Low enrollment numbers threaten Polish program’s future

GVL / Eric Coulter
The Polish Program information board

Eric Coulter

GVL / Eric Coulter The Polish Program information board

Joel Campbell

After 30 years of instruction at Grand Valley State University, the Polish program could move from endangered to extinct if enrollment does not increase.

The department of modern languages and literatures has expressed the desire to close the program if its numbers do not increase. Currently, one section each of Polish 101, 102 and 202 are being offered at GVSU. While each section has a 30-student capacity, 90 students total, only 34 students are enrolled in Polish courses.

Eva Lewak, who has taught Polish at GVSU since 1994, said students have told her the modern languages department does not advertise the Polish program to the same degree it advertises its more popular programs.

“I had a transfer student who asked to take Polish,” Lewak said. “The adviser told her to take French instead because Grand Valley didn’t offer Polish.”

Other languages taught at GVSU are French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Russian.

In letters POL 202 students wrote about the enrollment problems, one student suggested others did not take Polish because unlike many other languages in the department, Polish cannot be taken as a major or minor. There are only four courses in the Polish program, 101 through 202, but students can seek additional language support through Klub Polski, which was founded last semester and has about 20 members.

Despite the program’s small size, it has developed a strong relationship with the Polish consulate in Chicago. For Christmas this year, Lewak and the students went to the Consulate to celebrate Polish Christmas traditions. GVSU was one of the few universities present at the celebration, which the Polish vice ambassador to the U.S. also attended.

The Consolate interviewed Klub Polski President Jacob Szocinski and has offered support for the group.

“The consulate called them young ambassadors for Poland,” Lewak said.

The Polish program is also active in the Studies in Trans-Atlantic International Relations (STAIR) program, an exchange program between GVSU, the Crakow University of Economics in Poland and the University of Debrecen in Hungary. In the dual-degree program, GVSU students spend one semester in each of the partner schools and receive both GVSU and European Union bachelors-level international relations degrees. Students are qualified for the STAIR program after a semester of Polish language, and scholarships are offered to GVSU students from the Polish Consulate.

Lewak said an end to Polish at GVSU could lead to the end of the STAIR exchange.

“This is the time to go (through STAIR),” Lewak said.

Lewak said despite the popularity of other European countries like Italy or Spain, Poland is “not having any problems” recruiting study abroad students.

For more information about the Polish program, visit www.gvsu.edu/mll. For more information about the STAIR program, visit www.gvsu.edu/pic.

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