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In Honor of Professor Emerita of Educational Studies Eva Travers

Eva Travers

Professor Emerita of Educational Studies Eva Travers

President Valerie Smith shared the following message with the campus community on July 17, 2019:

Dear Friends,

With deep sadness, I write to share the news that Professor Emerita of Educational Studies Eva Foldes Travers died Saturday on Cape Cod. Eva is remembered for her warm, supportive, and gracious spirit, as well as for her steadfast support of students, teachers, and teacher-preparation programs, such as those at Swarthmore and other liberal arts colleges.

Eva is survived by her husband, Jeff Travers; children Emily Travers Carroll (Mark), and Nick Travers; grandchildren Jackson and Gabriella; and sisters Judith Dickson and Barbara Wolkowicz. We will share more details about a memorial once they are finalized.

Please read more about Eva and her contributions to Swarthmore below.

Sincerely,
Valerie Smith
President

In Honor of Professor Emerita of Educational Studies Eva Travers

The Swarthmore community has lost one of its most dedicated and generous faculty members—a guiding force who ensured the continued existence of educational studies at Swarthmore and who shepherded its establishment as one of the College’s most influential departments. Eva, the first educational studies professor to receive tenure, was 77 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.

“Those of us who worked with Eva know that she would do anything for a student or a colleague,” says Co-Chair and Henry C. and Charlotte Turner Professor of Educational Studies Lisa Smulyan ’76. “She was an amazing advocate for students, teachers, education, and social justice. She was a mentor for many of us and model for all of us.” 

“She will be deeply missed by all who knew her,” says Co-Chair and Associate Professor of Educational Studies Diane Anderson, “especially the many accomplished and devoted alumni whom she closely mentored into teaching, educational leadership, and policymaking. I am forever grateful for her guidance.”

Teachers as Scholars Coordinator Cathy Dunn ’93 recalls Eva as a professor who taught students to think critically about education and to see teaching as an opportunity to work for change and transformation. “She introduced us to the most important theoretical approaches while applying a pragmatic perspective that helped to navigate the complexities of real-life classrooms,” says Dunn. “Her sense of conviction and desire for excellence challenged us to stretch, take risks, and work hard to create classrooms that both respected and empowered students.”

Eva had an array of strengths, says longtime friend and colleague Philip Weinstein, the Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus of English Literature. “Her dignity, articulateness, commitment to her field, and, above all, her unfailing grace—eventually made educational studies inseparable from Swarthmore College’s identity,” he says. “Her contribution to the College, like all of Eva’s gifts, was so quietly unassuming that only later, looking back, would you recognize its magnitude. And her irreplaceability.”

The daughter of Hungarian refugees who came to the U.S., Eva graduated with a B.A. in American history from Connecticut College in 1964, followed by a master of arts in teaching from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in 1966. She earned an Ed.D. from Harvard in 1973.

Before arriving at Swarthmore in 1975 to supervise secondary school practice teachers, Eva worked in several high schools in a variety of capacities: counseling, conducting in-house evaluations for state and federal governments, and leading courses in women’s studies and the sociology of education (Pa.); teaching ninth-grade social studies, as well as an in-service course for faculty during the first week of desegregation (Mass.); and supervising student teachers (Calif.).

The study of education is linked to the Quaker roots of the College, which was founded in part to train Quaker teachers for elementary and secondary schools. Although Swarthmore dropped education courses from its curriculum in the 1930s, the program was revived in the 1950s and maintained a steady though modest presence.

Then, in 1969, a change in Pennsylvania law made it possible for small liberal arts institutions like Swarthmore to award teaching certification. Previously, certification had been the purview of large universities and specialized teacher-training programs. Swarthmore received approval for the standard five-year period, but when it came time to renew, the College planned to terminate educational studies to save costs. Eva led the effort to reverse the decision.

“Eva fought hard and effectively to maintain and enhance the program, supported by a group of enthusiastic students,” says former colleague and dean Bob Gross ’62. “They wore a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Swarthmore’s Program in Education—anywhere else it would be a Department.’”

In a 1977 Phoenix article, after Eva had been named the program’s new director, she said that “the general attitude [had been] that the program was too vocational for Swarthmore.” But rather than reflect on her contributions, she talked more about the program itself, a preference that was described in the article with affection as “annoyingly modest.”

“Her stewarding of the program was quietly heroic,” Weinstein says. “Under her guidance, it gradually attained full legitimacy. There was nothing random about it happening under Eva’s leadership.”

In pursuing her interests in urban education and educational policy, Eva employed the perspectives of sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and history to examine the challenges involved in creating and maintaining equitable, democratic, and multicultural educational practices and policies. Her widely influential Introduction to Education course, which she developed and taught for almost 30 years, provided an opportunity for about one-third of all Swarthmore undergraduates each year to critically reflect on and analyze the educational structures and processes that have played a central role in their lives.

Eva’s research interests in education were constantly expanding. Extending research for her doctoral dissertation, she conducted a 17-year longitudinal interview study of women’s personal and political development, starting when the women were in high school and concluding in 1987. Eva spent several months during Hungary’s democratic transition in the early 1990s to conduct field research on the challenges of civic education and the teaching of history. She also wrote extensively about policy issues related to teacher quality and the role of teacher education in liberal arts colleges, including for the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education, of which she was a founding member.

From 1989 to 1992, Eva served as associate dean of students and, during her final semester in the Dean’s Office, as acting dean. She pursued these positions, she said, to be involved in student advising and development issues, as well as in faculty and student support programs. In 1999, she was honored with the Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Educational studies, now housed in Pearson Hall, became a department in 2001. At that time, Eva had already begun to see increased interest in the program, and since then it has continued. Students representing academic divisions across campus, including those pursuing honors majors, routinely seek certification and incorporate education into their studies. In addition, department courses are especially popular among women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college students, and the major is consistently one of the most popular among recent graduates. 

Eva retired after the 2005–06 academic year. That fall, the department hosted its second conference on Education for Social Justice and more than 100 alumni traveled from across the country to attend. In dedicating the conference to Eva, Smulyan said, “We recognize her work, her care, and her values, and we hope we can live up to the example she has set for us.” Eva noted at the time, in her classic understatement, that “education has come a long way—from almost being eliminated at the College to being an integral part of it.”

In retirement, Eva continued a study of the state takeover of the Philadelphia School District with a team of researchers from Research for Action. This work offered her the opportunity to explore key issues of urban policy and practice, and to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of test-driven accountability policies such as No Child Left Behind and its successors. 

Upon her retirement, Eva made clear the sense of purpose that guided her career: “During my tenure at Swarthmore, I always thought of myself as a teacher first.”

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