In Memoriam: Mary Jane Northrop

ChE Technical Communication Lecturer passed away on July, 20, 2020.

Mary Jane Northrop, Lecturer IV in the Program in Technical Communication, College of Engineering, died on July 20, 2020, after a short illness.

Over the past 10 years, Mary Jane co-taught the technical communication component in ChE 360 and ChE 460, the junior and senior laboratory courses. Her talent for writing project proposals in industry transferred to writing project proposals in academia including one that funded a project to study active learning methods in ChE 360.  She presented and published this research in various settings.

This project helped transform ChE 360 into a student-centered teaching model. Rather than rely solely on lectures, she preferred meeting students in small groups and one-on-one in her office hours. She would often hold office hours that paired with the students’ schedules in the evenings and on the weekends.

Professor Ralph Yang, John B. Fenn Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and Dwight F. Benton Professor of Chemical Engineering, who worked with Mary Jane in ChE 360 for several years says, “Mary Jane was an outstanding technical communications instructor and was highly respected by students and coworkers alike. It was indeed a privilege to work with her.”

Fellow technical communication lecturer, Dr. Elaine Wisniewski, says that Mary Jane was approachable, unassuming, and straight forward. She delivered feedback in a respectful and helpful manner. “The themes in her teaching reflected her compassion and respect for others –– approach all communication situations by being purposeful with your contribution; being respectful of others regardless of their level in the organization or company; and being a careful listener more often than being a speaker. However, beyond being my tech comm colleague and my own tech comm instructor in the 1990s, she was also my dear friend and I will miss her terribly.”

Mary Jane was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and was the first in her family to attend college. She had compassion for all students, but definitely for the first-generation students. She believed in second (and beyond) chances and extended this grace to her students.

She is survived by her two daughters, Nora and Audrey, whom she loved more than anything and supported them in their many activities, ranging from camping, rowing, basketball, choir, dance, theater, and Science Olympiad. If you were to visit Mary Jane’s U-M office, in addition to displaying her Engineering 100 students’ project posters along the walls and her collection of Mountain Dew bottles, her door often had a flyer for her daughters’ upcoming youth theater performances, competitions, and activities.

Mary Jane received a BS in Computer Science from Eastern Michigan University and an MS in Technical Information Design and Management from the University of Michigan.

A “Memorial of Life Celebration” has occurred.  In her memory, an endowment in Mary Jane’s name has been created for the U-M Program in Technical Communication Honorarium for Students. One undergraduate student will be selected each term.  For more information and to make contributions, please visit