Beloved aviation faculty receives her wings
Mary Niemczyk, teacher, mentor, pilot and friend, is remembered for her contributions to the aviation program, its students and the community
“Our Poly hearts are broken,” says Meghan McLaughlin, an aviation program advising coordinator, to describe her grief over the passing of Mary Niemczyk, a beloved associate professor of aviation in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.
The sentiment rings true across campus as The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools, navigates the loss of one of its aviation pioneers.
Niemczyk, also known as “Checks,” was a revered teacher, mentor and pilot who passed away on August 27. She is remembered for her contributions to aviation education, her ability to mentor others, her determination, resilience and selfless heart. The longtime aviation faculty member served at ASU for 19 years. Her dedication to her program, peers, students, local industry and community was unmatched, as many who knew her expressed. Niemczyk taught 13 different aviation courses, developed three new courses and served as the aviation program chair during her time at ASU.
“Mary was a dynamic force who had an infectiously upbeat and positive attitude,” says Ann McKenna, vice dean of strategic advancement for the Fulton Schools. “She made wonderful contributions to the aviation program, and she was admired by students, faculty and all who worked with her. She will be dearly missed.”
A Sun Devil through and through, Niemczyk graduated from ASU with her PhD in learning and instructional technology in 2002 before joining the faculty. Previously, she received her MBA from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Benedictine College.
A friend, colleague and one of Mary’s former professors, Michael Pearson, now a clinical associate professor of aviation at ASU, reflects on his friendship with her.
“She mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of students to successful lives and careers,” Pearson says. “I cannot count the times that students sought Mary’s guidance, assistance and wisdom as they navigated difficulties in their lives. Mary’s door was always open. She always made time to help others.”
“Without a sliver of doubt, Dr. Niemczyk remains one of the most influential forces in my higher education career,” says Ryan Ewing, an aviation management alumnus and ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter leadership member. “She motivated me to get a master’s degree and showed me new paths and horizons that I previously thought weren’t attainable. Indeed, she challenged her students, but made time for each and every one of us, pushing us to the next chapter in our careers. Her sense of goodwill, empathy and selflessness was contagious.”
A career that soared
Niemczyk’s career in aviation and education was successful by every measure. During her time in industry, she worked as a financial analyst at a major U.S. airline and co-founded an aviation human performance company. Her company’s focus and overall research focus were geared towards optimally training pilots and researching learning techniques.
Niemczyk’s research, as noted by Embry Riddle, focuses on improving instructional and learning strategies for enhancing individuals’ performance in the complex and ill-defined environments presented in aviation. She determined the best attributions, knowledge and skills for successful performance in the areas of aviation training and job performance. Niemczyk also defined how to effectively incorporate and utilize the millennial generation’s talents in the aviation industry.
Her work was widely recognized in peer-reviewed aviation and education journals. Due to her extensive experience in the field, Niemczyk was invited to other universities’ aviation programs to conduct external reviews.
She served on the Aviation Accreditation Board International, or AABI, Women in Aviation International, or WAI and the Ninety-Nines, Inc., International Organization of Women Pilots. Niemczyk was a former president of the University Aviation Association, or UAA, and was a member of the National Speakers Association. She was also slated to advise ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter this fall.
Among her many teaching accolades, Niemczyk received the AABI Paul A. Whelan Educator Award in 2019 celebrating her instrumental advancement of AABI, which works to elevate global aviation education through accreditation and leadership.
In addition, she founded the Mastering Learning program. Through this work, Niemczyk assisted educators in developing instruction using research in educational and cognitive psychology as well as neuroscience techniques. The program continues to assist students with learning and test-taking strategies effective in any domain.
She developed two books on this subject matter: “Using your Brain to Learn: Strategies for Success,” and “How to Study in College: Proven Strategies for Success.” She also delivered her material through workshops for industry, faculty, students and parents.
Niemczyk was also interested in how different generations of students learned. As a result, she co-founded boxxed, an organization that “provides solutions for improving workplace performance by bridging the gap between generational cohorts,” according to Embry Riddle.
A legacy not forgotten
As members of The Polytechnic School and Fulton Schools communities mourn, they are inspired by Niemczyk’s relentless legacy.
“You would never know how accomplished she was because of her humble, kind nature. She was a true educator and taught all of us — faculty, staff and students — how to be better people,” says Anna Wales, Niemczyk’s friend and business relations coordinator for the Fulton Schools. “Mary Niemczyk cannot be replaced in this world, and every time I look out and see one of our planes taking off from the airport, I am thinking of her. She has left such an impact on all of us. She will always be remembered.”
