Vicki L. Baker: A Futuristic Leader Surpassing Academic Excellence and Inclusive Education

Vicki L. Baker | Department Chair | Faculty Director Albion College | Lead Mentor Develop, LLC
Vicki L. Baker | Department Chair | Faculty Director Albion College | Lead Mentor Develop, LLC

Albion College, a prestigious undergraduate liberal arts institution, is committed to providing academic excellence by creating a learning-centered environment both in and out of the classroom. The college believes in preparing students for success by fostering a strong foundation of critical thinking skills that they can apply in real-world settings.

As part of the college’s mission on board is the E. Maynard Aris Endowed Professor in Economics and Management, Department Chair, and Faculty Director, Vicki L. Baker. She is a dedicated educator who is passionate about helping students reach their full potential. Vicki’s research interests along with her expertise and background, bring a unique perspective to Albion College and is committed to promoting a learning-centered environment that encourages critical thinking, creativity and innovation.

Let’s discuss the approach Vicki takes to academic excellence!

Journey & Role: Faculty Director’s Perspective

Vicki’s professional journey has been one of both accomplishments and challenges, especially being in male-dominated fields such as business and higher education. Despite facing gender-related issues and, at times, hostile work environments, she continued to persist, driven by her mantra of “Let the performance speak for itself.” Fortunately, her performance has always spoken for itself, leading her to numerous successes.

As a faculty director and department chair, Vicki now actively creates a culture of professionalism, collegiality and respect. She has high expectations for those she supports and strives to help them meet and exceed their career visions and passions. This approach is crucial to her work with students, colleagues at Albion, and clients at Lead Mentor Develop. By fostering a supportive and respectful environment, Vicki aims to help individuals thrive in their personal and professional lives.

Balancing Responsibilities

Talking about responsibilities on the personal and professional end of her life, Vicki shares, “For me, it’s far less about balance and much more about prioritization and alignment of values in any given moment. I have a successful career which is important to me; being a successful wife and mother are equally important to me. As a white woman, full professor, I must acknowledge my privilege in that I have the agency to determine what I say yes to driven by my contribution, which is to help people advance in their careers.

She also vocalized her thoughts on questioning herself as a teacher to promote student growth, “I ask myself.

  • How do I help people advance in their careers through my teaching, through my scholarship, service and consulting work with Lead Mentor Develop?
  • How do I help support my husband and my kids in their academic and professional pursuits?”

If a project or opportunity is not in service to that contribution and Vicki doesn’t have the bandwidth, it’s an easy answer for her.

Teaching Connection: Approaches for Valuable Learning

Vicki comes from a lineage of educators and teachers, with her grandfather serving as one of her most influential professional mentors. Her family instilled in her a deep appreciation for educators and the power of education. Though she did not initially aspire to pursue a career in education, Vicki was hooked once given the opportunity to teach at Penn State.

During this time, her grandfather became terminally ill and imparted valuable advice to her during their last breakfast together. He shared the importance of earning a PhD along with the opportunity it provides to help people become who they were meant to be. This advice has remained with Vicki over the years and drives her passion for teaching and working with students.

As a teacher, mentor, advisor, and supporter, Vicki believes it is her duty to help her students become who they were meant to be. She aims to guide them in finding their passion and directing them in the right direction. Her approach to teaching encompasses observing the whole student, acknowledging that their diverse lived experiences affect how they navigate their educational and personal experiences.

Both aspects of a student’s life need to be seen, heard and valued in order to help them achieve their fullest potential. Vicki’s commitment to her student’s growth and development is a testament to her love for teaching and education.

Trends & Challenges Professionals Face

Prioritization and alignment of values are crucial for someone who juggles multiple roles and responsibilities. For Vicki, balance is not the main focus, but rather, the ability to determine what needs to be prioritized at any given moment. Being a successful full professor, wife and mother are equally important to her.

However, as a white woman with privilege, she acknowledges that she has the agency to decide which projects or opportunities are in service to her intended contribution-helping people advance their careers, supporting her family’s academic and professional pursuits, and maintaining her own personal and professional growth.

To manage her roles and responsibilities effectively, Vicki blocks off time to handle school drop-offs and pick-ups for her children. She also limits the number of projects she takes on each year and ensures that these projects align with her intended contribution.

In addition, the projects must also provide her with opportunities for personal and professional growth. As she is driven by the desire to help people advance in their careers, this value underpins Vicki’s decision-making process in balancing her multiple roles and responsibilities.

Faculty Director Challenges: Academic Excellence & Critical Thinking

Vicki’s work with students is driven by a foundational approach, “Doing well, and doing good” as she says. Her goal is to teach students that it is possible to do well, for example, be profitable, perform well academically and professionally, and do good whereby contributing to the communities with which all of us have and seek membership.

To achieve this, Vicki employs community-engaged practice as a pedagogical tool in every course, every semester. Vicki and her students partner up with a community organization as a ‘client advancing organizational, social and community needs.

This enables students to apply the learning in and out of the classroom in collaboration with and in service to community organizations. This type of partnership also provides community organizations with critical human and intellectual resources which are otherwise unavailable.

