Jun 3, 2013
By Colleen Kiphart
Professor Emeritus Milton Ploghoft believes in the power of research in public education. He believes in it so deeply that he has spent his life working from Athens to Africa to ensure that public education is strong globally.
And he believes in it so strongly that he has made a $30,000 gift to endow the Milton E. and Zella M. Ploghoft African Educational Research Development Fund in support of the African Educational Research Network (AERN). The focus of his gift is no surprise to those who know him; the many nations and cultures of Africa have been a part of Ploghoft’s professional life for half a century.
“I have been involved in international education, especially in Africa, since 1963. In 1963, Ohio University had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to build a new teacher’s college in Nigeria, and they invited me to head up the project,” explained Ploghoft. “That’s when I got into Africa, and from there the college hired me away from the University. After that I got involved with an Ohio University project in a major way in Namibia when I was director for Center for International Studies.”
Like Ploghoft, AERN is committed to learning more about and improving education in Africa. AERN hosts global summits for academics and students alike to present research relating to education in Africa. The organization also produces an online research journal, The African Symposium that was established by Ohio University President Emeritus Charles Ping. The group is now seeing the benefit of its research and advocacy in the current generation of governmental leaders.
“About 22 or 23 years ago, President Ping took the lead in inviting a number of heads of African universities to a meeting to see if there was an interest in establishing this network,” recounted Ploghoft. “That’s when it began. The meeting was held in Atlanta. Recently, the ambassador from Lesotho, said the he attended the founding meeting of AERN, representing his university. He was appointed ambassador to the U.S. two years ago, and last May he attended a meeting of AERN.”
The 2012 AERN meeting was at North Carolina State University, but the next promises to be more far flung for American researchers - in Nigeria. Thanks to Ploghoft’s generous gift, some OHIO faculty and students have the chance to attend. But his gift is also bringing sharing research into African education back to the Athens Campus.
“We’ve had a tradition that has been kind of neglected. Beginning in 1980, Ohio University hosted an annual research African symposium, and we invited doctoral students from throughout the United States to come present their research. It was very successful,” said Ploghoft.
But after the death of the event’s organizer and budget concerns, the symposium become sporadic. Ploghoft hopes his gift can change that.
“The African Education Research Symposium was a national event. I think it was an important experience for OHIO doctoral students who were interested in African research,” he said. “We also had a number of African graduate students then, so it was my hope that we could have the means to revive that. What I hope would happen was that with funds available we could support some of our doctoral students and faculty to attend meetings of the AERN and to hold research seminars. I hope that we would revive that interest that was very lively in the 1980s and 1990s and contribute to the strength of the network because members could send member students to the symposium.”
And though his gift is centered in Athens, Ohio, Ploghoft sees the true scope of what this endowment can accomplish.
“The gift goes all around the world,” he said. “Next year, when we have the annual meeting in Nigeria, there will be, in spite of the University budget, funds to send people to represent Ohio University.”
Dean of The Patton College Renée Middleton is excited by the doors opened to OHIO’s students by Ploghoft’s gift.
“His foresight and generosity of spirit will bring the world to OHIO and OHIO’s students and faculty to the world,” she said. “It makes me even more proud of our college and university when I see our faculty, like Milton, giving to the next generation of learners and teachers.”