Maria Szerszen, associate professor of civil engineering who earned awards for her research on material fatigue and reliability and for teaching, passed away on Sunday, May 20 after a short battle with cancer. She was 63.
Born Aug. 5, 1954, Szerszen earned her master’s degree in civil engineering from Cracow University of Technology in Kraków, Poland in 1978. She served as a teaching assistant before earning her Ph.D. and a position as an assistant professor with the Department of Civil Engineering at Cracow University of Technology in 1993.
In 1996, Szerszen moved to the United States with her two young sons to accept a research position at the University of Michigan's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. In 2007, she joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Civil Engineering as a visiting scholar, and in 2010 became an associate professor.
Szerszen’s work was highly regarded by her peers. She received the prestigious University of Michigan (UM) Research Faculty Recognition Award in 2006 and the UM College of Engineering Outstanding Research Scientist Award in 2004. At the national level, Szerszen served as an editorial member of three international journals, Open Journal of Functional Material Research, Open Journal of Advanced Materials Research, and Research and Application of Material. She regularly contributed to national and international conferences and edited or co-edited eight books of conference proceedings. She was a key member of the ASCE Committee on Safety of Buildings and for three years she chaired the ASCE Technical Administration Committee on Structures Safety and Reliability.
Szerszen connected with her students beyond preparing them for careers in structural engineering. Based on students’ recommendations, she was delighted to receive the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Olsson and Associates Faculty Teaching Excellence Award in 2014. She continued to support and mentor current Ph.D. student Ali Al-Hajami and his family into the last week of her life.
In addition to her passion for teaching and research, Szerszen had both artistic and athletic sides. She was a connoisseur of fashion, especially shoes and handbags, and of interior design. In recent years, she had taken up painting.
Although she traveled most often back to her native Poland to visit family and friends “back home,” she enjoyed travel for work and for opportunities to experience new cultures. When she wasn’t landlocked in Nebraska, friends may be surprised to learn that she took advantage of nearly every opportunity to go sailing. She was a licensed helmsman in Poland. In her earlier years she enjoyed competitive sailing in addition to running and tennis.
Szerszen is survived by her sons, Jakub ("Kuba") and Karol; her mother, Wieslawa Kudyba; siblings Jolanta Tomasik and Ryszard Kudyba; and her ex-husband, Jerzy Szerszen. She was preceded in death by her father, Jan Kudyba.
A funeral service for Szerszen will be held in her native Poland. An event honoring her life, planned by the Department of Civil Engineering, will take place this fall.
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