Tom Napierkowski, professor, Department of English, thought about his grandfather and the blue collar south side Chicago neighborhood of his youth when his name was called this summer during a concluding gala of the Fifth World Congress of Polish Studies in Warsaw.
Earlier this month, Napierkowski awarded the Knights Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, a diplomatic order given to those who have rendered great service to the Polish nation and only granted to foreigners. A foreign minister presented the award along with a certificate signed by the president.
“Growing up next to a steel mill and having been told stories about my immigrant grandparents, I was taught that this was the greatest country in the world and provided us great opportunity,” Napierkowski said. “But also not to forget the old country.”
“I think my dad and grand dad would be proud.”
For Napierkowski, the award for his work in Polish-American and Slavic literature studies was a reminder of the opportunities UCCS provided him. Originally hired as a medievalist 40 years ago, the youthful campus allowed him to pursue scholarly work in what was then a non-traditional academic area, the literature of early immigrants. He studied the literature of African-Americans and applied a similar approach to learning about Polish-American literature.
“Here at UCCS, we’ve always been encouraged to follow these avocations of ours,” Napierkowski said. “If I’d been at another place, this never would have happened. UCCS said ‘go for it.’ I’m appreciative of the opportunities the university has provided me.”