Tanya Elder: Embracing Experiential Learning in Sustainable Development

Tanya Elder, a dedicated educator with a passion for intercultural communication and sustainable development, has left an indelible mark on The American University of Paris through her years of teaching and collaborative efforts. As a faculty member, Elder's journey has been marked by a commitment to learning from her students while guiding them toward becoming informed global citizens.

Professor Tanya Elder

I started in the Fall semester of 2001. I was initially asked by Professor Waddick Doyle to teach a class on intercultural communication. I had never taught before, and it was a scary but invigorating experience to engage with students in a new way. It made me reflect on my own college years and on the teachers who were important to me. As faculty in our classrooms, we learn an important lesson, which is that students are continually teaching us something about the world around us. That’s one of the main reasons I love teaching – because I love learning from my students.

I soon secured a part-time permanent contract and started teaching additional courses in anthropology and sociology. I then had a parenthesis in my AUP career, when I was offered a job teaching sustainable development in India on a study abroad program with the University of Massachusetts. In India, I worked with AUP alumnus and fellow professor Laurent Sauerwein ’62. We both returned to AUP and, in 2008, established a field-based course drawing on our time in India: the Sustainable Development Practicum. Students visit Auroville, India – a township known for its NGOs and associations. The practicum allows for a lot of self-discovery. Students question their preconceived notions about development and NGO work. We had a fabulous cohort of students that first year, and I’ve stayed in touch with many of them.

AUP is... opportunities. AUP is possibilities. AUP is a rich and dynamic environment, primarily because of the diversity of our students, staff and faculty. It’s a place where you are able to experiment, stretch boundaries and think outside the box.

– Prof. Tanya Elder

Starting in the second year of the practicum, Professor Charles Talcott came on board. I left AUP again in 2010 to return to my home country of Sweden, where I worked at Linnaeus University to set up an undergraduate degree in development communications. I continued to collaborate with Professor Talcott on the Sustainable Development Practicum, bringing Linnaeus students to India along with AUP students. It was interesting to explore co-teaching not only within an institution but also across institutions and cultures. We did that for four years, then I returned to AUP in 2014 to help build up the development communications track of the MA in Global Communications.

Throughout my time at AUP, it has been fascinating to see that course offerings and even whole degree programs have developed in line with a growing desire on the part of students to engage with the issues facing the world today. Development communications is one example; environmental studies is another. The history, law and society major has become more focused on social justice and migration. I’m pleased to see faculty working toward the goal of making our students into global citizens. Students appreciate this diversification of courses too. If you give them the right opportunities, they do a lot of the teaching themselves. I love to see how students’ engagement with the course material comes from a deep-seated desire to understand the world.

I have come to know AUP from the perspective of a parent; my daughter graduated in the class of ’21. It has been amazing to see what she has experienced. I think my colleagues are fantastic people, but now I have also gotten to know them as teachers. I couldn’t be more thankful! My daughter’s experience has enriched my understanding of the University. Her teachers have challenged her and helped her grow. I love AUP from the perspective of faculty, but it’s even more amazing from the perspective of a student.