Members of ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter have created a wristband to honor Niemczyk’s legacy. Wristbands are $3 each and proceeds will benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They will be available for purchase during the Women in Aviation meeting on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 at 6 p.m. in the Simulator Building room 257 on the Polytechnic campus. Orders can also be placed by emailing [email protected].
If you are interested in attending Niemczyk’s memorial service, please contact Sona Srinarayana at [email protected] for details. A remembrance ceremony at the Polytechnic campus will take place later this semester — details are forthcoming. If you would like to donate to the Mary Niemczyk scholarship fund, you may do so here.
Additional tributes posted and shared about Niemczyk
“Over the years, we became not just friendly colleagues but friends. I expect a lot of others here feel the same way. She had a gift of making other people feel seen, valued and sincerely appreciated. I learned over the years that she gave freely of that gift both inside and outside her professional settings. I expect it’s part of what drew her to and made her so committed to education. Even when some other aspects of work became frustrating, she remained passionate about education and dedicated to both her craft (teaching) and her field (aviation). That came through in almost every professional interaction that I had with her. She had high expectations around what faculty should be doing with regard to teaching, and she held herself to those same expectations.”
— Jennifer Bekki, associate professor of engineering education systems and design, associate director of The Polytechnic School
“Scarce are souls met in a lifetime that match our Mary! Generosity, kindness and empathy were her lifetime marching orders and Mary modeled them for us flawlessly. Mary could pep you up, or straighten you out. Mary knew when you needed a hug, and Mary knew when you needed a kick in the pants — what an important skill for an educator, what an important skill for a friend. We all needed Mary in our lives. There was indeed something about our Mary, something about how she wrapped up every conversation with that smile or giggle. I love you, Mary. Rest in peace our dear friend, compass and colleague.”
— Mike McBride, director of student recruitment for the Fulton Schools
“Mary was one of the first people I met when I began my job as an academic advisor for the aviation programs in October 2015. She was incredibly kind and welcoming. Mary was a joy to work with and someone I knew I could always count on her to have the answers to my questions. Her knowledge base and professionalism were unmatched, and she will be dearly missed.”
— Carly Regan, academic advising coordinator for The Polytechnic School
“Mary was a dear friend and colleague. I am saddened to hear about her passing. She loved people and she loved dogs. Her heart was open to providing a warm home to many rescues. She always shared beautiful stories about her pups that made me smile. She was a wonderful person, and I will miss her.”
— Kiril Hristovski, associate professor of environmental and resource management and program chair
“I was a previous flight student of Dr. Niemczyk’s. During my time at ASU she was instrumental in helping me bridge the gap between my graphic design and aviation interests. Because of her support, I was able to explore both of my passions, and she not only cultivated this, but supported and uplifted me anywhere that she could. The result was numerous successful projects completed across campus.”
— Landon Breaux, aeronautical management technology and graphic information technology alumnus
“Unfortunately, I never got the chance to know Dr. Niemczyk as well as some of my colleagues, but our brief interactions left an indelible mark on my impression of ASU, our industry and the human spirit. Dr. Niemczyk embodied the very reason why I chose to come to ASU: the people. Like her students, who originally recruited me, Dr. Niemczyk displayed a ferocious passion for the industry she loved, but an even stronger regard for those she taught and mentored. Her professionalism and zeal set an example that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. May she rest in peace.”
— Trevor Mitchell, professional flight senior and vice president of ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter
“Dr. Mary Niemczyk was a wonderful mentor and inspiration to so many. Her enthusiasm for what she did and her generally joyful outlook towards life were contagious. She made such an immeasurable impact on the aviation community and will be dearly missed.”
— Karina Spletter, air transportation management senior and social media coordinator for ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter
“Dr. Niemczyk has been such a light to my aviation career. I knew that her class would be exciting, interesting and welcoming to all students. She inspired so many to pursue their passions and truly got me deeply thinking about so many things. Her passion for her students and their success was admirable and I know she has helped so many. She will be deeply missed by so many and she made a strong impact on my life as well as so many others.”
— Mackenzie Rennhack, professional flight senior and secretary of ASU’s Women in Aviation student chapter
“Dr. Niemczyk was the professor for my first class at ASU and the professor for my last class at ASU. Throughout that time, her eagerness to make sure that I, along with every other student, was maximizing their potential created a strong culture in ASU’s aviation program. Her ‘why not?’ attitude was infectious and enabled me to succeed in my career from day one. Dr. Niemczyk had and will continue to have an immense impact on my professional career.”
— Ryan Isemeyer, ’13 BS in aeronautical management technology (air transportation management) and manager of domestic network planning and strategy at American Airlines