Into the MikeVerse
By Karen Shih '09 for Maryland Today
Mike Galczynski might have Thor’s hammer in his office, but he doesn’t need the power of a Norse god to make A. James Clark School of Engineering classes engaging.
Instead, he’s using movie magic to make instructional videos both informative and fun, tossing out corny dad jokes and using low-budget special effects to immerse students in the lessons.
He started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, using his self-taught shooting and editing skills to go beyond just recording his voice over a PowerPoint presentation. Now, he has nearly 125 videos on YouTube—with Mjölnir the hammer featuring in his own MCU (“Mike’s Cinematic Universe”) series—reaching up to 5,800 views on his most popular ones. This fall, he’s recruited a group of students interested in learning about video production to help him expand his reach, and he’s even bought a new green screen so they can explore more effects.
“I’ll be walking around campus, or going to the gym, and people will stop me like, ‘Dude, you’re the video guy, you saved my life in ENES102!’” Galczynski said. “It makes me really happy.”
Getting up in front of a crowd comes naturally to the former musical theater enthusiast, whose early experiences include a stint as Kurt from “The Sound of Music” during a school production. He liked buildings and architecture too, so he came to the University of Maryland in 2008 to pursue civil and environmental engineering, aiming for a career in construction.
But he struggled initially in physics, chemistry and calculus, and resulting in a disappointing GPA in his first semester. What changed in the spring was the chance to go beyond the textbook and build a hovercraft in ENES100 (“Introduction to Engineering Design”), part of the Keystone Program.
“I was really beat down, and then I felt so re-energized,” he said. “I even made some of my best friends in college in that class.”
Now, he’s marking eight years as an instructor in that program, designed to give extra support and enhanced hands-on experiences to first- and second-year engineering students. He’s an in-demand teacher (check out his 4.96/5-star rating on PlanetTerp) for two intro courses, a 300-level civil engineering class and two study abroad courses on sustainability in Iceland and Costa Rica. (His famed lemon bars and Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, which often make an appearance around exams, only boost his reputation further.)
“To form a connection with teachers, students usually have to go out of their way,” said civil engineering major Rohan Doshi ’24, who’s taken four classes with Galczynski and served as his teaching assistant. “But with Mike, he goes out of his way to make a connection with his students, and that makes a huge difference.”
Galczynski shares a few of his favorite videos:
The Arduino Trilogy
With a reference to the hair-raising T. rex. entrance in “Jurassic Park” and a shrink-ray zapping Galczynski, Ant-Man-style, into the quantum realm, the series introduces students to the Arduino, a small, programmable circuit board often used in introductory engineering classes.
“I knew people were bummed out to be at home during the pandemic,” he said. “So I wanted to throw in a little unexpected thing, an underlying joke that relates to the content. Then as I got further along, I got more creative.”
On materials failing under stress
Is that … two Mikes? As part of an online lecture about stress, Galczynski put himself under duress. He filmed two versions of himself at the UMD Golf Course, leaving his camera set up so he wouldn’t lose the shot as he ran back into the clubhouse to change clothes.
He was on campus seven days a week for months during the pandemic, trekking from McKeldin Mall to the bridges over Paint Branch Creek to the engineering labs, to give students learning remotely the feeling of being on campus. It was a laborious process—a minute of finished video takes an hour to produce—“but I knew it would be worthwhile,” he said.
On participating in virtual classes
With nobody to film with during COVID, Galczynski wound up frequently chatting with himself on screen—a tactic he employed again in this video as he lectured to himself and a room of black Zoom boxes, showing the importance of engaging visually and vocally in class.
Doshi was grateful for the nudge. “In all my other classes, everyone had their cameras off and it wasn’t interactive at all. I couldn’t make friends,” he said. “But Mike made sure people had their videos on, split us into breakout rooms and popped in to make sure we were collaborating, and I actually got to meet people that I still talk to today.”
Iceland study abroad
It’s a world of geothermal wonders: Iceland features shooting geysers, steaming hot springs—and even the chance to bake bread underground. Galcyznski captures all that through photos and videos for his students to look back on—and recruit the next cohort.
Published November 14, 2023