[UW News] Sociologist Celebrates 50 Years of Teaching at UW-Madison

UW-News — September 27, 2011

By Stacy Forster

On a research trip to India several years ago, UW–Madison sociology professor Gay Seidman was eavesdropping on other visiting faculty sharing their struggles to set up international study abroad programs when a familiar name came up.

“I heard one say, ‘You know what Joe Elder has done at Wisconsin, he’s been doing this for years and we’re just all imitating him!’” Seidman says.

Elder, a professor of sociology, languages and cultures of Asia, and integrated liberal studies, has not only established a global reputation in the field of international studies, he’s also built a long-lasting legacy at UW–Madison.

This fall, Elder is marking a rare milestone, celebrating his 50th year of teaching at UW–Madison. He’s educated generations of students — including the many who currently line up to meet with him during his daily office hours.

What is it about teaching that keeps him in the classroom?

“Learning from the people you’re working with, having them ask questions — it’s just extraordinarily refreshing,” Elder says, adding with a smile, “I even enjoy committee meetings.”

Elder hasn’t confined himself to just one role at UW-Madison.

During those 50 years, his wife, Joann, was undergraduate adviser in the sociology department, while he’s been involved in preparing students to spend a year abroad in India or Nepal; mentoring struggling doctoral candidates; starting a certificate program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies; producing documentaries about South Asia; and teaching hundreds of students a semester about life in world cultures.

He’s done it with a steady presence, generosity, high standards and ethics, and good humor, his colleagues say.

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