Crystal Gildea Polski ’04 Wins Fulbright Teaching Award

Posted on August 23rd, 2013 by

Crystal Polski '04

Crystal Polski ’04

Gustavus Adolphus College has been turning out leaders in the education field for decades. The College’s well-established programs in elementary and secondary education are highly respected by school districts across the state of Minnesota and beyond, which has led to high placement rates for young graduates.

Graduates of all ages are impacting the education scene in the state of Minnesota in a variety of roles.

Mindy Greiling ’70 taught in the St. Paul Public Schools before she embarked on a 20-year career in the state legislature where she focused her efforts on education reform.

Daniel Sellers ’06 is the Executive Director of MinnCan – an independent education reform nonprofit that aims to change state policy to transform the way we educate Minnesota’s children so that all students regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status have access to great public schools.

Gustavus graduates are in leadership positions at schools all over the state. At Minnetonka High School for example, one Gustavus alumnus, Jeffrey Erickson ’93, replaced another Gustavus alumnus, Dave Adney ’76, as the school’s principal this summer.

William Green ’72 spent four years as Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, while Tim Dittberner ’82 was recently named Superintendent for New Prague Public Schools.

The College also has hundreds of graduates who make a daily impact on today’s youth inside the classroom, including Crystal Polski ’04.

Polski, who has taught for seven years at Wayzata High School, is one of 17 teachers in the country this year who received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching.

The program recognizes and encourages excellence in teaching by awarding grants for teachers to study at a university, observe classes and complete a project pertaining to their field of educational inquiry during their time abroad.

Polski will be traveling to Finland for six months starting in January of 2014.

“This grant will provide me with time to reflect, observe, and learn from one of the best educational systems in the world,” Polski said. “I teach in the one of the best high schools in the state but I still think that there is room for improvement for our students to be better critical thinkers and lifelong learners.”

When Polski arrived at Gustavus in the fall of 2000 she was not dead set on becoming an educator, but was instead torn between majoring in either business or education.

“I ultimately decided to pursue teaching after my month long observations of a high school social studies classroom during my freshman year January Term,” Polski said. “Teaching is much more than a job to me, but a vocation. I have always enjoyed working with young adults and education has the power to be transformative to everyone involved.”

Polski says that her passion for education was shaped in part by several mentors at Gustavus.

“One of Gustavus’ greatest assets is the faculty and small class sizes. In the education department I was most influenced by Professor Carolyn O’Grady,” Polski said. “She was always challenging the class to dig deeper and look at the many perspectives that are represented in the 21st century classroom. She also inspired a sense of social justice within me that has led me to be the advisor for Amnesty International and a Great Decisions foreign policy club at Wayzata High School.”

Another advantage of attending a liberal arts college such as Gustavus is that students like Polski tend to be highly influenced by faculty and other mentors outside of their major.

“Outside of the education department I was inspired by Greg Kaster and Kate Wittenstein of the history department. Their passion for understanding the past in new ways was evident in every class I had with them,” Polski said. “I was also a Peer Assistant during my time at Gustavus and Judy Douglas was an advocate for all of the work we did on campus and in the community – she showed me what it means to be a leader.”

Polski teaches seniors at Wayzata in a course called Economic and Social Analysis of Public Policy. Students in the class are required to research a public policy topic of their choice over the course of a semester, write a paper on the topic, and take action in the community – much like the Public Discourse class taught in the College’s Communication Studies department.

Polski also teaches Wayzata’s Advanced Placement Comparative Politics course where students learn about the governments of the United Kingdom, Mexico, Russia, China, Nigeria, and Iran.

Polski says that as she prepares for every day in the classroom, she falls back on lessons she learned at Gustavus.

“The education department at Gustavus taught me how to carefully plan constructive lessons for learners in the classroom,” Polski said. “As a teacher there are many things that are learned by doing, but Gustavus taught me to be reflective and ask good questions, which makes me always willing and wanting to improve my craft.”

That is exactly what Polski will be doing when she travels to Finland in January. She hopes to bring back with her several new ideas that will benefit her future students.

“Finland assesses their students with fewer standardized and multiple choice tests and works to put the learner at the center of education,” Polski said. “Finnish teachers are respected as professionals and make decisions locally about what is best for their students. Finland is obviously different from the United States in many ways, but I also think that we could learn a lot from them.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin



  1. John Clementson says:

    Congratulations Crystal!


  2. Mark Sallmen '73 says:

    Tervetuloa Suomeen!!! Welcome to Finland! I hope you will enjoy it here. It will be great to have another Gustie in Finland! Please contact me if I can be of any assistance.

  3. Jane Schuck says:

    Hey Crystal!

    So happy to hear of your Fulbright Award and your study of Finland! Will you come back to Gustavus and share your findings? We would love to see you again!


  4. Deb says:


    Way to go! You have come a long way from your student teaching in Richfield middle school – but even then
    it was clear you were always looking for creative and new ways to teach. Your Fulbright Award will enable you to continue to ask good questions! Come see us in the Education department when you get back.