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Communication Spotlight

A Tribute to Mr. Tom Kowaleski

Tom Kowaleski

 

By Katherine Gore

For the past two years, I have been lucky enough to have an incredible mentor: Mr. Tom Kowaleski. I feel even luckier to have been his mentee. He did so much for me that I will never be able to repay, though he would never have expected me to. Mr. Kowaleski always told me that he loved to mentor students because there were people out there who helped him get where he was, too. It was more than that, though. Mr. Kowaleski wasn’t just a great mentor because he wanted to be there, or because he truly cared about what he was doing. While both of those are incredibly true, Mr. Kowaleski was a great mentor because he was a great person. He gave everything his all, even working with the college mentee who would benefit immensely from his advice. He was a very busy man, yet he always made time for me. Whether that meant taking my call while in a taxi on his way to work, or incredibly early because I was three hours ahead of him, Mr. Kowaleski always made the time and never acted like he was going out of his way.

Mr. Kowaleski had the ability to ease my fears and give me peace of mind during the most stressful year of my life thus far--my senior year. He did a number of tactical things to help me prepare for the looming future. He helped me find an internship that has proven to be invaluable as far as work experience and networking go, while also filling a gap in my resume. He has also looked over my resume and LinkedIn account, and provided excellent interview and follow-up advice. I feel confident in all of these things knowing that they have been looked over and polished by such an intelligent, detail-oriented person.

However, Mr. Kowaleski did something for me in these past two years that goes beyond preparing me for post-graduate work. He inspired me to really seek out what I want from life, and to chase dreams that are outside of my comfort zone. Thanks to him, I have much broader career aspirations and life goals.

If you had asked me a year and a half ago about my plans post-grad, I probably would have said something about working for a local nonprofit. While that would be awesome work, it isn’t quite what I want to do. Back then, I may not have realized it wasn’t the only career I would be interested in, but only because Mr. Kowaleski had not yet had the chance to help me figure out what I wanted to do. He had this amazing way of listening and responding that was unlike anything I had experienced before. We talked on the phone monthly, and our calls would go something like this: I would ramble about different plans, goals, and worries and he would sit there and take it all in and say, “So what I am hearing is that you ____” and he would concisely and eloquently make order of my chaotic thoughts. He seemed to always have a unique perspective, and his insights would never cease to amaze me. I always felt that he knew what I wanted better than I did, but he would never rush me or force ideas into my head. Since I can be pretty set in my ways, Mr. Kowaleski’s ability to change my perspectives spoke volumes to his patience.

There are so many stories I could offer about how Mr. Kowaleski improved my life, but I will end with one of my favorites. During last year’s Advisory Council visit there was a student networking reception I was particularly nervous about attending. All of the Council members and protégés would be there, and we had the opportunity to network with everyone. For those who are unfamiliar with The College of Charleston’s Advisory Council, they are a distinguished group of inspiring, interesting Communication professionals, of which my mentor was a member. However, for a shy, reserved college student, being in a room with them all at once can be unbelievably intimidating. I expressed my worries about this event to Mr. Kowaleski and he said, “Okay, I am going to teach you how to network, and we will use tonight as practice.” I was still worried, but treating the event like practice, while under Mr. Kowaleski’s wing, sounded a lot better than networking with some of the most successful communication professionals alone. Throughout the event, Mr. Kowaleski would make introductions and helped me to network with the Council. If things were going well, he would step back from the conversation and let me take the lead, but if I started to struggle or get nervous he would step back in and help. Then we would discuss how the conversation went before moving on to the next person. During that afternoon, he taught me how to wait to speak to someone without being awkward, how to introduce yourself to someone you have no connection to, and how to take a daunting task and break it down into something doable. That night Mr. Kowaleski showed me that it is okay to be nervous, and he took something I was scared of and made it into a fun practice session. He was always solving problems with that kind of creativity and resolve. He wasn’t fazed by my nervousness or worried that I would embarrass him, but rather saw it as a challenge to overcome together. I like to think of that night as a metaphor for my senior year: nerve-racking and challenging, but also exciting and enlightening.

In the same way Mr. Kowaleski guided me through that night, he has guided me through my senior year. Getting to know Mr. Kowaleski was a life changing experience, and I am positive that most people who got the opportunity to meet him would say the same.

 

Tom Kowaleski was a member of The College of Charleston’s Advisory Council since the fall of 2009. He was a beloved corporate communications leader who passed away January 20, 2015, at the age of 63.  He worked mainly in the automotive industry, holding titles such as Vice President for Corporate Communications for BMW North America, Vice President of Global Communications at General Motors, and many executive public relations positions for Chrysler Corporation and DaimlerChrysler. He was also an active member of the Automotive Press Association, the Arthur Page Society, and the Public Relations Seminar. He planned on becoming a part-time professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in the coming years.