From chemist to community activist, alumnus is honored for work

August 16, 2022

Richard Dolinski ’61, ’63, ’66 used his University of Detroit degrees to springboard a 32-year career at Dow Chemical. With the company, he held prestigious positions such as president of Dow Automotive and corporate vice president. 

But perhaps his most impactful professional accomplishments exist outside of his tenure at the long-time Fortune 500 company.

Richard Dolinski, smilingAt 81, Dolinski continues to pursue innovative and research-intensive approaches to education and childhood development.

Years ago, he took a hard look at the American educational system, which he says is often criticized based on how students tend to perform on international assessments compared to peer nations.

“The U.S. is always somewhere near the bottom, but the U.S. has the second highest child poverty rate of all the developed nations,” Dolinski said. “If you look at every kind of educational achievement, it is highly correlated to child poverty levels.”

In 2004, he launched the Legacy Center for Student Success, a nonprofit in Midland, Mich., that became the Legacy Center for Community Success a few years later. The organization focuses on improving the local education system, especially through improvements in early childhood development.

Through research, Dolinski developed the Model for Youth Success, which aims to address four elements for the youth in the community: basic health and safety; physical health; social, emotional and spiritual health; and quality education.

The Legacy Center for Community Success collaborated with the Midland County Probate Court and partnered with other local agencies to accomplish this.

For instance, to address poor dental hygiene, a key performance indicator, Dolinski reached out to Midland-area dentists, who agreed to provide free dental work to at-risk children. To cover the cost of materials, such as fillings, Dolinski created a fund but says that the dentists rarely even bother to submit a bill.

“We reduced delinquency by over 90% in Midland County,” Dolinski said. “When we started there were more than 1,000 kids in our juvenile justice center. Today, there's a little over 100.”

The Legacy Center for Community Success has partnered with Midland Public Schools and other school districts to create valuable youth programs.

“Among them are four studies on Developmental Assets and their effect on youth development,” Dolinski said. “The effect of vision impairments on learning outcomes, the value of quality early childhood development, providing literacy and numeracy tutoring services, providing anti-drug use courses, providing support services for children from economically disadvantaged families.” 

To further invest in the youth in his community, he’s established the Ready for School Preschool Scholarship at the Midland Area Community Foundation, Midland Kids First and the Safe Environment for Every Kid program to prevent the incidence of child maltreatment.

In recognition of these accomplishments, Dolinski was recently inducted into the Junior Achievement of North Central Michigan Business Hall of Fame.

Detroit Roots 

Dolinski was born in southeast Michigan to Polish immigrants who lived in Hamtramck. Today, his childhood home is beneath a General Motors plant.

“Polish was my first language,” he said. “I went to St. Stanislaus grade school in high school.”

In the late 1950s, Dolinski enrolled at University of Detroit, living at home to save money.

He graduated in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a minor in philosophy. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in organic chemistry. Rather than hitting the job market, he pursued a fortuitous opportunity — continuing his academic pursuits.

“After [Russia launched] Sputnik in 1957, the federal government started getting very concerned that the U.S. was falling behind in science and it started funding lots of advanced science programs,” Dolinski said. “One of the beneficiaries was University of Detroit, which received sufficient funding to begin a doctoral program in chemistry.”

From Chemistry to Education

In 1966, he earned a doctorate in organic chemistry, becoming the first University of Detroit student to earn the degree.

Shortly after graduating, Dolinski started as an analyst at Dow Chemical.

At the time he was married with one child and another on the way. Up to that point, his wife was the breadwinner, supporting the family as a public school elementary teacher.

In 1973, Dow Chemical transferred Dolinski to Tokyo, which prompted him to become significantly involved in the education of his children. He did whatever he could to ensure his children stayed ahead of the academic curve.

“They went to school in Yokohama, which is a kind of a foreign community where there's a fairly large international school. From time to time, I would be at the school and was very interested in my children's education and in the school’s curriculum.”

Three years later, Dolinski and his family returned to Michigan, bringing his heightened interest in education. In 1979, Dolinski won an elected seat on the Midland Public Schools board, for which he served six terms over the course of a 25-year period.

He later served multiple terms on the Delta College Board of Trustees.

“Through all that, I started learning about schools and education processes,” Dolinski said. “It happened on an evolutionary basis, but I think I had the values inculcated by University of Detroit to be concerned about something broader than just my children. That is the whole community, and we built on that.”

In 1998, Dolinski retired from Dow Chemical and started a management consulting business. Four years later, he sold it to Omni Tech International, remaining a partner and the vice chairman of its board until 2020.

Serving and Innovating

Dolinski launched the Legacy Center for Student Success in 2004. Six years later, it merged with the Literacy Council and formed The Legacy Center for Community Success.

During this time, Dolinski leaned heavily on his University of Detroit education, especially the courses he took that were unrelated to chemistry.

"I can give all the credit to the Jesuits: Their philosophy of education, in my view, is fantastic. It's unparalleled,” Dolinski said “They want to educate the entire person; they don't just teach you your discipline.” 

As a student, he wondered why a chemistry major required so many extraneous courses, but the value of his well-rounded education became more apparent over time.

“I cherish them today,” Dolinski said. “Everything from political science to economics. These were all requirements of a chemistry curriculum, which brings a lot of people to the arts. The idea of building a wholly educated person is really marvelous. I have a breadth of abilities.” 

At University of Detroit, he gained a foundation in childhood psychology and statistics, all of which are invaluable to the work he’s done in education.

Dolinski also sees the parallels between his work and the initiative that helped to fund his Ph.D. in chemistry. Both were solutions to help to address fears that those in the American education system were falling behind.

Today, his commitment is to improving education beyond the U.S. border. As a member of Rotary International, he’s working to improve the educational needs of a school in southwest Uganda. Dolinski will travel there at the end of the summer.

“A lot of it goes with what we've learned in the U.S.,” Dolinski said. “We're trying to bring this model for youth success over there.”

A few years ago, Dolinski stepped down as CEO of the Legacy Center for Community. As president emeritus, he continues to dedicate up to 30 hours a week to the organization and his other education-based causes, and doesn’t appear ready to slow down anytime soon. 

“It's great to have all that stimulation and ability to interact with people, especially a lot of young people,” Dolinski said. “It broadens my viewpoint. It keeps me energized and active, and keeps me putting one foot in front of the other.”

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