Wesley T. Hanson Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching
Ellen Baker, recipient of the Dr. Wesley T. Hanson Award for Teaching, remembers what it’s like to be new to college, with “that little gut set of nerves that put you on edge a little bit.”
She knows those nerves must be heightened for the traditionally struggling students who enter the Transitional Studies department, where she is an associate professor.
“Somebody along the line did some damage and we want to fix that,” she says. “Once you carry a label of feeling a little bit inadequate – you put that label on yourself. It’s not just others – it tends to stick and you tend to believe it. When I advise students, I remind them that they’re not alone, that there are lots of us who need reminders and helpful strategies to help us succeed. Fear is really the enemy.”
Baker is known for her support to faculty members as well.
As department chair for six years, she watched Transitional Studies grow by about 25 percent. She served on all of its committees and earned a reputation for knowing “when to listen and when to lead.”
Among her achievements: helping to organize an advising workshop to help faculty across the College better understand how the department works, co-founding the Teaching and Creativity Center to help faculty find resources for enhancing their work, and serving on the Tenure and Promotion Committee.
Noted for her deep commitment and compassionate teaching style, Baker conjures up imaginative ways to involve all students in each lesson. While teaching geometry to two legally blind students, she traced shapes and figures with dimensional fabric paint on large slabs of cardboard so the students could touch them once the paint dried.
For those trying to make up for years of educational and cultural disadvantages, she is a tireless advocate. “I know that people can learn and succeed if they’re given the right environment to learn in and the encouragement that goes along with that,” she says. “All students deserve a second chance.”