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In Memoriam: Maria Dworzecka

Mason College of Science honors physicist with posthumous Dean’s Leadership Award, establishes Maria Dworzecka Mentorship Award endowment. 


Maria Dworzecka
Photos provided from The Holocaust Museum Instagram account.

Brilliant physicist, courageous leader, and outstanding mentor, Dr. Maria Dworzecka died peacefully on January 16, 2023 at the age of 81.  

Champion of countless female scientists at George Mason University and a Holocaust survivor, as noted in her obituary, Dworzecka adored her daughter, Ania Aman and son-in-law, Eric Aman, and especially treasured spending time with her grand-daughter, Natalie and her dogs and grand-dogs. She loved her work, her students, and her fellow faculty. Maria will be fondly remembered for always challenging the status-quo, while pushing for excellence – she loved learning. 

Her early years

As she recounted in a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum interview, Maria Dworzecka was born in war-torn Poland on June 19, 1941. Her biological father, Izak Rozenszajn died just days after her birth and her mother, Bela Kaufman Rozenszajn, (also called Paulina Pakulska) was taken by German soldiers when Maria was barely two years old. Abandoned, she fortunately was taken in by Lucyna and Waclaw Bialowarczuk who rescued and cared for her, until her biological mother who survived the concentration camp at Ravensbrück returned to find her. After her mother tragically died in an automobile accident, Maria was adopted by her namesake, Alicja Dworzecka and Arkadiusz Dworzecki in 1948. 

An exciting and global educational journey 

Dworzecka obtained both her master's and Ph.D. degrees in physics from Poland’s Warsaw University in in 1964 and 1969 respectively. However, in 1969, she left Poland to pursue a career in physics, first at Michigan State University, then as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Maryland. Maria's early research focused on nuclear physics theory applied to heavy nuclei.  

Maria Dworzecka
Photo from George Mason University department history presentation. From left to right: Lieb, Kowalski, Ellsworth, Mielczarek, Dworzecka, Evans, Ehrlich, Kafatos circa 1986. 

In 1982, Maria came to George Mason University as an Associate Professor and her focus shifted to physics education and computational physics. While at Mason, Maria co-led the CUPS project, an NSF-funded global collaboration of 30 scientists to develop software and the accompanying texts for nine upper-level physics courses. This work led to Maria becoming a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1996. 

Robert Ehrlich, long-time colleague and friend, who chaired the department at the time of Maria’s hire noted, “Maria and I traveled the world sharing the physics curriculum materials she helped develop to expand the understanding of physics while serving as an inspiration to female physicists around the globe.”  

Dworzecka led the Mason physics department through a significant period of growth in the early 2000s and skillfully guided it through a challenging transition time, both as a Senior Associate Dean and two-term chair. Dworzecka served as chair from 1999 to 2006 and also from 2015 to 2016. 

Meaningful Mentorship 

“Many colleagues have mentioned that Maria mentored them or had significantly contributed to the growth of their careers at Mason. I can definitely say that for myself,” shared current Physics and Astronomy department chair, Paul So. “Her contributions and lasting legacy to the department simply cannot be understated.” So declared. 

“Maria was a fair, forward- thinking leader, with high standards yet never partial. All received her valuable counsel and unwavering support.” Ehrlich explained. “This was especially important to the female physicists whom she mentored and encouraged at a time when the fraction of educators and researchers in our field included significantly more men than now.”

Upon her retirement from Mason in 2017, Mason bestowed on her the title of Professor Emerita. During retirement, in addition to avidly following her granddaughter’s travel soccer pursuits and connecting with friends and colleagues, Maria also volunteered to share her experiences and support the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum.  

Celebrating her legacy 

To honor her countless contributions to George Mason University and the College of Science, Maria’s family, colleagues and many friends will gather celebrate her life on Monday, December 4, 2023. In addition to receiving the Dean’s Leadership Award posthumously, the college established the Maria Dworzecka Mentorship Award endowment fund, and will be developing criteria and inviting applications in Spring 2024. The first award will be presented in the summer of 2024 (for academic year 2024-2025).

“Maria felt very strongly about the importance of mentoring others and provided invaluable mentorship for so many, especially aspiring female scientists across our college,” explained Joel Schnur, a Mason Bio/Molecular Science Research Professor. “Faculty mentoring is a high priority for Mason’s College of Science so it is quite fitting to honor her legacy by creating the ‘Maria Dworzecka Mentorship Award’ which will recognize and support excellence in faculty mentoring of Mason’s scientists for many years to come.”

Consider contributing to the Maria Dworzecka Mentorship Award fund.