“I grew up on ‘The Hill,’ right near Angelo’s, and for some reason, we always got Gerry’s… So, I’m a Gerry’s guy. Always.”
David Mahalak, like so many Wilkes-Barre kids, came of age with one of those “blue-collar” chips on his shoulder. Again, like many before him, it toughened him up and carried him through a multi-sport, academically-rich career at Meyers High School. Somewhere along the way, however, he broke from the norm.
Call it “wrong place/right time” or vice versa. At some point, during his time in those hallowed halls of blue and gold, David discovered chess. Then, he began to realize that his pursuits – educational, occupational and beyond – favored the the analytical. Soon, the well-rounded athlete/scholar blazed a path through half a dozen universities. The result (so far) – a healthy handful of degrees, including a Ph.D. in Engineering Management, a successful consulting firm and a faculty position at The University of Scranton.
Somewhere, in all of that, he met a girl. Well, he met her way before all of that (in junior high). They went on their first date as juniors. He can rattle off every minute detail – the day, the weather, the Mark Wahlberg film… They married. They added two kids to the mix and made their way back home to Northeastern PA. Still, his path remains proudly unfinished. “Miles to go before I sleep…” as Frost would say.
We caught up with Dr. Mahalak on a sunny Tuesday in September and really put the screws to him with questions like Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Basically, my whole life. Even when we were down in Virginia, we still had a house here. I was born and raised in Northeastern PA. My wife and I are raising our family here. We’re very happy to be a part of this community. I remember when I came back, I was like, “you know, for someone with my specific education and background, I just don’t know if it’s going to translate.” I thought maybe I should be in D.C. or Philly. Ultimately, it ended up being the best thing for me. I was able to build my business and my connections and do it the way I wanted to right here. Honestly, I feel like I have been able to do much more than I ever thought I would. So, yeah, it’s working out pretty well here (laughs).
What do you love about your town?
I love the hard-working culture we have here. Everyone that I interact with is extremely hard-working and they’re passionate about the area. They take great pride in being from Northeastern PA, whether it’s Wilkes-Barre or Scranton or Dallas – whatever the case may be. That pride always shines through. As I mentioned earlier, I’m participating in Paint Pittston Pink this year. And I have had tremendous support at The University of Scranton. We’re doing t-shirt sales there to donate to cancer research. I’ve had support from the Dallas Junior Mounts helping to raise money for 50/50 donations. I’ve had a ton of support from small businesses throughout Northeastern PA as well as family and friends. All of that support goes a long way in showing me that this area is passionate and they care about their community.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Yes. The favorite restaurant question. That’s tough. I was planning on going with the general cuisine of NEPA pizza. In my opinion, it’s just the best pizza there is. Even though many of my students from New York and New Jersey will disagree with me over and over again, I really enjoy our pizza here. In particular, Gerry’s… obviously. But I do also really enjoy Old Forge style pizza. And that can come from any one of those places. They’re all so good. Yeah. Those are really my two main preferences.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
Well, I have two kids. So, I’m heavily involved in volunteering. I’m a volunteer coach for baseball and football, which I thoroughly enjoy. It’s just great to be able to work with those kids and mentor them. So, I really get involved with that volunteer work. When we have free time from all of that, we really enjoy going to Ricketts Glen. We do a lot of hikes up there. We also like to take advantage of special events and local attractions. Like last weekend, we were at Kalahari. And, of course, I’m a passionate Eagles fan and with all of the fundraising events for Paint Pittston Pink every weekend, I haven’t been able to catch a game. So now I’m torn. They’re undefeated. They’re playing so well. If I watch a game, am I going to jinx it? That’s the predicament I’m in right now (laughs).
What’s next for you?
Professionally, my goal is to continue to be involved with The University of Scranton. Right now, I’m a Faculty Specialist. The next step for me would be an Assistant Professor. And that would get me involved in a lot of research work. So, you know, working through the ranks. Then from the consulting realm, the next step for me is commercial software built on decision analytics. That’s all the professional stuff.
Personally, I am just taking in every minute and opportunity that I can with my kids. Because I know that when they get to those teenage years, they’re not going to want to hang out with me (laughs). Whether it’s coaching, just being there for support, doing fun things on the weekend, I am fully committed to every single minute I can spend with my family.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I think there are a lot of opportunities in the future for this area. We have a lot of new businesses opening up every year. My goal is to help shape NEPA to provide opportunities more specific to my area of expertise. That would be creating opportunities for data analytics, computer science, software development. I really hope to be a central point for that in this area. I want people here to have the opportunity to do that type of work that right now is happening in D.C. and Philly here in Northeastern PA. It’s definitely a possibility here. In fact, I can see it coming. It’s happening. But we still have a lot of work to do.
Well, I was born and raised here. My wife was born and raised here. We love the area. It gives you an extremely great quality of life. You can sit there and think about the cost of living in different areas, but NEPA is probably one of the best returns on that cost-of-living investment. You can live very comfortably. And there’s always an opportunity to work for more if you want to. So, for us, it was a combination of loving the area, our family being close by and all that we know we could give our children in this wonderful place.