PITTSBURGH — After more than 10 years of wearing Hawaiian shirts to class on Fridays, Carlow chemistry and physics professor Bill Kowallis soon will be putting on a different kind of uniform – that of a U.S. Army officer.
Kowallis will be taking a leave from Carlow at the end of the semester to become an active duty officer and biochemist.
“I come from a military family – my father, grandfather and uncle all served our country, so it’s always been on my mind,” Kowallis said. “I have a couple friends currently serving, and they said `Geez, with your background you should see what’s out there.’ So, I reached out to a recruiter to see what kind of opportunities they had to offer.”
At 41, with a PhD and 11 years as a Carlow professor, Kowallis knows he’s taking a non-traditional route to the military, but he said he thought he had a unique perspective to offer.
His recruiter, Staff Sergeant Barry Snider, who works with the Pittsburgh office for the Army Medical Department, or AMEDD, said most people join the Army right out of high school, but recruits like Kowallis are not unheard of, and they are much appreciated. The active military age cutoff is 42.
“He will be ideally qualified to become a researcher or a professor at an acclaimed institution like West Point. He’s a candidate for being appointed to a biodefense laboratory for hands-on research. We don’t have bio weapons, but we still need research to defend against them,” Snider said.
But first, Kowallis will attend a “boot camp” of sorts, specifically for officers. Snider said the course includes physical training, rifle qualification, obstacle course, first aid and Army history.
“It’s not your regular basic training knock you down and build you back up,” Snider said. “It’s more of a mentor-peer type relationship that provides motivation.”
During his tenure at Carlow, Kowallis has tried to do just that for the students. He received the Sisters of Mercy Award for Excellence in Academic Advising in 2014.
“I don’t think I did anything special,” he said. “I take as much time as I can to help students where they’re at. They’re the reason we’re here, so I make them my priority. This was one of the most rewarding jobs I can imagine. It’s definitely a privilege to work at Carlow.”
Kowallis’ military experience will not only help the United States with his biochemistry skills, it also will create relationships that could help Carlow and its students.
Matt Gordley, dean of Carlow’s College of Arts and Sciences, said he anticipates opportunities will open up regarding collaborations, student internships and partnerships with government laboratories as a result of Kowallis’ military connections.
Snider affirms the possibility.
“Bill can always be a solid contact for Carlow as he progresses further with his Army career,” Snider said.
Gordley said Kowallis is always welcome to return to Carlow as a guest speaker while he’s on active duty, or as a faculty member when he’s completed military service, bringing back an even greater skill set, perspective and breadth of experience to share with students and colleagues.
In addition to helping professionals like Kowallis enter the military, Snider says that as a medical recruiter, he can help college students on their path into medical, dental, veterinary, nursing and optometry schools, and generally likes to connect with them in the junior year of their undergrad degree to explore graduate studies, paid for by the military.