The University of San Diego recently announced five 2010-11 recipients for a University Professorship, the highest academic honor bestowed university-wide and given in recognition of outstanding scholarly achievement in teaching and research. This is one in a series of Inside USD articles about the honorees.
Even before he arrived at the University of San Diego in 1984, Mitch Malachowski’s mindset centered on being part of the solution. “I was looking for a teaching position and USD, I thought, was trying to develop its identity and I wanted to be part of that,” the 54-year-old organic chemistry professor said. “The combination of being at a university focused on students and enhancing the academic quality made it seem like a really good fit.”
That fit turned out to be tailor-made. The Rhode Island native, who earned his BA in chemistry at Rhode Island College and a PhD in organic chemistry at the University of North Carolina, was among five professors to earn a 2010-11 University Professorship. He won the Davies Award for Teaching, the College of Arts and Sciences’ top faculty honor, in 1999 and this professorship win is his third (1996-97, 2002-03).
Malachowski takes the accolades in stride and takes pride in knowing that it was his peers who nominated him. “To know they support what you do and believe that you’ve made an impact is the most meaningful part. As I’ve gotten older, it’s not just been about giving back, but to dig in and put in the work to change the institution.”
In the classroom or in the science lab, Malachowski’s attention is solely on his students. “I’m the supportive teacher,” he said. “I tell my students the first day of class, ‘I’m making a commitment to you and that I’m going to be prepared every day, I’m going to do whatever I can to help you, within reason, be successful.”
Outside the classroom, Malachowski’s USD activities are also tied to a successful path. He has served in many roles on the Council on Undergraduate Research. In September he was part of a group that secured a million-dollar National Science Foundation grant to study faculty-student undergraduate research program models for college campuses. Malachowski is co-chair for USD’s Campus Master Planning Task Force and, for more than a dozen years, has been the faculty athletics representative, a role that involves academic integrity and eligibility for 400 USD student-athletes.
“Back when I first came here, they needed builders and I’ve thought of myself, at times, as a builder. I still believe they need people to help build the institution into what we really want it to be. There’s a lot that’s unresolved here; choices about who we are, what we’re about, whom we want to cater to and what we want to be. I think USD is still evolving and changing. One thing I really like about USD is that we never sit back and say we’re comfortable with who we are. We’re always wanting to be more and I try to find activities to support it.”
Malachowski will be on sabbatical for the 2010-11 school year. He’ll do some work on the NSF grant, other projects and spend time with his family, but at the same time he’s already mapping out a plan for his return.
“I’ve never taught a study abroad course before,” he said. “I’m going to put in a proposal for a course in London. I’ve wanted to do this for 10 years. It’s been harder in the sciences to do it, but I see the value of it. It’s wildly different now on campus, in terms of the study abroad program, than it was even five years ago.”
He wants to teach Chemistry and Society, a core class offered for non-science majors, in London. “It’s more historical and philosophical. We’d visit old research labs, the Royal Society is there and we’ll even see plays that touch on scientific issues.”
It’s this kind of dedication that shows Malachowski’s always striving to enhance the college experience for students. Not that he takes all the credit. “As much as I feel like I’m contributing, USD has done the same thing for me. It’s made me what I am. It has exposed me to things that have really enriched my life.”
— Ryan T. Blystone