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   Date: 5/12/11 Bookmark and Share

A Toast Offered by President Carol Christ

Malgorzata Pfabe, Sophia Smith Professor of Physics

It is my particular pleasure to toast Malgorzata Pfabe on the occasion of her retirement. Malgorzata was educated in her native Poland, at the University of Warsaw, and then at the Institute for Nuclear Research, also in Warsaw, where she began her teaching career after serving as a research fellow at Munich’s Technical University. Then R.P.I. recruited her to come to the United States, and four years later Smith hired her, where she has served on the faculty since 1982. Now Sophia Smith Professor of Physics, she is an expert in theoretical nuclear physics, more specifically and most recently the properties of nuclear matter. She is the author of over 100 published papers, professional abstracts, and conference proceedings. She has collaborated with theoretical physicists in laboratories in Italy, Germany, and the United States. She was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1989 and received the Maria Sklodowska-Curie Science Award in 1995.

Malgorzata is a beloved teacher. She has twice won the Smith College Teaching Award, and she has received the Honored Professor Award, but these honors give far too dry a sense of what she gives her students. Her students love her, as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend—almost a mother. A colleague has shared some remarkable stories of how Malgorzata has touched her students. Vasanthi, a student from Sri Lanka, faced some difficult health problems in her first year at Smith, and her parents were too far away and unable to visit. Malgorzata accompanied Vasanthi to the hospital, signed all the necessary paperwork, stayed with her through her surgery and kept constant touch with her parents through all this. Vasanthi is now a top executive in Apple and very recently a proud mother of twins. Another student from Greece (another star student), now an assistant professor at Emory, cannot speak about Malgorzata without being emotionally moved. In yet another instance, a student was close to tears in Malgorzata’s office, having missed her GRE s and at a loss as to how to get to a distant center to take the exam on time. Malgorzata handed the keys to her car and sent the student on her way!

These stories demonstrate Malgorzata’s great warmth and sense of care, A colleague writes, “She has the capacity to make you feel at ease, listen to you and give you thoughtful feedback. Once you share a problem with Malgorzata, you can be sure that the problem is hers as well. I have never heard her say that she is too busy or too exhausted, never heard her say anything but a cheery ‘wonderful’ in response to the question ‘How are you?’”

Malgorzata has served on virtually every committee at the college. She seems to specialize in search committees: she has been a member of two search committees for the Dean of Religious Life, two search committees for the Director of the Picker Engineering Program, and two presidential search committees. But perhaps her most significant contribution to the college has been her role in advocating for engineering at Smith and in proposing and planning what became the Picker Program.

I honestly don’t know how Malgorzata finds the time to do everything she does. I have been impressed—indeed awed—by the number of college events she and Jurek attend. I never go to a liberal arts lunch, a lecture, a play, and concert, but I don’t see them there—engaged in the community, and in the full range of intellectual and creative endeavor at the college.

According to her web page, she loves music, dancing, swimming, and hiking. (Indeed I always see her and her husband take the dance floor at my fall party.) My favorite picture is the one on the Physics’ Department’s faculty home page, in which she and her colleagues are all treading water, with the invitation, come on in, the water’s fine. Malgorzata loves to travel; she has barely returned from one trip before she is planning the next. I wish you many happy journeys in your retirement, and I still look forward to seeing you at all those concerts, talks, and plays, and, of course, on the dance floor.

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