David Tomasko has listened to his share of commencement speeches. But when Ohio State officials asked him to be the speaker at the graduation ceremony quarter, it was more difficult than he thought to prepare a message for soon-to-be graduates.
It will be the “scariest thing I’ve ever done,” said Tomasko, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “I’m used to talking to students more in the classroom.” Tomasko admits he does not remember who spoke at his commencement address. The problem with many speakers, he said, is that they try to give advice. He is leaning toward talking with the students.
“I want them to know how much they mean to the university and the faculty,” he said.
Japheth Pritchett, a fifth-year in chemical and biomolecular engineering who has had Tomasko for several classes, said Tomasko often goes to great lengths to connect with students.
“I think he’s one of those rare individuals who you’re inspired by them in class, but then you meet with him outside of class, and he can kind of give you a broader perspective,” he said.
Pritchett said he gravitated toward Tomasko because he is “a little more interested in your entire development as a student.”
Tomasko’s passion for both his research and his students has garnered him respect among students and colleagues alike.
“He definitely deserves the honor,” said Kurt Koelling, Tomasko’s colleague and fellow chemical and biomolecular engineering professor.
Tomasko, who has won awards for teaching and research, said his greatest rewards come from helping students. To him, winning the 2002 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching was the highest honor because the recognition came from students.
“These are the people that you’ve had to sit in judgment of,” he said. “It validates all the hard work.”
Tomasko said he sets the tone for his classes on the first day, when he tells students that he expects them to show up to class because “he wants to talk to them.”
When he is not in the classroom, he is often busy with his research.
Tomasko’s research focuses on finding ways to use carbon dioxide as a processing solvent. A solvent is a liquid substance that can dissolve other substances.
Before he was hired at OSU, Tomasko had no intention of teaching. Instead he planned to perform research for a company like DuPont. But Tomasko, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Tulsa and his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Illinois, said working as a teaching assistant in graduate school changed his mind.
He joined OSU’s faculty in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 1993 and has been teaching there since.
When he is not working on research or with students, Tomasko said he enjoys gardening, going to OSU football games, trying new foods and spending time with his three pugs.