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Dr. Jacek Tyminski (left) and Dr. Richard Powell (center) in the lab in 1982. Tyminski set up a graduate fellowship to honor Powell in 2021.

Jacek Tyminski honors former professor with Richard C. Powell Graduate Fellowship

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

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Dr. Jacek Tyminski was all alone.

In 1979, he was a world away from home, having traveled more than 5,000 miles from Elblag, Poland, to Stillwater.

Tyminski was a refugee.

He had to find somewhere new to pursue his Ph.D. because of deteriorating conditions in his home country. Arriving at Oklahoma State University, he felt completely disoriented, with no connections and no direction. But thanks to the kindness of a physics professor, Tyminski soon found a family.

Dr. Richard Powell was a complete stranger to Tyminski. The two had never met or even spoken, but Powell was the reason Tyminski decided to apply for an assistantship at OSU.

“While working on my master’s degree, I was doing some research and got familiar with Powell’s work,” Tyminski said. “My motivation was to join a researcher and a scientist whose work I knew and admired.”

Shortly into the fall semester, Tyminski went into Powell’s office to introduce himself. After a brief chat, Powell offered Tyminski a research assistantship in his lab.

What Tyminski didn’t know was that becoming part of Powell’s lab also meant becoming part of his family.

During his tenure at OSU, Powell mentored 28 doctoral students in his lab. He developed a close personal relationship with all of them, introducing them to his wife and children as well as inviting them into his home for holidays.

“My kids grew up saying that Thanksgiving was a day that nobody spoke English,” Powell said. “The Oklahoma students generally went home for Thanksgiving break, but the foreign students didn’t, so we would have them over to our house for an enormous dinner.”

Those Thanksgiving celebrations were some of Tyminski’s fondest memories during his time at OSU. For someone who was away from his own family, those experiences meant a lot.

After graduating with his doctorate in physics in 1983, Tyminski found himself in an unfavorable job market. Once again, Powell lent a helping hand, offering Tyminski a postdoctoral position which he held for two years.

To Tyminksi, Powell’s impact on his life was twofold.

“First of all, he was a strong supporter of my goals and provided me the opportunity to pursue my professional career,” Tyminski said. “But he and his wife, Gwen, also provided me with a warm, welcoming environment that enriched my life at OSU.”

Tyminski’s career took him from Oklahoma to Texas to California, including working as a principal scientist at the Nikon Research Corporation of America. He’s not sure he would have been so successful without Powell’s guidance.

After returning to Poland to take care of his mother in 2021, Tyminski wanted to do something special to honor his hero. He decided to create a lasting legacy at OSU in the shape of a graduate fellowship.

The Professor Richard C. Powell Graduate Fellowship will be used to support graduate students researching the areas of renewable energy, climate change and environmental protection.

“I wanted to contribute to the effort of addressing global issues that all of society faces,” Tyminski said. “One of the concerns that I have is the degradation of the environment. So even though I am a physicist, I wanted the fellowship to address these issues.”

Tyminski wanted to cast a wide net for the fund, making it available to all eligible students in the College of Arts and Sciences. The research areas for the fellowship cross many disciplines and departments within the college, ranging from the humanities to the sciences.

The fellowship even has the potential to lead to additional collaboration across departments, associate dean Kristen Baum said. She believes the fellowship will make a significant impact in the college.

“Fellowships provide graduate students with the financial resources to focus intensively on their research without other work-related commitments,” Baum said. “It is very exciting to have the opportunity to award a graduate fellowship that can provide support over a longer period.”

Even after all these years, Tyminski still considers Powell one of his best friends. The two communicate across the Atlantic Ocean via email when they can.

Tyminski likes to recall a simple memory of his old professor — Powell arriving at the lab carrying his old briefcase, which had broken latches and was held together by a rubber band.

“That was a symbol of the unpretentious attitude Powell represented,” Tyminski said. “With the fellowship, I wanted to acknowledge Powell’s personality and what he has done to his students.

“He’s a great person. Even though Midwesterners are open and friendly in general, Powell stands out among them.”

Story By: Grant Ramirez, OSU Foundation Staff

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