Most teachers in higher education get into the profession by chance rather than intent, but when they arrive they tend to stay. Fourteen years ago, Dr. Edward Jarka began teaching at UMSL Optometry, and now he is preparing to enjoy retirement, of sorts.
As he began cleaning out his office and giving items to students during his final Grand Rounds earlier this month, it became clear that retirement was getting closer. Over the past decade, he has encountered many future optometrists, seen many patients in the clinic, and conducted endless hours of research in Dry Eye. Now, he prepares to close one chapter of his life—teaching.
When I sat down with him to discuss his teaching career,I learned from him and realized why students loved him as an instructor. He wasn’t scripted, he presents in humor, and he treats each and every student like a human being. Looking back on his career he noted that every class, every student is different and personality between classes was abundant. “Every class has its moment. Every class has its personality. The more interesting part is watching students go from second year and knowing little to nothing and then studying for boards…you watch and you see that ‘Aha-ha’ moment,” commented Jarka.
He began teaching at UMSL in the spring 2003 semester and has been an integral part of the ocular disease sequence. In his time, he has taught all the disease courses and most recently to the second-year students—pharmacology. In addition to teaching in the classroom, he worked in clinic, conducted research, and facilitated Grand Rounds.
As he leaves the classroom later this month, Jarka hopes to be remembered for his humor and his diverse background in optometry. He has worked in an ophthalmology practice, industry, the VA, and commercial settings. He hopes that his background will help provide insight to the students when they graduate.
In his 14 years as an educator, many students have sat in his classes. “Some still keep in touch long after they graduated,” Jarka chuckled. He hopes he has formed and developed lasting relationships and inspired students to explore and understand the reasons behind the “what” of a patient’s diagnosis. “Keep asking questions, and most importantly understand why you contribute to the patient’s well-being, not just the visual well-being,” commented Jarka.
We all can provide advice to the future generation of optometrists, and Jarka reflects, “Don’t let it overwhelm you—keep working hard, and if you think you are busy now—you ain’t seen anything yet,” Jarka laughed.
Another important faucet of his career at UMSL led him into research, more specifically in the area of Dry Eye. Through conversation, it is apparent that he is passionate about Dry Eye research. Working in his lab and with an area hospital, he strives to correct Dry Eye through platelet-rich plasma. Throughout his career, he has written many papers on this very topic.
While cleaning out his desk on the fourth floor of Marillac, he came across seven Susan B. Anthony coins. When finding these coins, it brought back memories of ideas (research topics) that were presented and approved by the University—the campus would give a coin to symbolize the accomplishment of having an idea approved. “It was satisfying to find these coins, but sadly, I only had time to work on two of the seven ideas,” Jarka said. One of his most memorable accomplishments occurred when he submitted a poster at Academy, and it was deemed one of the top 11 most influential posters at the Academy.
Even after he leaves the halls of academia—his research and impact on optometry will remain.
Just because he is leaving the classroom and UMSL doesn’t mean that he is giving up on optometry. In fact, he plans to write more articles and even a textbook or two.
He will also make time for fun and travel—he plans to visit his daughter more in Columbus, Ohio, and his son who lives in Manchester, United Kingdom. He will be enjoying life while driving down the highway in one of his Ford Mustangs. But, don’t think for a moment that he is leaving optometry.
Long after Jarka leaves UMSL later this month, his impact on current and former students will be remembered. His humor, his excitement, and his passion for research and scholarship helps to inspire an ever-changing career field of optometry.
Having an impact on students and patients is evident through his teaching, research, and patient care. Moving on from UMSL doesn’t mean he is hanging up his lab coat—he is just preparing to write a new chapter in his own career.
Best wishes Dr. Jarka, and thanks for your contribution to UMSL and optometry.