Associate Professor of English Sara Baker has been helping students map out their futures since she started at Elgin Community College in 2002, fresh out of her master's degree program and ready to play an important part in her students' lives.
Baker teaches developmental and introductory English and literacy classes, where she works with students at the very start of their ECC experience. "It is my job to not only help students build the reading and writing skills but also to help them learn to navigate academia and establish practices that will help them be successful beyond the classroom," said Baker.
When she's not supporting students, you can find Baker hanging out with her family, enjoying sports, running, or mapping out their next adventure. "My family loves to travel, so we have a big 'bucket list' item to visit all 50 states together," she said. "We also want to visit as many national parks and Presidential Libraries as we can."
We caught up with Baker to learn more about her life and her work at ECC. Here is what she had to say.
What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been here?
I am proud of the work the English Department has done in restructuring our developmental coursework to better meet the needs of students. A few years ago, we created the Accelerated Learning Program that pairs English 098 and English 101 together in the same semester. I have taught this ALP course since it was piloted, and it has shown to be very successful for students. More recently, the English and Reading departments have worked together to create the LTC-099 course that pairs reading and writing for students in one developmental class. I enjoy teaching these courses and working with my colleagues to improve them each semester.
What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?
Most of my work at ECC is in the classroom, but there are so many other places on campus that I am less familiar with. I would use my day to meet with people from different areas so I could see the "big picture" of ECC—how each area on campus works to promote student success.
If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?
Whenever I wear my glasses, my students tell me that I look like Tina Fey (or Velma from Scooby-Doo). If Tina played me, that would mean my life story would be a comedy, which would be awesome. I hope that she'd write the movie, too, because she is so creative and well-spoken.
Where was the best place you've traveled to? Or, where would you like to visit?
This really is the hardest question for me! I have been lucky to travel to so many amazing places and see so much of our country. The place that has had the biggest impact on me, though, is Toledo, Spain, where I studied abroad for a semester in college. Being able to go to school there and live with a local family for three months was a life-changing experience.
What's one fact we should know about you?
I have an identical twin sister who is also a college English professor! She teaches at Manchester University in Indiana.
What's something about your job that others should know?
I love to have guest speakers or visitors in class from around campus (so my students can get to know different parts of their school), so if anyone wants to stop by, just shoot me an email.
What was your favorite class in school?
There were two pivotal classes that influenced my desire to become an English teacher: one in high school and one in college. In my 10th grade English class, Mr. Talbot held us to a very high standard, and we read very advanced works. We rose to the challenges he set for us and grew as readers and writers in the process. My undergraduate English classes at Ripon College, a small, liberal arts school, were similarly discussion-based. My favorite was my Senior Seminar, the last class I took as an English major. The theme of our class was narration, and we each chose a book to examine for the entire semester. Professor Woods encouraged us to share our original research as we were writing. From both Mr. Talbot and Professor Woods, I learned the value of each student's voice, and I learned that, with the help of a supportive teacher, students will rise to the challenges set before them.
What was your first job out of school?
ECC is my first "real" job! I went to graduate school right after college, and I started at ECC as an adjunct instructor right after getting my master's degree in 2002. The following year, I became a full-time instructor, and I have been here ever since.
What quote best describes your philosophy?
"At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great."
– Willa Cather, My Ántonia
Complete this sentence: "I enjoy working at ECC because…"
I get to be a part of students' educational journeys, and I get to help them work hard to reach their goals. I feel so lucky to play a part in such an important part of their lives.