Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Dr. Walter Polka, a longtime Niagara area educator who has traveled the globe, recently returned from a special mission to Africa where he shared his expertise with graduate students at a leading university.
A former Lewiston-Porter school administrator, Polka is a professor of professional studies and director of the Ph.D. program in leadership and policy at Niagara University. He had been invited to Ethiopia as the “external examiner” for three doctoral candidates in the Addis Ababa University’s Department of Educational Planning and Management in the College of Behavior Studies. Addis Ababa is the oldest and largest university in Ethiopia with more than 40,000 students. In his role there, Polka made the final decision regarding the merits of the degree candidates’ research in their successful pursuit of a Ph.D.
His findings showed that each of the candidates conducted excellent research projects that, he stated, would contribute significantly to the development of the university system in Ethiopia. Today there are more than 30 universities in that country, compared with only 10 two decades ago. He attributed the rapid expansion to a major government policy for improving the quality and access to higher education in a developing nation where citizens may now successfully compete in the contemporary global economy,
“I thoroughly enjoyed that academic mission,” he said upon returning to the U.S. “Although it was an intensive experience, it was very rewarding as I was able to provide academic research service to help advance education there.
Polka also noted that his endeavors abroad were consistent with the social justice focus of the current Ph.D. program and the Vincentian mission at Niagara University.
Obviously the NU professor left an impressive mark during his stay at Addis Ababa. Dr. Hussein Kedir, who heads the Department of Education and Planning at the university, said: “In the three-day sessions chaired by Dr. Polka’s mission, attended by some 200 people including faculty and Ph.D. students, his scholarly contributions were immense and exemplary. Faculty and staff members greatly benefitted from Polka’s critical questions, incisive critiques and constructive feedback.”
Without question, Polka leads the pack when it comes to globe-trotting educational projects. He has presented workshops, served as a consultant and interacted with government, industry, business and hospitality leaders in more than two dozen countries on six continents. Since returning to the NU campus from Georgia in 2008, his missions have included Beijing, China; Muenster, Germany; Athens, Greece, Nairobi, Kenya; Johannesburg, South Africa; Madrid, Spain, Istanbul, Turkey, and Warsaw, Poland, among other nations.
Before departing on his African mission, Polka had supervised the successful Ph. D. defense of one of his own students, Num Kathleen-Yin Wong, a Toronto high school principal. That dissertation dealt with the parental engagement of new immigrants to Canada and the study of Ontario parents’ roles from the perspective of students, parents and teachers. Wong’s defense was the first such presentation at NU in more than 60 years. At present, there are more than 40 graduate students and doctoral candidates enrolled in the NU Leadership and Policy program.