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Dec. 1, 2021

Editor’s note: Roads traveled

If you were watching the MSU football game last week against Penn State in Spartan Stadium, you are fully aware that winter has arrived in East Lansing. While Penn State may lay claim to stadium “whiteouts,” we showed them our special brand of that as snow accumulated on the field and in the stands. While I’m not a fan of the cold, I will admit that campus looks especially pretty under a blanket of white.


But with that winter weather comes challenging driving conditions. Michigan can be bad, but when my husband was in the military and we were stationed in South Dakota, we experienced a whole new level of winter and bad roads. Plows were in short supply, and they used sand on the roads instead of salt. With winds sometimes reaching 80 mph and wind chills way below zero, sometimes they simply blocked off the freeway.


One night as I was driving home in treacherous weather, I noticed two cars ahead of me that had spun out. I thought, “I’ll just pump the brakes and be fine.” Except that didn’t work and I kept sliding toward them without stopping. My choices were to swerve into oncoming traffic, hit the stopped vehicles or go off in a ditch. I chose the ditch but still ended up swiping the side of one vehicle. Luckily, no one was hurt.


As the auto industry explores the use of autonomous vehicles, weather conditions can be especially tricky to overcome. Sensors that are used to inform what the car does can be rendered completely inefficient if hampered by snow, ice or fog.


That’s where Spartans come in. Engineers here on campus are accelerating research that allows the sensors in autonomous vehicles to adapt to any condition they are in. Check out the cool video in the MSUToday feature, Spartans in the driver’s seat: The future of autonomous vehicles to learn more about this important work that will help Michigan maintain its status as the epicenter of automobile production.


Here at MSU, we’re driving countless different paths that all lead to better tomorrows. We’re finding new treatments for horrible diseases like cystic fibrosis. We’re zooming in on research with a new microscope that’s the first of its kind in the nation. We’re protecting kids from lead dust, solving nuclear mysteries and taking “Go Green!” seriously when it comes to environmental responsibilities.


And, every Spartan has taken a different road to get here. That’s what makes our research, teaching and work so incredible. We bring different experiences, viewpoints and backgrounds but work together with one common goal — to make a difference.


Birgit Puschner, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine took a path that is probably unlike most at MSU. As a first-generation college student from a tiny, rural town in Bavaria, her road involved a lot of twists and turns before she ended up in East Lansing. Read her Faculty voice: My first-generation student experience to learn why she says, “[I]t’s okay for your path to diverge from your initial plans....By being true to yourself and figuring out a way to persevere and continue to learn, you may land on a different path, one that’s even better than you ever imagined.”


On that snowy road in South Dakota, I never could have dreamed where roads would take me. I thought I had a plan, but those plans changed all the time through circumstance and sometimes choice. I’m grateful that one of those roads brought me back to MSU twice — once to finish my degree and once to continue my career.


As you look at the roads stretched out ahead of you, remember to be alert, follow the rules, listen to your sensors and be ready for anything. The next turn ahead may lead to something magical. Spartans Will.  


Lisa Mulcrone 

Editor, MSUToday


Photo by Kurt Stepnitz


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