EWU Honor’s Director doing the unimaginable



By Alla Drokina, Staff Writer

Dana Elder, Ph.D., director of the Honors Program at EWU, never imagined in his youth that he would one day be a professor.

“I thought the one thing I would never do is teach. I was not kind to my teachers. Probably difficult to imagine a young male who thinks he knows everything,” said Elder.

He figured if he took up teaching, karma would step in and he would receive the same treatment from his students that he gave his own professors. But the young man Elder speaks of bears little resemblance to the professor and director he projects to be today.

Although he has authored over 40 published pieces, including poetry, teacher’s tips and various articles, Elder does not readily speak of his success. However, he will readily speak about his students.

“Part of my role as director of honors is to brag about the students. I keep track of people and like to share their victories,” said Elder. “It gives me great joy when one of our students, I don’t know, goes to medical school or does a Ph.D. or goes right out of here into a significant position in business.”

Elder received his undergraduate degree in Spanish language and literature and an MA in comparative literature from the University of Washington. He also received a Ph.D. in rhetoric, composition and English literature from Washington State University.

Fresh out of college, Elder saw an advertisement for a teaching position available in Sunnyside, Washington. The ad requested candidates who spoke English and Spanish, so Elder signed up. The federal program had Elder working with high school and middle school children. He found teaching to be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.

“I just didn’t plan it,” said Elder of the unexpected teaching opportunity.

Elder traveled to Guatemala for a holiday and came back to the U.S. to work with kids for a GED program. Then he started his Ph.D. at Washington State University. A year before finishing his Ph.D., Elder decided to take a teaching position at EWU. He taught literature courses early on, served as the director of English composition and then the English department chair for seven years before being appointed to his current position as the director of the University Honors Program.

Elder has had the opportunity to observe Eastern’s evolution over the last 32 years. Although EWU has undergone various changes, one of the most notable for Elder is the expansion of diversity on campus.

“We’ve always had first-generation students, and we’ve always been about half transfer students, but the diversity in terms of international populations, those have all increased and they make it a better place,” said Elder.

In fact, one of the reasons Elder has remained at EWU for 32 years is the people.

“I think the people who work here are nicer. I really do. Students talk to the professors outside of the class,” said Elder. “I just like the people I work with. I like the students … [They] make a big difference.”

It would be difficult for anyone to question Elder’s affection and commitment to his work and this campus, but if Elder could give his young self a piece of advice, it would be to re-evaluate his priorities.

“I’d tell myself that work isn’t really the point, that family is more important,” said Elder.

Elder and his wife, deputy prosecutor Heather, have a 15-year-old son, Blake, and have adopted a now 6-year-old girl, Malela, from the Republic of Congo.

Elder became emotional when talking about the adoption of his daughter and the country she came from. During the adoption process, Elder traveled to the Republic of Congo twice.

“There are a lot of parts of the world where life is really hard, and the Congo is one of those places,” said Elder.

He noted that girls there do not have access to education and that females seem to carry the bulk of the work.

“People are wonderful. The economy is terrible. It’s like 80 percent unemployment,” said Elder. “It’s hot and humid and poor. It’s a very rough place.”

Malela started kindergarten this year and is keeping Elder and his wife busy.

When Elder is not dedicating his time to his vocation, family or attending various school functions, such as productions put on by EWU’s theater, he reads voraciously, including spy novels, westerns and crime novels.

“I think it’s important that people have art and music and theater in their lives. And books. I think that’s part of having a rich life experience,” said Elder.

His personal life philosophy is derived from multiple philosophers, but Elder is fairly fond of Plato, who reminds him that he cannot achieve perfection but can work towards it.

“We can work towards justice and truth and equality. So I think even though we’re never going to get there, we can still work on it, … and we can become better ourselves by working on it,” said Elder.