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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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Janusz Supernak retires from SDSU after years as an engineering professor, department chair, and a passionate mentor and educator. Janusz Supernak retires from SDSU after years as an engineering professor, department chair, and a passionate mentor and educator.

Transportation Engineering Professor Retires After 37-Year Tenure

Janusz Supernak retires from SDSU after nearly four decades as an engineering professor, department chair, and passionate mentor and educator.
By Melinda Sevilla

“Life is brisk, take some risks, always do what’s the coolest. And when someone asks how you have all that drive, you answer, ‘I just live my life!’”


These are the lyrics to San Diego State University professor Janusz Supernak’s polka song, Worry Not,” which he sang as closing remarks at his Faculty Early Retirement Program (FERP) celebration last week at Scripps Cottage. These are words he lives by.


But don’t be fooled by the light song lyrics. Supernak’s talents go beyond his singing and songwriting.


Over Supernak’s 38-year career and 17 years as chair, he has helped transform the college and the department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE).


Supernak began his journey in Warsaw, Poland where he received his Ph.D. at Technical University. In 1980, he joined SUNY Buffalo to teach as a visiting assistant professor in the United States. By the next year, he became an assistant professor at Drexel University. Supernak joined the SDSU engineering family in 1984 and became a full professor of transportation engineering four years later. By 1992, he was CCEE department chair.


In those years, dramatic changes were made. From the CCEE department lacking a diverse faculty, advisory board, endowments, a variety of research activities, and international programs, Supernak transformed the entire department for the better. 


“Through his leadership, the CCEE has had multiple successful ABET accreditations and hired many new excellent faculty members, positioning the Department for wonderful things in both the near and long term,” said Robert Dowell, a structural engineering professor who organized the party for Supernak’s early retirement program. Dowell joined SDSU in 1984, the same year as Supernak did, but as one of his students. 


Thanks in large part to Supernak’s work, the CCEE department paints quite a different picture today, with four programs, three current NSF Career Awards, a multimillion-dollar endowment portfolio and two Erasmus+ agreements. 


“His accomplishments include receiving a distinguished faculty award, Top 25 Award, Most Influential Teacher Award, and much more,” said engineering dean Eugene Olevsky.


Other highlights include pioneering the college’s faculty-led study abroad program, leading six editions of this program in his home country of Poland, serving as principal investigator on the World Bank's Project in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, being involved in the SDSU Georgia program, and generating over $4 million in grants and contracts.


Supernak is a favorite of students, particularly those in the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was reelected as faculty advisor for the club for 30 consecutive years, receiving several national recognitions for his chapter and his own achievements.


“He’s been our number one supporter through thick and thin,” said Katelyn Makavand, former ASCE officer and the inaugural Supernak Award for Excellence honoree. Another student, Ellie Roy, said Supernak inspired her to pursue music as a creative outlet to complement the technical nature of her civil engineering major. 


Supernak’s “unmistakable passion for engineering and teaching” combined with his personal interaction with her at Explore SDSU was why she chose to come to SDSU, said Alanna Bantigue, current ASCE chapter president.


As Provost Salvador Hector Ochoa put it in his speech to Supernak, “You have the best last name … because you truly are “super.”