Left to right, Paul Kaczmarczik, Paul Michael Kaczmarczik and Mike Kaczmarczik pose with Nobel Laureate and 13th Kaczmarczik Lecture speaker William D. Phillips at the 2008 event.
For more than half of Drexel’s 125 years, a member of the Kaczmarczik family has studied, taught or worked on campus (and the Academy of Natural Sciences, before and after it became affiliated with the University). That means that in every decade since the 1940s, a Kaczmarczik been involved with Drexel in some way; so far the family has accumulated over 80 years of combined educational and professional experience at Drexel.
“Between the Academy and Drexel — and specifically, the Drexel Physics Department — we have a long and sordid history,” joked Paul Michael Kaczmarczik, ’86, a second-generation Drexel Dragon and current adjunct professor in the Physics Department.
It all started when his father, the late Paul Kaczmarczik, attended Drexel as a student, graduating with a BS in physics in 1948. “Kacz,” as he was known, started teaching here part time in 1949 as a graduate electrical engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania. Graduating in 1952, he transitioned into teaching full time during the day while administering the Physics program at night. Kacz spent over 40 years on campus, additionally serving as a faculty advisor for the Lexerd Yearbook, and Drexel chapters of two fraternities. Kacz became professor emeritus in 1989 and received Drexel’s Stanley J. Gwiazda Professorship in 1992 for excellence in teaching. He also received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, the highest honor given to Drexel faculty members.
In 1995, the College of Arts and Sciences honored Kacz’s passion for physics with the creation of the Kaczmarczik Lecture series, an annual event in which Nobel Prize winners and other prominent physicists speak on campus. Father, son and grandson Mike attended these events whenever possible since the very beginning, with Mike and Paul Michael continuing to do so after Kacz’s death in 2009.
Kacz’s son Paul Michael started working at the Academy in 1968 as a high school student cleaning animal cages on the weekends and holidays. He worked his way up to supervisor before joining the education department. He left in 1978 and later graduated from Drexel with a BS in unified science in the ’80s. Paul Michael has taught the University’s introductory physics courses as an adjunct professor since the beginning of the century, and from 2002 to this year he taught all of the engineering core curriculum trailers originally administered by the Physics Department as TDEC (The Drexel Engineering Curriculum).
Kacz’s grandson, Mike, became the third Kaczmarczik to join Drexel’s Physics Department when he enrolled as a graduate student in 2006. He left in 2008 to work at the Academy — where he met his future wife and continues to work today as an educator outreach coordinator. Mike’s physics background came in handy when he helped Academy personnel learn about the science behind special exhibits, such as why geckos can stick to anything and why butterfly wings look iridescent.
“The Physics Department at Drexel is like family,” Mike said. “That’s how I felt even before I came here for grad school. The department had a memorial for my grandfather after he passed away and one of my fellow Drexel physics graduate students was the best man at my wedding.”
The second and third generations of Kaczmarcziks practically grew up on campus, and now the fourth generation has joined the family tradition. This year, Paul Michael and Mike brought Kacz’s great-grandsons to their first-ever Kaczmarczik Lecture, introducing them to the same Drexel staff and faculty that Mike met when he attended the first event 20 years ago as a 12 year old.
With Paul Michael and Mike continuing to work at Drexel, and with the Kaczmarczik Lecture planned for next year, it seems as though the Kaczmarczik family name will continue to be intertwined with Drexel as strongly in the future as it has in the past.
This piece first appeared in Drexel Quarterly's Spring 2016 issue.