When Professor Carla Michalak’s family presented her with a gag gift of a mug with the words “stop volunteering for stuff” printed on the front, they were only half kidding. If you take one look at Michalak’s schedule, you’ll understand why. In addition to maintaining a full teaching load of political science courses, Michalak is a member of almost a dozen committees on and off campus, many of which feature her in leadership roles. Michalak was recently recognized by the League of Women Voters of Broome & Tioga Counties as a 2022 Women of Achievement awardee for her work with the League of Women Voters and for her many contributions to the community via her commitment to civic engagement and service. Presented at the Broome County Status of Women Council Award Luncheon, the Council has annually recognized women from organizations in Broome County and the surrounding area since 1976.
Michalak hails from the hamlet of Hauppauge, NY. Like many Long-Islanders before her, she moved to the Southern Tier to study at Binghamton University. She initially wanted to purely focus her studies in political science, but in an effort to assure her parents that she would be employable after graduation, she added a second major of economics. Michalak elected to continue her education at Binghamton University by directly enrolling in their graduate program in political science with an emphasis in public administration and policy analysis. It was while she was a graduate student that she first came to work for SUNY Broome.
“I had the option of two graduate assistantships. One was in county planning and the other was in institutional research at SUNY Broome. Institutional research seemed like the more fun option of the two, so I picked that one and came to campus soon after,” said Michalak.
Just like today, office space was in high demand during the Summer of 1986. The Director of Institutional Research assigned Carla an allegedly empty office in the LAD. Little did she know that that office was intended for the Math Lab Coordinator, Dave Michalak. Considering that Carla was there first, she felt that she had squatter’s rights and remained in the office for months until Dave Michalak arrived and relocated all of her belongings to the side of the room.
“Being a new employee and needing to focus on my work, I found it difficult to concentrate. Our office was a constant revolving door of students and athletes needing something from Dave. In order to function, we drew our own “Mason-Dixon” line in the office and kept to our corners,” said Michalak.
Carla and Dave remained on their respective sides of the office until one day when Dave casually invited Carla to join him for lunch. Thirty years and three children later, the Michalak’s now appreciate the office space shortage of 1986.
At the conclusion of her time with Institutional Research, Carla was offered a grant-funded position which focused on providing academic, financial, and career readiness support for SUNY Broome students who were parents and on public assistance. Michalak served as the Assistant Director of the PACE Program until the grant concluded.
“As still is the case with grant-funded positions, if the College isn’t able to take on the financial responsibility of personally funding the position, it just goes away at the conclusion of the grant. I had to really think about my next move and how it would align with the needs of our family. Dean Higginbottom called and asked me if I would like to teach political science and I accepted! Months later, he asked if I was interested in advising and the rest is history! That’s when I started my sixteen ‘part-time’ instructing and advising years with the College.”
In 2007, Michalak transitioned to a full-time professor, and continued to consistently offer to her support via joining campus committees and initiatives like the Convocation Committee, Council for Academic Issues, and Civic Engagement to name a few.
For many SUNY Broome students interested in political science, their first taste of learning about power, how governments function, and how to analyze political theory and activity, come from Carla Michalak’s “Intro to American Government” and “American State and Local Government” courses. Her immersive teaching style encourages her students to not only learn about the political systems in which they dwell, but to be active listeners to local, state, national, and global current events and to be civically engaged citizens.
As the Coordinator of SUNY Broome’s Civic Engagement Initiative, Michalak certainly practices what she preaches. Whether it is through her involvement with the Broome Tioga County Suffrage Anniversary Committee (BTSAC) where she helped to plan and organize events celebrating the 100th Anniversary of women securing the right to vote in New York, or her work with the Voter Engagement Committee, Michalak is constantly committed to highlighting the revolutionaries of the past and participating in creating positive changes for the future.
“I invite all of my students to participate in any of our civic engagement activities.We are in charge of government, the ones to hold our elected officials accountable. If we don’t stay properly educated, we only have ourselves to blame. We have major responsibilities in our roles as U.S. citizens and I always want to emphasize that to our students,” said Michalak.
When Carla Michalak was notified that she was being honored with a 2022 Women of Achievement award, she was shocked.
“I didn’t really know much about what it entailed. I thought that maybe I might receive a certificate in the mail. A friend who was a previous awardee explained that the honor was in fact a really big deal. I was so happy that my husband and our children were able to join me at the luncheon and share in the celebration,” share Michalak.
For students interested in learning about political science or how to be a civically engaged citizen, Michalak has some great advice.
“Stay current on the news, but make sure that it is from a reputable source, not from social media. SUNY Broome students have access to the New York Times online for FREE through the library. It’s such an incredible resource that shouldn’t be missed. Also, don’t hesitate to get involved. Women in particular tend to hesitate to be politically active, but we need to build up active leaders to make positive changes.”
As Carla Michalak enters her thirty-sixth year at the College, she often thinks about her first few years as a SUNY Broome employee. “We have some great new members of the campus community now and I just want to encourage them to never be afraid to ask questions. Look for people on campus to collaborate with and always try to build one another up. Also, always put the students first. If you do that, and be true to yourself in the process, your time at SUNY Broome will be wonderful.”