of innovation and determination to do good.
IMPACT: Mike, your friends and colleagues at UVM are incredibly proud of you and your team. Anything else you'd like to add?
Mike: Thanks! And yes: #UVMStrong, #UVMProud