Hard work and passion drove Monika Zarzycka, who originally came to the U.S. as a Polish exchange student, to where she is today.
An instructional associate professor for the School of Technology and UH alumna, Zarzycka started her career at UH in 2005. In 2008, she, with the help of professor Jerry Waite, created the digital media major.
Last month, Zarzycka was one of 10 women honored with the Woman of Distinction Award at the Graph Expo & Print 2016 Annual Conference.
The Cougar sat down with the professor to ask about the award and the importance of women leaders.
The Cougar: How were you chosen for the Women of Distinction Award?
Monica Zarzycka: I was nominated by Jerry Waite and out of all the other women who were nominated, I was the only educator.
TC: When and how did you find out you were chosen?
MZ: They emailed me that I would be honored during the Graph Expo Trade Show and they were wondering if I’d be able to make it. They gave me like a week’s notice, but I was looking to see what other women were nominated. All of them were within the graphic communications industry but none of the others were educators. One of them was a CEO and there were other women who are doing work overseas as well.
TC: Why do you think it is important to have women leaders?
MZ: It shows that women are just as capable as men and it gives other women and young girls figures to look up to and admire. It inspires them to work hard at whatever they are pursuing. For me, that was pursuing education and to work and study hard. And to gain recognition for something that you enjoy doing is amazing. It is very important to know that there are opportunities for women as well and this society is not just for men and that women need to have their voices out.
TC: Do you think there is enough diversity in the women we see as leaders today?
MZ: I think so, but we could have more. There definitely aren’t as many female minority leaders in areas like politics, but I think that that should change. We should be inspiring these women to pursue these paths maybe by offering specific scholarships. Scholarships are what helped me get by in college, and it really made a huge difference and gave me a lot of the opportunities I had. It’s also important to mentor these women and inspire them to become leaders.
TC: What advice would you give to women pursuing a career in your field?
MZ: For my students, I would say make sure to listen to what we tell you as professors. We love you and that’s why we may give you constructive criticism; we want you to strive in your career. You may not get recognition right away, but keep doing what you enjoy doing. I have been teaching at UH for 11 years and sometimes you see colleagues and everyone else getting recognition for the work that you contributed to. But what I say to young women is to do what you love and continue to pursue it. In time recognition will come, but you have to be patient.
TC: What makes you a woman of distinction?
MZ: It’s hard to talk about myself, but looking at my career, helping to create this major, working on it and watching digital media become a successful major and contributing to the creation of this major since 2008. Also, just being there for my students and watching them graduate and helping some of them find jobs, attending some of their weddings and being vulnerable with them as well. I would say volunteering as well; I volunteer in my free time and I help my church and leading a women’s bible study. Maybe that’s what makes me a woman of distinction.