Leadership | Eleanor Harner: Honoring a Visionary

Rose Audretsch

Eleanor’s compassion and expertise enabled students to realize their potential by engaging in their own learning process.

A visionary, a mentor, an encourager…these are the words that describe the legendary Eleanor Harner. Eleanor was a life-long educator, and the founding director of the internationally recognized UA Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center. The program, which began with a handful of students, currently serves roughly 600. From its humble beginnings in the basement of Old Main, to its current home in the three-story Patricia A. Bartlett Building, the SALT Center has emerged as a leader in comprehensive academic support for students who learn differently. This organization owes all of its success to the incredible effort and vision of Eleanor Harner.

The year was 1980, and Eleanor was a tenacious employee who worked at the Student Counseling Center at the University of Arizona. She noticed the increasing needs of students who were diagnosed with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. With her extensive knowledge as a diagnostician in the field of learning challenges, Eleanor taught these students various learning strategies and offered tutoring support. Eleanor’s compassion and expertise enabled students to realize their potential by engaging in their own learning process. Her efforts promoted advocacy among students, and made instructors aware that not all students learn the same way. Eventually, Eleanor took this model of academic support and founded the SALT Program (which eventually became the SALT Center).

Word spread quickly about the existence of the SALT Program. Eleanor recognized the need to add more staff to work with the UA’s ever-increasing population of students with learning disabilities. However, office space was at a premium - operating out of the basement of Old Main, employees occupied hallways, closets, or any quiet place to conduct their tutoring sessions. Eventually, Eleanor realized that the lack of space was impacting her team’s ability to properly serve their students, so she decided it was time for a change.

In 1991, Eleanor spearheaded a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of a new building to house the SALT Program. She rallied donors, families, and the UA community to make the campaign an overwhelming success. Two years later, when the SALT Program became an independent department known as the SALT Center, Eleanor stepped down as acting director and served briefly as the Director of Development before retiring from the UA. Although the SALT Center building (now named the Patricia A. Bartlett Building) was not completed until the Fall of 2001, Eleanor’s initial vision and perseverance brought it to fruition.

The SALT Center recognized Eleanor in 2012 at the Family Weekend Award Reception. A plaque with her name and likeness now has a permanent home on the entrance wall into the Patricia A. Bartlett Building. She was honored for all of her contributions to the SALT Center; since Eleanor was unable to attend, her daughter, Amy Davidson, accepted the award on her behalf.

Because of Eleanor, the SALT Center continues to thrive, serving more and more students every year. We have gained notoriety for our innovative research and practices in the field of learning differences. In 2013, the SALT Center was recognized in a new survey as an international model for academic support in higher education. None of these distinctions would be possible without Eleanor’s commitment to students with learning and attention challenges.

We were deeply saddened to hear of Eleanor’s passing on December 7, 2013. We are grateful to her for inspiring us to promote academic success for all students. In alignment with UA President Ann Weaver Hart’s directive of 100% engagement, Eleanor paved the way; she set an example for the way in which all constituents need to be engaged in the learning process at the University level. We are indebted to Eleanor for her compassion and commitment to all learners; her legacy shines brightly as we continue the fine work that she started.


Eleanor taught me that an answer of ‘No’ is not necessarily the end of a conversation, but rather a way to engage and mediate. Eleanor also taught me never to give up one’s dreams just because they may be difficult. I believe these two pieces of wisdom from Eleanor were also the foundation that helped create the SALT Center and laid the path for all students to have the opportunity to attend college, should that be their dream.

– Diedre Lamb (formerly Rapp) Former SALT Center Employee

Eleanor was a visionary, a remarkable teacher, and a good friend. Today’s SALT Center provides a permanent legacy to her passion and dedication to student success, achievement, and graduation. There is a reason the Fiske Guide to Colleges recently named the UA one of the most supportive institutions for students with learning disabilities: it is the solid foundation for the SALT Center that Eleanor Harner nurtured with unwavering commitment.

– Sylvia Mioduski Former director of The Academic Learning Skills Center/University Learning Center

The SALT Center was my home for seven years; I started my academic and professional career there. Eleanor’s vision for a dynamic and inclusive environment is, in my opinion, what has made the SALT Center a nationally known program. She provided that environment for me and many other students and staff. Eleanor will always have a special place in my heart; I will forever appreciate her genuine and giving nature. Her impact is immeasurable!

– Christine Salvesen Former SALT Center Employee

The day I met Eleanor Harner was probably the most important day of my professional life. She inspired me to believe in myself and in others. I am proud to have known her.

– Lupe Thompson Student Programs and Services Coordinator at the SALT Center

I met Eleanor through one of my colleagues when I worked at Undergraduate Admissions. I had just had my first child, and I wanted to work part-time to spend time with my son. My colleague wanted to work part-time and work on her Master’s Degree studies. Eleanor created a job-sharing opportunity for us at the SALT Center. Eleanor was so in tune with other peoples’ needs as employees, parents, and students. I learned so much from her about the way students learn, and the importance of seeing their “weaknesses” as unique differences. She gave me a personal and professional opportunity that I will always cherish.

– Rose Audretsch (formerly Wilhite) Strategic Learning Specialist at the SALT Center


1980 – SALT Program founded by Eleanor Harner

1993 – SALT Program becomes new department, the SALT Center, housed in the basement of Old Main

2001 – SALT Center moves to new facility on Highland Ave.

2012 – SALT Center facility named “Patricia A. Bartlett Building” after receiving $2 Million commitment from our generous friends, Bruce and Patricia Bartlett

2013 – SALT Center launches Pre-College Summer Program