With over 40 years of service to the Department of Health and Kinesiology and the College of Education and Human Development, Dr. Leonard Ponder has no shortage of words when describing his time as an Aggie educator. In fact, his passion for teaching remains just as prevalent today as it did when he first arrived at the university.
Dr. Ponder joined the HLKN faculty in 1972 as a coordinator for the Allied Health Program. At the time, most of the faculty within the department worked in physical education. All students were required to take four years of physical education in order to graduate. The physical education program was also one of the few programs that offered doctoral degrees to its students.
“People tend to stick with things that they do well,” said Dr. Ponder. “What we as faculty tried to accomplish at the activity level was to develop a student’s love for sporting activities and skills so they would do it for the rest of their lives.”
As the university continued to grow, so did the need for practitioners in various health fields. Following his arrival, Dr. Ponder set his sights early in helping to grow the Allied Health Program.
“During my first seven years as a faculty member, I helped in putting together a degree program for all three levels which was the genesis of what would become the Health Education Program,” said Dr. Ponder. “Our jobs were to find people called ‘bench performers’ who were already prepared in their fields, bring them in at the master’s and doctoral level, help them get their credentials, and teaching them how to teach others in the program.”
In 1979, Dr. Ponder was appointed to Department Head where he oversaw a number of significant leaps for the department. The number of faculty members more than doubled and with the construction of two new buildings — the Read Building and the Strength and Conditioning Lab — the department was now able to conduct in-depth strength testing, fitness analysis, and host an increased set of research endeavors. The Sport Management program was also created during this time — giving students an additional avenue to learn and explore in the rapidly changing sport world of the 1980s.
“Research became much more of an emphasis,” he said. “In order to take the research to the next level, we took existing programs that were there and developed them into more mature programs.”
Dr. Ponder recalled an overall university shift to more research-focused practices. However, teaching students remained his passion as he continued to find ways to gain student feedback and further develop a transparent environment for faculty and students.
“I wanted to treat our students as consumers and make them better,” he said. “I presented surveys and really paid attention to what our students said and wanted out of our classes.”
Putting Students first
This led to the availability of more scholarship resources aimed toward new and prospective students. Most notable is HLKN’s partnership with The Deerfoot Youth Camp, which took place under Dr. Ponder’s tenure in 1980. Since then, HLKN has served as a sponsor for the camp providing them with numerous faculty members and student hires every summer. Over a 20-year period, the program has served more than 2,000 disadvantaged youth with more than 200 graduates provided the opportunity to attend college.
Dr. Ponder has also been closely associated with two chairs. He was the first faculty member to sit on the Thomas A. and Joan Read Endowed Chair, which was the first $1 million chair awarded to the department. The Leonard Ponder Endowed Chair Research Grant was also created in his honor.
“Both two chairs have made a tremendous difference within the department and it’s something that I am very proud of,” he said.
As HLKN approaches its 80th Anniversary, Dr. Ponder believes that his time as department head was just one step in helping to academically shape what was to come. In recent years, HLKN has more than tripled in size, attracted a number of world-class scholars, built several new facilities, and has made a profound impact on the sport and health professions.
“I believe that all four of the department heads after me have moved the department forward. Currently, Dr. Kreider has worked to establish his global view of what health and kinesiology could be including the increase in funding and using technology as a component to move forward research,” he said.
After retiring in 2000, Dr. Ponder stayed relatively involved with the department and continued contributing to Deerfoot activities. He said he always hoped he could give back to the department after receiving so much over the years.