School of Ag Professor Baker Recognized with National Teaching Award
June 14, 2012
MACOMB, IL – Andrew Baker, a professor in Western Illinois University's School of Agriculture, was honored with the "Distinguished Teaching Award" from the American Association for Agricultural Education (AAAE) last month. Baker, who heads up the School of Ag's agricultural education program, accepted the award at the 2012 AAAE Conference in Asheville (N.C.) May 18.
To qualify for the national award, individuals have to have been selected as a regional recipient at an AAAE regional conference; Baker was selected as the regional recipient of the North Central Region in October 2010 after being nominated by Lloyd Bell, a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department. Andrew Thoron, an assistant professor of agricultural education at the University of Florida Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, nominated Baker for the national-level AAAE recognition. In addition, two of Baker's former students, Jay Solomonson, an agriculture teacher at Orion (IL) High School, and Doug Nelson, an agriculture teacher at Princeville (IL) High School, provided letters of support for Baker.
In his letter of support, Solomonson—who graduated from Western in 2002 and who has since been recognized for his own teaching with the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers State "Excellence in Teaching" Award in 2011 and also received the Illinois Farm Bureau's "Young Leaders Excellence in Agriculture" Award in 2010—noted that Baker started at Western during his sophomore year studying agriculture education.
"Dr. Baker came to us as a young, energetic professional willing to try new things to make the program successful. Since he began, he has made the Western Illinois University agricultural education program the premier program in our state. He has one of the highest placement rates for his student teachers, and he continues to teach the most up-to-date relevant topics to his students in his classroom," Solomonson wrote in his support letter. "Students coming out of his program are well prepared to face the daily challenges of teaching agriculture. He continues to conduct research on several areas, including teacher retention and struggles beginning teachers have. I believe his research helps to re-focus areas of his curriculum to ensure his students are ready for, and stay in, the teaching profession. Dr. Baker has also served as one of my mentors the past 10 years. Whether it was helping me develop curriculum for my dual credit classes or writing a letter of reference for graduate school, Dr. Baker continues to help me develop as a professional…," he added.
In addition to the letters of support from former students, to be eligible to receive the national award he was nominated for, Baker had to submit his teaching philosophy, five years of course evaluations, two peer course evaluations, a list of teaching responsibilities, a list of teaching awards or relevant accomplishments and some student reflections.
Baker said the day he received the award, he was fortunate enough to have it presented to him by his friend, Greg Thompson, a professor in, and department head of, the University of Oregon Department of Agricultural Education and Agricultural Sciences department. Thompson is also the president of the AAAE.
"Greg and I were graduate students together at the University of Missouri. We graduated together and remained friends ever since," Baker said. "What also made the day very special was two of my former students were in the audience to experience this event. One former student is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, and the other, Matt Shultz, who graduated in 2006, is currently completing his doctoral program in agricultural education at Iowa State University."
Baker said that in the 15 years he has been a teacher educator, he's been fortunate enough to have taught two former students who have gone on to earn their doctorate degrees, and one (Shultz) who is in the process of earning his Ph.D.
"That is what it is all about, paying it forward," he noted. "One of my former professors was a guest speaker at the conference, and he spoke about the 'rippling effect' we have on our students, which came to reality for me at this conference," Baker said. "I truly have to thank my family for their support through the years, plus the support my colleagues have provided over the years. I have been blessed with the opportunity to train some of the best and brightest students, as well as work with some of the best colleagues, a person could ever ask for. Western Illinois University has provided me that opportunity and I am truly honored. I would also like to thank the agriculture teachers in Illinois for all of the support they provided me, as well as my students, in the process of training students to be great teachers."
According to the AAEE's website, the members of the organization—which includes more than 400 individuals from across the U.S.—are "dedicated to studying, applying and promoting the teaching and learning processes in agriculture." Baker noted that AAAE members' primary responsibilities in the agricultural education field include teacher training, agricultural leadership, extension education and agricultural communications.
For more information, contact Baker at (309) 298-1246 or via email at AJ-Baker@wiu.edu. Learn more about the WIU School of Agriculture at www.wiu.edu/ag.