Tom Napierkowski, professor, Department of English at UCCS, recently was 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.
The award was presented at the Fifth World Congress of Polish Studies in Warsaw.
“Growing up next to a steel mill (in Chicago) 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 granddad 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.”