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LBSU professor inspires students in STEM to ‘achieve their dreams’

Long Beach State chemistry professor Stephen Mezyk has spent the last 18 years motivating students to pursue education and research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I enjoy getting my students excited about science, and to learn to think both critically and logically,” Mezyk said.

Mezyk encourages them to seek opportunities at national and international research conferences. Using his 30 years of research experience in areas such as wastewater remediation and nuclear waste recycling, he advises students on how to conduct their own research.

“This experience gives my students research experience and confidence they can use to succeed in their careers and education after they leave CSULB,” Mezyk said.

His work was recognized Tuesday during a California State University Board of Trustees meeting when he was presented the Wang Family Excellence award for Outstanding Faculty Innovator in Student Success. The award is given to four CSU faculty and one staff member every year for their work as professors.

“It is a great honor to be the first recipient of the Wang award at LBSU since 2001,” Mezyk said via email. “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry with some of the best undergraduate and MS students I’ve ever seen.”

The award includes a $20,000 prize and recognition from the CSU.

“During [Mezyk’s] time [here, he] has been a source of inspiration and pioneered new paths for student success,” said Timothy P. White, CSU Chancellor, during the BOT meeting.

Mezyk teaches general chemistry and helps students one-on-one. He works with a research group that studies “cancer-causing chemicals, how radiation affects the processes of recycling nuclear waste and how to create drinking water out of wastewater contaminated by chemicals,” according to a university press release. The research group consists of students, many of whom are minorities in STEM fields.

“While success means different things to different people, my overall goal as a professor is to help students achieve their dreams upon graduation from LBSU,” Mezyk said.

Mezyk said that the way to help students succeed is to help them outside the class through offering further educational assistance such as supplemental instruction and peer-mentoring.

According to the university press release, Mezyk’s methods of teaching have lowered the failure and withdrawal rate in chemistry at LBSU from 50 percent to 30 percent.

“It’s amazing to see one my research students, who was once struggling with a general chemistry concept, ultimately graduate with a Ph.D. and become a professor himself,” Mezyk said.

Mezyk hopes to bring more students into STEM professions by piquing their interest, while they are freshmen. He said he appreciates the university’s continued effort to support students in STEM by providing funding opportunities.

“I get inspired from the students’ efforts, their hard work, their view of the world, what’s important to them and how they use technology to achieve what they want,” Mezyk said. “I get to enjoy learning from them.”

Correction: This story was updated Jan. 30, 2019 to correct the spelling of Stephen Mezyk. 

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