Amid the various faculty offices on the second floor of Van Meter sits a modest yet
influential man who has dedicated 56 years of his life to Goucher College. Dr. Eli Velder started teaching part-time at Goucher in 1958.
“I got a phone call from the then chair of the department asking me if I would like to teach one course,” Velder said. “I knew her and she knew me because she was on my doctoral committee at Hopkins. One course [turned into] two courses, then three courses … By 1963 I became full-time.”
Born and raised in an observant Jewish family in Baltimore, Velder received his undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University. Shortly after he finished his degree, he started teaching courses in secondary education at Goucher. Now, Velder is part-time and teaches history of education, issues in education, and a graduate course in contemporary education in the spring semester.
“I love them all,” he said. “I’ve been here this long because I love the courses, I love the students; I think we’ve got a unique group of students. I’m happy here.”
During his tenure, Velder has seen many changes at the college. In addition to the most obvious transition of accepting male students into the school, Velder has witnessed a cultural shift throughout the years.
“When I started, this was a women’s college, and the college was geared towards making ladies out of the women,” Velder said. “We had a tone committee composed of faculty and students who issued all sorts of suggestions on what clothes to wear, how to dress. One of the restrictions was that the students could not wear pants. And one day there was a huge blizzard and students came with pants and the faculty was just shocked– the end of standards. That was the cultural aspect of taking care of young ladies.”
In addition to seeing the cultural transformations, Velder witnessed structural changes in the academic system of the college. He also explained that the atmosphere was different back then; everyone was fully invested in every aspect of the college.
“There’s a concept in education, ‘in loco parentis,’ which means that faculty is in place of a parent,” Velder said. “And I think women’s colleges took that seriously. And we felt it, that we had a responsibility. Those are the kinds of changes that took place. Part of it is a reflection of changes in society too, of that period.”
Velder also had a major impact on developing the college’s second graduate program in education. Although the program, as he explains, has “changed dramatically” since its inception. Velder was instrumental in designing and creating the graduate program, which was initially created for half-time students who were looking to take graduate courses in education because a teacher with 30 credits from a graduate program or with a masters degree in education, received a higher salary.
In addition, the program’s goal was to widen the range of knowledge and participation in a masters in education. The program initially had three divisions: expansion, concentration, and psychological.
“Our goal was to have an expansion of academic analyses of education from different academic disciplines,” Velder said. “The other program is that they concentrated on one of three areas: One area was the at-risk student, the other area was the urban student (these are special conditions that affect education), and the third area was the middle school student. … The third aspect of the program was we joined up with Sheppard Pratt, which is a mental facility. Goucher had established dance therapy classes, art therapy classes in graduate program, and they used Sheppard Pratt as a partner.”
The program gained a national reputation. And current faculty members, such as Professor LaJerne Cornish, are products of this program.
But as years went by, the program expanded.
“It’s become much more practical and there are many more courses and many more programs,” Velder said. “There’s a reading program, a sports program, there’s a special ed program. It’s really expanded and moved in a more practical way.”
Beyond his years impacting the lives of Goucher students and colleagues, Velder has taught abroad and spent a few years teaching at Baltimore Hebrew University. But before starting his teaching career, Velder was drafted to serve in World War II and was in the infantry division from 1943-1945 in Europe.
“[It was] horrible,” Velder said in a light-hearted tone. “But it turned out that it was an outstanding growth experience.”
Once the war was over, Velder returned to school and discovered that he wanted to teach.
“I had a mentor at the Hebrew College who said to me, ‘You should go into teaching,’” Velder said. “My first job as a teacher, I taught elementary Hebrew school, and I was a total failure.”
These days, however, Velder is anything but a failure.
“He’s funny, tossing in little jokes throughout every class,” Chelsea Plante ‘14 said. “I think one of the things that makes him unique as an educator, especially in the education department, is just that he has been in the field for so long. Although other professors could most certainly teach the class, Eli has first-hand knowledge about some of the education reforms we have discussed.”
Just as students admire Velder, he too finds joy in teaching at Goucher.
“I think there is something unique about a Goucher student,” Velder said. “I really enjoy the students here and it’s a beautiful place to work.”