Professor Profiles: Dr. Marsik – The Man, The Myth, The MeteorologistNovember 8, 2015December 9, 2015Arun

UMich has staying power. With a large alumni base and a deeply embedded sense of devotion to campus, it isn’t surprising that:

  1. A lot of students are second or third generation UMichiganders
  2. The university draws a significant percentage of professors from its alumni base.

Take Dr. Frank Marsik from the CLaSP department. Professor Marsik teaches a section of ENGR 110, as well as higher level meteorology courses. I sat down with him recently to talk about his motivations for coming back to Michigan for his Ph.D. and the courses and research he supervises.


Photo Credit: University of Michigan College of Engineering

After obtaining his Bachelor’s from AOSS, Marsik became a forecast meteorologist; he came back to Michigan to pursue his Master’s Degree in an effort to gain a greater understanding of the factors influencing year-to-year variability in weather patterns.  He notes that it was particularly frustrating during the 1988 Midwestern drought not to be able to advise agricultural clients on how long the unusually dry period would last. He hoped to use his graduate studies to learn more about the effects of El Nino and other such driving factors.

In time, Dr. Marsik decided to stay at Michigan to pursue his Ph.D.: “I’ll spare you all the gory details, but life happened,” he tells me when asked about his decision to stay in academia. I would be remiss not to point out how clearly he enjoys the environment at the university though. “Everything is focused on the future. The world is wide open… and it’s such an uplifting thing to be part of [an academic setting].”

For his Ph.D. dissertation and subsequent research thereafter, Prof. Marsik focused his studies on air pollution meteorology, looking at the fate of trace elements, specifically mercury, throughout localized ecosystems. Now, he’s transitioned over to larger questions regarding longer term climate trends. As he says:

“From a research perspective, the mercury funding sort of ‘died off’ if you will. Some of the work I’
ve been working on recently has been related to climate change. And it’s really not that much of a stretch, that transition, because we’re when we’re talking about climate, it’s just meteorology averaged over an extended period of time… At this point I’m working on a project in the Great Lakes with a couple of [Native American] Tribes, assisting the Tribes in taking into account climate change effects on the water levels  and thus fisheries in the Great Lakes. Water levels in coastal ecosystems impact the wetlands, which serve as spawning grounds, they’re nurseries, and feeding zones for a number of fish species which are of great cultural and economic value to the Tribes.”

Low water levels at a Michigan dock. Image Credit: Michigan Sea Grant, University of Michigan Sustainability Institute

Low water levels at a Michigan dock.
Image Credit: Michigan Sea Grant, University of Michigan Sustainability Institute

In Marsik’s opinion, a big plus of his research is its field work focus. His mercury deposition took him to snazzy locales in Michigan and beyond, like the Florida Everglades. To balance this out, he also had small setups in sewage-amended fields in northwestern Ohio. As he told me with a laugh, “some [field work setups] were more glamorous than others.”

Prof. Marsik teaches upper level (400+) courses in the CLaSP department, such as CLIMATE 440, as well as ENGR 110. This give him contact with the entire spectrum of the undergraduate engineering student body, freshman to senior. We discussed the transformation a student undergoes from freshman to senior year, and he noted that through the undergraduate years, a student develops a sort of ‘certainty’ about their career goals, and particularly about the material they learn. In general, compared to freshman, Prof. Marsik told me,

“[Seniors] understand why they need some types of classes to support the careers they’re interested in… As some students enter their senior year, you can see them sort of ‘get it.’ They realize, ‘Wow, I’ve got two terms left, and then I’m going to be launching into my career. And there’s a shift in the attitude… there’s a new focus.”

Prof. Marsik also teaches ENGR 110, a course designed to introduce new freshman to each of the majors in the College and, in turn, hopefully give them some direction as to the diverse opportunities that they can tap into as part of their undergraduate engineering experience. According to Prof. Marsik though, the course serves a much greater purpose than that description would suggest.

“I think that one of the things I enjoy about ENGR 110 is that as these students are coming in, they’re so full of energy the first few weeks, and after the first exam or two, or homework assignments, or papers and things like that, you can kind of see the stress of all the work start to weigh them down. It’s nice being in a position where you have the opportunity to say, ‘It’s going to be okay.'”

As he was a student once, it seems appropriately poetic that he now is in a position where he can advise and relate to students. As midterms ebb and flow, it’s good to be reminded that everything, in fact, is going to be okay.

– By Arun Nagpal, Publications Co-Chair, SEDS@UM