Meet the Class of 2022: Charlie Zagdanski

By Eric Devlin
Criminal Justice major Charlie Mayer Zagdanski was recently named the recipient of The Ryan Johnson, PhD., Endowed Scholarship. Photo courtesy of Charlie Zagdanski.

Criminal Justice major Charlie Mayer Zagdanski was recently named the recipient of The Ryan Johnson, PhD., Endowed Scholarship. Photo courtesy of Charlie Zagdanski.

Ever since he was a little boy, Charlie Mayer Zagdanski has been a student of history. Growing up he can remember being fascinated with historic documentaries and was an avid fan of “The History Channel.”

“I remember that while my other friends would be watching the latest film, I would be at home engulfed in the period I was watching,” he said.

Little did he know that one day his passion for the past would serve him well in the future. Zagdanski, 24, of Bala Cynwyd, is a Criminal Justice major at Montgomery County Community College and was recently named a recipient of The Ryan Johnson, PhD., Endowed Scholarship.

This prestigious award is given to a graduating student who has displayed academic excellence, a passion for history coursework, commitment to ongoing education, and resilience in overcoming obstacles. Each year, the funding is awarded directly to the recipient’s student account at the four-year institution to which they are transferring to celebrate the journey of continued education.

In 2013, Dr. Ryan Johnson, a beloved professor of History at MCCC’s Pottstown Campus passed away at 32 years old. Dr. Johnson was a dedicated educator with a passion for history and a belief in the importance of higher education and lifelong learning. Students eagerly signed up for his courses and fellow faculty and staff enjoyed working alongside him. It was a significant loss to the College, his loved ones, and the community at large.

In honor of Dr. Johnson’s love of history and devotion to education, his family and friends established the scholarship.

“I felt very honored and humbled by receiving the scholarship,” said Zagdanski. “To be able to meet the parents and learn about their son was very impactful, especially finding out some commonalities shared between us. Also, it makes a big financial difference to me as it will help with buying textbooks, while also helping me create a positive learning environment for the time I’ll be at Penn State.”

Zagdanski’s story begins when his family moved from the United States to Israel when he was 9 years old. He comes from a Jewish family and his family felt a connection with the country. They settled in a predominantly English-speaking American community and stayed there for about seven years.

“I spent most of my upbringing there and enjoyed long hikes, going to the beach with family and friends, and camping,” said Zagdanski. “In short, if it has to do with the outdoors and nature then count me in.”

When he was about 16 years old, his dad moved to New York for business. His mother followed shortly there after to be closer to family. Zagdanski said he finished high school in East Brunswick, N.J.

As a result of his dual citizenship with Israel, Zagdanski, like all Israeli residents was drafted into mandatory two-year, eight-month military service. Rather than wait until after college to fulfill his duty, Zagdanski decided to move back to the country and complete his service.

Military service was challenging. At 19 years old, Zagdanski served under a lone soldier status, meaning he had no immediate family in the country to support him, which permitted him money for an apartment for himself. However, there would be days where he’d be awake for over 30 hours and then have to come home to run errands and do chores around the house. The experience though was rewarding.

“I made lifelong friends,” he said.

As a machine gunner and pointman, both highly coveted positions, Zagdanski learned valuable lessons leading platoon formations. He was stationed primarily along the Jordanian border but also spent a fair amount of time by the Egyptian border. In addition to border patrol, Zagdanski worked joint missions with special forces units where they searched for illegal firearms; he was also part of many other night missions that led to the arrests of wanted terrorists and people in question.

His time leading troops inspired him to go to the Small Tactics Leadership Course, where he was selected to become a squad leader and was later put in charge of eight soldiers.

“During one of my other roles, I taught as an instructor at the very same leadership school that I went to,” he said. “This was truly a life-changing experience as through long nights, and early mornings I learned a lot about myself, about leadership, and about how much potential we truly have.”

After his military contract expired, he flew home to the United States. In the fall of 2020, six months after returning home, he enrolled at MCCC as a Criminal Justice major. Due to the pandemic, he completed all of his coursework online.

“My family joked that the first time I stepped on campus was for graduation,” he said.

During his time at MCCC, Zagdanski rediscovered his love of history, starting with U.S. History I with History Assistant Professor Dr. Catherine Parzynski.

“I would ask for external reading material from the teacher and saw myself buying diaries of Marcus Aurelius, Henry David Thoreau, and Emerson,” he said. “As someone who had a diary in the military, I was drawn to other people’s words and views from the past as it helped me feel like I was there alongside them, seeing what they had seen.”

He followed that course with U.S. History II and then Ancient History as an elective with Professor Powell, where he found himself watching many of the same documentaries he watched as a child. He said he enjoyed learning about the foundations of various societies and religions.

Overall, his experience at MCCC was extremely positive.

“I really enjoyed it. I had high quality instructors and courses. It was a very good experience overall,” he said. “It was very rewarding. I had to work very hard for my grades and ended up doing OK.”

This fall he’s transferring to Penn State University as a Criminal Justice major and History minor.

“I am also planning on participating in the ROTC program where I will surely use the life lessons and the reason why I decided to further my education in history is not only because of my love for it but because I think it will be an integral part of where I tend to apply myself,” he said. “While it is true that in any profession history could be useful, I think that looking at both the criminal justice system and the military that there is a specific affinity that relates to the discipline of history. So, ultimately through my experience, knowledge, and love for history I hope to better shape the people and places that I become involved in.”  

Established in 1983, the Montgomery County Community College Foundation provides scholarships for deserving students, grants for faculty projects, equipment and technology, emergency funds for students in need, support for cultural enrichment activities on campus and financial resources for other college programs and activities. The Foundation is able to make a difference in the lives of our students thanks to the generosity of alumni, parents, community friends, private foundations and corporations. To see how you can make a difference and discuss how your gift can be most meaningful to you, contact the Foundation at 215-641-6324 or