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Alumni Spotlight: May 2024

Each month we connect with alumni who are making a difference in their careers and communities and find out how Baker helped them along their way.

Cory Venable, ’08

Cory and Jenni Venable
Cory and Jenni Venable

What was the first moment that made Baker feel like home? 

Being from Baldwin I didn’t expect Baker to feel any more like home than Baldwin already did. I was dead wrong. While in high school I worked with Baker students on the Baker maintenance crew every summer and knew others here and there. But you can’t begin to know anybody unless you attend school on campus. In only a few days, Baker felt like home within a home.

What was your favorite class and why?

The summer before my junior year I was working on the Baker maintenance crew knowing I had another semester of community college in the fall and no plans for spring. One day I was sent to move furniture into Professor Ryan Beasley’s office in Mabee. He asked if I was a student, if I liked community college, what I wanted to do after community college, etc. He didn’t give a lick of advice, just waited for me to give a good answer, and then when I thought I gave a good answer, waited for me to give a better answer. In our brief exchange I knew that if I took a class from him, I would be forced to think.

When I transferred to Baker, my GPA was on the fringe, and I had to start on academic probation. Karen Exon was my academic advisor and gave it to me straight right out the gate: I had a lot to prove my first semester. But I really wanted to be here, and I really wanted to take one of Ryan Beasley’s classes. The first class I stepped into was Beasley’s International Relations course. I ended up majoring in political science and that first course was what made me believe I belonged here.

Who made the biggest impact on you while at Baker?

Ryan Beasley helped make me confident, Karen Exon made me structured, John Richards kept me hungry to learn after college, and Brenda Day made me an unapologetic lover of all things Kansas. If I must identify the one person who made the biggest impact on me it would have to be Dr. Karen Exon. I think she saw I had the potential to be a good student but pulled no punches on telling me what I needed to do to get to that point. I still tell people I didn’t learn to read or write until I took Dr. Exon’s Historical Research Methods class.

What are two things you would tell current students?

Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. If you embrace the benefits of trial and error then you’re never a failure, you’re an explorer. Sometimes playing it safe is a good call if you’re muscling through a challenging season in your life, but if you have any tolerance to be out of your comfort zone, then take every opportunity you can.

Can you briefly describe your career path since graduating from Baker?

I graduated right at the peak of the Great Recession and was trying to find a job while all my older friends were getting fired. I found work at a state-funded program that taught skills to kids as they transitioned out of state custody. It was a rewarding job, and I did it for a few years until the funding was cut by the governor at that time. I then spent the next few years at a juvenile detention center where I worked with kids in detention and kids on house arrest. When my wife and I found out we were having our first kid I couldn’t work nights anymore and needed to find a job with more consistent hours. I worked a few insurance roles for several years before finally opening Baldwin City Beer Company, a restaurant and brewery in the old grocery store downtown.

What do you love about Baker the most?

I love that it’s big enough to not quite know everybody but small enough to feel like you do.

What does Alumni Weekend/STAG mean to you?

I’ve been coming to STAG for longer than I should probably admit. In college I worked at the Salt Mine where the big late-night party was always held. Only a school like Baker could pull off an annual reunion attended by so many alumni. Reunions typically happen every five to 10 years, but so many people come back to STAG annually, and it’s a testament to how much people cherish their time at Baker.

John Richards, student 1978-1980, associated with the class of 1982 

Jeff and Amanda (Collins) Lowrey
John Richards and grandson John Baker Dodd discussing the merits of WWII aircraft.

What was the first moment that made Baker feel like home?

Baker has always been like home. I grew up in Baldwin, and my mom and sister worked for BU. My dad and all five siblings attended BU, as did my three children and a niece. My nephew also taught at BU.

What was your favorite class and why?

I loved my history and political science classes with Henry Kirk, John English, and Karen Horvath. My courses with Don Hatcher, George Wiley, and Lucy Price were also wonderful. If I had to choose one course, it would be Frank Pfaff’s Popular Literature course. It was eye- and mind-opening (to say the least).

Who made the biggest impact on you while at Baker?

So many people. I figured quite a few things out at Baker about a love for learning and not a small amount about maturity (and/or stupidity).

What are two things that you would tell current students?

Take advantage of the time you have been given here to learn, not just about your coursework but about yourself. If Baker doesn’t help you become a better person, you cheated yourself out of a remarkable opportunity.

How did your Baker experience shape your career?

Baker did its job too well. I learned what I wanted to do (study the history and languages of ancient Greece and Rome) and understood that I had to transfer for that. However, had I not spent my first two years at Baker, I would not have had the success I did as I continued my education.

Can you briefly describe your career path since graduating from Baker?

I never left school and never stopped working to learn. I’m basically in 59th grade. I went from Baker to KU, then Brown, and then back to Baker. 

What do you love about Baker the most?

I can’t pick that. Students, colleagues, the campus, and the freedom to do what I love most, these are what I love best.

What does Alumni Weekend/STAG mean to you?

Always a remarkable event. So many friends and former students to see. 

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