Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
PORTALES--Eastern New Mexico University is taking college to Portales High
Three days a week, Dr. Donald Elder, professor of history and chair of the
Department of History and Humanities at Eastern New Mexico University, is
teaching "History 101: Survey of American History to 1877" to students at
Portales High. The class is held in Room 11, the home room for high school
history teacher Alfonso Torres. If they pass the course, the eight young men
and six young women, a combination of juniors and seniors, will earn three
hours of college credit.
"I think they were a bit intimidated at first," says Dr. Elder, "but with
every question I ask that they can answer, I can see them developing a sense
that they can do this."
In a recent class, Dr. Elder, also a well-known local radio personality,
told the class, "In America, you can rise to the best of your abilities.
Isn't that why you are taking this course - because you want to go to
The course examines the historical development of the United States from the
arrival of the first inhabitants to the end of the Reconstruction following
the Civil War. Particular attention is paid to issues of race, class,
ethnicity and gender. A few of the topics include Native Americans, a
one-crop economy (cotton), the road to war, the War of 1812, the rise of
factories, the changing role of women, slavery and Abolition, the Civil War,
and reuniting the nation.
Dr. Elder, a low-handicap golfer at the Portales County Club and noon-time
basketball star at Eastern, says that because the class is smaller than a
typical required introductory course on a college campus, he can give tests
that do not have to be machine-graded. "This makes it good both ways - the
kids get a sense of what most college exams are like, and I get a better
sense of whether they're picking up the important themes and concepts."
Melvin Nusser, principal at PHS, feels that the course is "a great
opportunity for our kids. We have a concurrent enrollment with Eastern in
which the kids can go to campus to take courses, but many of them feel
intimidated. With Dr. Elder coming to the high school, they feel much more
Principal Nusser says that the arrangement is a "win-win" situation for both
schools. "Our kids can earn up to six hours of college credit while still in
high school, and it's a great recruiting tool for Eastern. I would love to
see more ENMU professors coming to the high school to teach more courses.
Our students have to mature very fast because they learn that no one is
going to take their hand in a college course and make sure they do the
work." Mr. Nusser said jokingly that he did not expect Dr. Elder to attend
Mr. Nusser, who has a son who is a junior at ENMU, notes that the
arrangement also fulfills some of the requirements of House Bill 212 which
requires universities to partner up with local school systems.
"What better guy could we have than Don Elder to teach at our school?" said
Mr. Nusser. "He is very active in the community, and has a son who graduated
from Portales High and another who is attending. He understands our students
and is the perfect person to introduce them to college."
During a recent class, with huge historical world maps on the back wall,
Professor Elder kept the students' attention as he alternated between
leaning on the side of the podium and propping himself on a vacant chair
closer to them. Using the exaggerated accent of a New England country
farmer, he elicited laughs as he made a point about the development of the
Asking for class participation about factors which led to the rise of
factories in the United States, the students answered in rapid-fire fashion
- with ideas ranging from the abundance of raw materials to plentiful water
to the development of steamships for transportation of goods to a growing
market for finished products.
Dr. Elder says that he thinks the class will benefit students beyond
receiving college credit; it will ease the transition into college. "They
know that they have to come to class every day prepared to learn, and that
there's no down time in a 50-minute college class."
The professor says that there have been a few differences for him in
teaching at the high school. "I had forgotten how many interruptions you get
during a high school class - PA announcements, kids coming in with an excuse
from the guidance counselor, etc. The attitude of the kids has also
surprised me - every class I taught back in the day (when he was a high
school teacher), I had to tell somebody to shut up, and that hasn't even
come close to being necessary."
Dr. Elder, who broadcasts PHS and ENMU games on KSMX/KSEL radio, gives
credit to the teachers at PHS for having the students well prepared. "These
kids came to me with a good grasp of the subject; all I have done is take
that understanding to a higher level."
After Dr. Elder concluded a recent class with the next assignment, the
students - sporting everything from football jerseys for their game that
night to trendy trademark-emblazoned pullovers to a red backpack imprinted
with "Dork" - joked good-naturedly with each other and their college
professor as they obediently waited for the bell.
One, relating a point about women working in factories after so many men
were killed in the War of 1812, told a particularly bad joke: "Why did the
woman cross the road? Who cares, she was supposed to be in the kitchen."
Following groans and a few dagger stares from the women, Dr. Elder told the
student he was on his own.
As the bell rang and the college professor was exiting the high school
classroom safely behind the student stampede, he commented, "I feel like I'm
combining 'Welcome Back, Kotter' with 'Head of the Class!'"