Mitch Malachowski is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at USD, where he has been a faculty member since 1984. He was recently honored with a 2010-2011 University Professorship in recognition of outstanding scholarly achievement in teaching and research. We recently caught up with him to discuss his research interests, his experience working with undergraduates at USD, and his passion for golf.
Do you have a favorite course to teach and why?
My great love is in teaching organic chemistry and the organic laboratory. I enjoy taking on this difficult material with my students and helping them develop their skills and challenge themselves to go beyond what they thought was possible. It is amazing to see how much they change from September to May.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Seeing students grow and mature and in some way being part of that process. There can be many challenges getting to that point and I like being part of the journey that each student has to take. I also am interested in helping USD develop its dreams and live them to its fullest. And as I’ve gotten older, I value the ability to give workshops and visit other campuses where I can impact other institutions and faculty.
"I am a synthetic organic chemist so I make new compounds. We are the messy, smelly ones who have lots of reactions going on all the time."
What made you choose a career in academia?
I found that I was pretty good at explaining concepts to other people and teaching seemed to be something I enjoyed. The one-on-one connections you make can be exhilarating. I also like the balance between teaching and research and I really didn’t want someone to be telling me what to do and how to do it. Most of my friends who got PhDs with me took jobs in industry but I had no interest in the corporate world. Faculty have an amazing amount of freedom to shape their professional lives in ways that many others may not and I value that flexibility every day as it is worth its weight in gold.
Do you feel that you have made an impact with your students and if so, how?
I make a commitment to my students at the beginning of each semester to devote myself to the course and to them. I can’t do this every waking hour, but I commit myself to helping them as much as they need. Many students respond well because they know I care about them and care about them being successful. Faculty are role models and I try to model behavior for students so they can see how a professional functions. I also try to display for them the fun we can have in digging in, working hard, grappling with things and then coming out the other end smarter and stronger. I never let them forget that it is all about passion and love for what they are doing.
Please briefly describe your research.
I am a synthetic organic chemist so I make new compounds. We are the messy, smelly ones who have lots of reactions going on all the time. Currently, I am working on making molecules called metal organic frameworks. These compounds have large cavities in the middle of them that can bind other molecules and store the molecules in the hole. You can store them until needed or transport them to another place. Our interest is in binding molecules such as hydrogen as a way to contribute to the alternate energy world.
What is your favorite place to eat on campus? What do you order?
Well, I am kind of lazy about lunch so I usually just wander over to La Paloma for a sandwich. I don’t eat meat so any vegetarian sandwich will work for me as will a good, hot cup of soup.
What is your favorite Torero sports team to watch?
Long ago and far away, I played basketball and golf in college so I still enjoy watching those sports the most. There is great value in the community that is built and shared through these experiences.
"Golf suits me well as there is a physical side that requires hand-to- eye coordination along with a heavy dose of mental coordination. It is sort of like being in the lab designing and doing reactions."
Please tell us about your experience with the PGA. How has golf affected your life? How are you still involved in the sport?
I have a competitive side that is harder to feed as I get older so golf is a way for me to continue to compete at a relatively high level. Golf suits me well as there is a physical side that requires hand-to- eye coordination along with a heavy dose of mental coordination. It is sort of like being in the lab designing and doing reactions. I do go out and play with the USD golf team and I still compete in state and national tournaments. Now that I have turned 55 years old, I can play in the senior tournaments so this year I will try to qualify for the California Senior Amateur and the United States Senior Amateur tournaments. I still play in some of the amateur tournaments open to everyone, but those become more and more challenging as so many young, college players are in the field. My real dream, though, is to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open.
Malachowski’s diverse interests and talents, both in the lab and on the green make him a favorite among students at USD. From his stories of almost qualifying for the PGA tour, to the way he approaches organic chemistry and the dedication he makes to his students and the university, it is apparent that Malachowski has truly left a mark on USD. He is a very compelling faculty member to talk to and his personality really shines through in his responses.