Community-engaged pedagogy is an investment of time and often with limited resources despite the benefits to students, the College, and the community and the clients Vicki works with. Despite the challenges, Vicki finds this work is very rewarding and impactful. Vicki’s approach to translating critical thought to action is very much aligned with her personal values, therefore making the return on investment immeasurable.

Student Research: Involvement & Opportunities

Vicki says, “Throughout my academic and professional journey, I am someone who learns by doing. So, it’s likely not surprising I employ this approach with my students as described earlier via community-engaged pedagogy.

She also adds, “I want us all to be immersed in the “problems” so as a collective, we can drive solutions.”

Experiential learning and many of the high-impact practices employed across the academy were incubated in liberal arts colleges. Due to this, Vicki’s students at Albion College expect to be given multiple and diverse opportunities to be in the field, in the community, in the lab, etc., working with her colleagues to employ interdisciplinary lenses to address organizational, societal and community needs.

Maximizing Undergraduate Experience

We asked Vicki to share advice on how to maximize the undergraduate experience. She shared, “It is crucial for students to be certain of their values and how those values align with the institution they choose to attend for the next four to five years. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as every institution has its unique strengths and limitations.”

Vicki continued, “It is essential to choose an environment that cultivates creativity and motivation. While a small college might not be suitable for some, others may feel overwhelmed in a larger institutional setting. Therefore, it is important to consider what matters most and why, as the college selection process can be both exhilarating and overwhelming.”

Secondly, Vicki noted that actively participating and connecting with like-minded individuals can enhance the educational experience, allowing one to apply their knowledge to better the experiences of others. The goal is to leave a positive impact on the community and institution. This is challenging to achieve unless one is in the right place with aligned values.

Promoting Inclusive Education

In her role as a management professor, Vicki believes in leading by example and instilling the importance of creating an inclusive environment where belonging is a key component. She emphasizes the need for personal and organizational values to be aligned with visible examples of these values in action.

Vicki feels fortunate to be part of an institution where the notion of belonging is a core value and expectation. This is reflected in her approach to recruiting and retaining talent, evaluating faculty and developing curriculum. She believes that representation matters and seeks to promote diversity in the selection of teachers, pedagogical approaches, reading materials, guest speakers and community partnerships.

She mentions that the actions must align with words, and she seeks to ensure that her classroom, office, and the programs she manages reflect these values. She encourages her students to not expect anything from others that they are unwilling to do themselves and to find “their people” and get involved in creating a positive educational experience and improving the experiences of others.

Fair Assessment Philosophy

Vicki’s students are vocal and have no trouble letting her know their thoughts in terms of grading and assessment if there is an issue. She employs a combination of formative and summative assessments. Fundamentally, all her assessments are rooted in students’ ability to apply what they are learning.

Vicki expresses, “I am not a fan of having knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Rather, I expect my students to do something with that knowledge to improve the lives and experiences of others.”

Adding to the same, she says, “Therefore, all my assessments require students to make those connections. They are expected to address the “so what?” question. I push them to consider — now that you have this knowledge, how do you use it. Failure to address this question, using course materials/experiences, is a deal breaker for me.”

Curriculum Collaboration

On effective implementation of collaborative efforts, Vicki says, “I was very intentional about pursuing a career in a liberal arts college because of how we engage with each other and how we deliver our educational model which is rooted in capacity building and collaboration.”

She explicitly adds, “I am so fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly talented students as well as faculty peers who do some cool things in their classrooms, in their labs, in the community and in their respective fields.

A liberal arts college educational model is geared towards nurturing engaged, democratic citizens who can make meaningful contributions to society. This forms the core of their philosophy. The interdisciplinary nature of this approach ensures that it transcends disciplines and pedagogies.

As a group of faculty members, being responsible for maintaining the curriculum and ensuring that it is aligned with the vision of developing engaged, democratic citizens is central to their work. To achieve this goal, faculty members collaborate with each other to ensure that their curriculum is serving their students and society to the highest level possible.

Faculty members understand that the impact of their work is not limited to their students but extends to society as a whole. Therefore, being committed to developing a curriculum that is relevant and responsive to the changing needs of society is essential. This approach is critical to producing graduates who are well-rounded and equipped to make a positive impact in their respective fields.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

By its very nature, a liberal arts college education is rooted in interdisciplinarity, capacity-building and collaboration. Its educational delivery incorporates breadth and depth, instilling the habits of the heart and mind in students. Vicki is in the field, side-by-side with her students; students observe their faculty work side-by-side on scholarly and creative endeavors along with teaching.

Vicki states, “We model the values we espouse which are fundamental to who we are and what we do.”

Evaluating Teaching Impact

Annotating on her accomplishments, Vicki shares, “My success in teaching comes down to one simple but powerful measure–do the students know I cared about them, and do they know, and feel, that I am invested in their success? It’s really that simple for me.”

She also shares, “I am truly driven by my grandfather’s advice about the importance of helping people become whom they were meant to be, and I take that responsibility to heart. It is my job to help them find their passions, to grow and learn from successes and missteps, and to help guide them along their journey.”

Watching her students walk across the graduation stage is her most cherished experience as a faculty member.