Before the first class of each semester, Dr. Konrad Czynski carefully studied his roster of students.
Upon entering the classroom, the philosophy professor asked students – sometimes as many as 60 of them – to identify themselves. By the end of the class, he’d try to recite their names without a hint. He usually succeeded.
Czynski retired from teaching at MSUM in 2018 after 27 years in the classroom. His ability to greet students and colleagues by name was a distinguishing trait. What some see as super human mental gymnastics, he sees as a simple but effective way to make connections.
“That way, the bridge was created between me and the students,” he says.
Czynski is the recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Service Award. The award is given annually in recognition of significant time and talent given to MSUM.
Czynski joined the MSUM faculty in 1991, teaching in the humanities and multicultural studies department. Ten years ago, he joined the philosophy department. Throughout his career, he taught a variety of class topics ranging from world religion to Civil War history to theatre.
“I feel like every four years, I got a new degree,” he says. ““I am immensely grateful to MSUM for allowing my interests to flourish.”
“I feel like every four years, I got a new degree. I am immensely grateful to MSUM for allowing my interests to flourish.”
Czynski retired in 2018, but the relationships he nurtured with students remain his most cherished lessons yet. In particular, he loved teaching the first-year introductory course for students who wanted to study in the humanities. This class allowed him to establish connections with students that, in many cases, lasted long beyond their graduation.
His home is filled with art produced by former students. One piece is an illustration of a Civil War soldier painted from a photograph. He has been asked to perform in a handful of student-produced films. His first role was that of a home economics teacher who handed his students an egg and said: “Hold in the palm of your hand, this egg. Cherish it as if it were your very own child.”
He advised the Nepali Student Association after students in his class asked him to serve in the role. And he encouraged students to recommend guest speakers, especially for his world religions course.
Czynski’s willingness to engage in and participate in student activities was intentional.
“I decided early on I wouldn’t be a distant professor,” he says. “I see education as a relationship and a conversation, not a transaction.”
And that relationship between teacher and student stretches through campus and beyond.
“I decided early on I wouldn’t be a distant professor. I see education as a relationship and a conversation, not a transaction.”
Early in his career, Czynski was invited by his friends the late Stephen Simon and Bonnie Simon to narrate an annual children’s symphony concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The orchestration and narration were later adapted as a recorded series available to a wider audience through MaestroClassics.com. Today, children ages 8 to 18 can listen to Czynski narrate classical music like Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”
In retirement, Czynski has access to a faculty study room in the library where he conducts research on two projects: a play inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale” and a novel that follows two women who are nurses during the Vietnam War and in New York City on 9/11.
The space also keeps him close to students.
“As I tell them all the time, MSUM students breathe fire,” he says. “They have this eagerness and yearning to rise above where they started. I’m grateful to be part of it.”