College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

Providing international opportunities

Helping students connect to other cultures and give back.

In 1968, David and Joan Elton hosted a Dutch student who was on a scholarship to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. The student quickly became part of the family and is still in touch.

It was experiences like this that led the couple to establish the David and Joan Elton Global Responsibility Scholarship. It supports undergraduates participating in a global learning or internship experience that connects mutual benefits to the student and host community and has a focus on practical as well as research results.

“My wife and I for years have been interested in foreign travel and we have volunteered in very different ways,” David says. While a teacher fellow at York University in England, David wrote lessons on Native American culture and Joan volunteered at a local hospice. In 2010, CEHD honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award that stated, “…in recognition of your distinguished career as an educator and your dedication to global humanitarian causes…”

David (MA ’69 curriculum and instruction) spent his career as an educator and did a lot of work in developing curricula for slow learners that would fit their abilities and interests. “These children were interested in learning just as the more able students, but they were challenged because they had difficulty reading,” he says. David crafted appropriate reading skill-building exercises for his eager students, with great results. “Almost all of them were able to succeed and we built on that success and the English teachers noticed the difference,” he says.

“Students say they were so grateful for having the experience and it warms my heart.”

After David retired, he and his wife devoted more and more of their time to their international interests. He worked with farmers in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to develop food processing initiatives to provide both employment opportunities and valuable end products. Out of these endeavors came a handheld device to shell corn. David also helped develop a solar roaster for peanuts. Using the energy from the sun meant not having to rely on expensive and unreliable gas and electricity. And with a few simple adjustments to the corn grinder, the farmers could produce peanut butter. In Haiti, as part of a research team, David helped develop a process that changed abundant and often wasted breadfruit into high-value baked or extruded snack foods. For this and other work, David was awarded both the Ramsey County and the MN State Volunteer of the Year Awards in 2014.

Through the years of connecting with so many people from around the world, the Eltons have long realized its benefits. David says, “This is key for our interest in doing something beyond giving money to the University—helping students connect with foreign culture.”

The Elton’s scholarship gives students a two-week international experience. According to the letters the Eltons receive from the students, the excursion was as momentous as the couple knew it would be. “Students essentially say they learned so much about the culture in this little two-week period of time, but they also invest in the concept of ‘what do I have that I can contribute,’ so it’s a give-take kind of arrangement,” David says. “Students say they were so grateful for having the experience and it warms my heart.”

Joan Elton died in September 2020, and although she is gone, it is a fitting tribute that students will continue to enjoy the life-changing opportunity that she and David knew so well.

“The scholarship lives on and it’s a good thing,” David says.

Photos courtesy of David Elton

-Kevin Moe