Baker University has a long history preparing educators for successful careers, inspiring and empowering the next generation of learners to reach their goals.
Here are four Baker alumni thriving in the classroom and continuing to make a positive impact in the lives of their students.
Andrew Miller, ’16, always had a desire to help others.
The Baker University graduate enrolled on the Baldwin City campus, intending to major in biology with a focus on medicine or education. His plans changed after completing an education class.
“I loved it, as well as my professors at Baker,” said Miller, a Green Tech Academy facilitator and assistant soccer coach at Olathe West High School. “They instilled in me a passion for education and the idea of teaching. I also knew that I wanted to coach club soccer to stay involved in the game that means so much to me. This provided a way to do that with a schedule that aligned well with my goals.”
Miller decided to focus on science because it was a favorite subject.
“I wanted to have a deeper understanding of biology, and this allowed me to do it,” he said. “I also remember my science courses being my favorites in high school, and I wanted to share that experience with the next generation of students.”
The academy, where students study renewable energy and sustainability in depth at the high school level, was recently featured by the European Training Foundation for integrating green technology with a school’s building and curriculum.
“The Green Tech Academy prides itself on collaboration with professionals and preparing our students for their future,” Miller said. “The European Union article was a great example of that. It shined light on the amazing accomplishments of our kids and the incredible things they are doing at just 14 to 18 years old. I couldn’t be prouder and more excited for our students to be recognized.”
Miller hopes he is making a difference with his students, like the support system the Baker faculty provided him.
“I enjoy the ability to interact and impact students’ lives,” he said. “Being an advocate for them and their education is not a responsibility I take lightly. I enjoy seeing them pursue their dreams and take the next step to what is outside high school and having a small part in their journey. I hope all my students know I care. I also hope they leave my classroom in a better spot then when they came into it. I hope they grow in their knowledge of content matter and in their ability to grow as a human. I hope they leave my class more confident, outgoing, and ready for the real world. I hope they leave my class with a remembrance of content and compassion.”
Miller’s love for teaching was inspired during his time at Baker. He thrived in his microbiology and ecology courses. The interactive, hands-on activities in the classes kept him engaged. Faculty members Amy Wintermantel, Charlsie Prosser, ’11 EdD, and Jim Foil helped foster his love for teaching.
“They were positive, but also realistic in what teaching may look like for us,” he said. “It wasn’t always easy, but the kids are always worth it. I appreciated their candid and honest personality.”
Foil served as Miller’s education adviser, and Scott Kimball, ’99, was his biology adviser. Miller relies on the lessons learned from both.
“I always connected with Dr. Foil on a personal level,” Miller said. “He was a lot like the teacher I wanted to be, someone who could connect with kids to help them reach their potential. Dr. Kimball helped me with my senior research and helped push me to understand and apply data rather than just collect data. That push has stuck with me and has helped to shape who I am today.
“Baker University faculty made learning real. They weren’t naive about how hard teaching can be, but they were real about the strategies to reach kids. Our job is always to educate kids, but they can’t learn if they don’t like or know who is teaching them. That has stuck with me: Focus on the student and when you do that content comes easy. Also, the strategies and techniques for teaching were relevant and appropriate. Those helped me to stand out in the interview process.”
In 2014 and 2015 while playing soccer at Baker, Miller was honored as an NAIA Champion of Character. The program focuses on five core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. He was involved with the Special Olympics and helped run a local soccer clinic for Baldwin City youth.
“I have always prided myself on this award,” Miller said. “It has helped to shape who I am: giving time to others and prioritizing service over selfishness. I learned that lesson from my mom and dad. They have taught me to love others and embrace everyone no matter the differences. I am forever grateful for them teaching me this lesson and showing me to give before receiving, always.”
Former Wildcat soccer coach Nate Houser, ’94, now the associate vice president of advancement, nominated him for the honor.
“Nate has been beyond just a coach and is a great mentor,” Miller said. “He has helped shape me into the man I am today.”
Miller has continued his educational journey with Baker. He is pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership at the university.
“I have learned so much about the other side of education, and it has made me excited to pursue a career in school administration,” he said. “I plan to apply to be an assistant principal in the Johnson County area once my program is complete. I’m grateful for the knowledge I’ve gained in the graduate program. The professors and my classmates have made the experience great.”
As for now, Miller continues to connect directly with students in the classroom.
“I love teaching; it’s a demanding yet rewarding career,” he said. “I’m grateful for my time at Baker and know they taught us to adapt to whatever education evolves to. Baker School of Education taught us to have high expectations but teach with compassion and care. Student learning is first, always has been, and always will be. Prioritize that and the rest falls into place.”
Morgan Roth, ’18, knew he wanted to teach and coach when he was in the sixth grade because of the positive impact his teachers and coaches had on him.
“Many of my educators and coaches were exceptional people and they—sometimes nonverbally—taught me how to be a quality person,” said Roth, who is in his sixth year as a language arts teacher at Paola High School. “They taught me beyond the curriculum. I come from a wonderful family, but having the same ethics, morals, and values that my parents taught me modeled by my educators only furthered their importance to me and my life, even now. I truly hope to be a difference maker in the lives of my students and athletes. If I can have the same impact on just some of my students that some of my teachers and coaches had on me, I will consider my career a success.”
Roth enjoys the relationships developed in a school community.
“I most enjoy the interactions with students and athletes that I am afforded every single day,” he said. “I value the social-emotional aspects of teaching above all else. When my career is over and done with, I hope that my social-emotional impact on my students is far greater than any other type of impact I could have had.”
When the pandemic forced Paola students out of the classroom in March 2020, spring break was extended a week to allow teachers to prepare for remote learning. The rest of the school year classes were taught remotely. Students were given three options for the 2020-2021 school year: in-person learning with mask and social-distancing mandates, online learning through Google Meet in which students could join a livestream of a physical classroom setting at Paola High School, or attend virtually through its alternative education program.
“It was a challenge teaching students in the physical classroom while simultaneously teaching in front of the camera with a microphone for remote learners,” Roth said. “It seemed like things were changing moment to moment and minute to minute, but I am proud of the response that my fellow staff members in Paola showed in a difficult and uncertain time.”
Roth was a student teacher in spring 2018 at Paola before graduating from Baker. He teaches Mystery and Suspense Literature and Writing 2, formerly known as Intermediate Writing. He is an assistant football coach and assistant baseball coach at Paola High School.
He believes that Baker’s School of Education classes prepared him well. He fondly remembered three: Psychology of the Exceptional Learner, Educational Philosophy, and Young Adult Literature.
“I believe one of the most impactful classes that I took as a student at Baker University was Psychology of the Exceptional Learner with Dr. Wintermantel,” he said. “Routinely working with exceptional learners, I have often looked back at and applied what Dr. Wintermantel taught me in that class.”
On Dr. Foil’s Educational Philosophy, he said, “As educators, we often say, ‘Remember your Why,’” Roth said. “Dr. Foil helped me to develop my initial Why as an educator.”
About Dr. Prosser’s Young Adult Literature, he recalled, “This class was a lot of fun and exposed me to the type of literature that I am now teaching in the high school setting. My educational practicums were and continue to be an immense help as a classroom teacher.”
Roth will remember his time at Baker primarily because of the people.
“From top to bottom, I believe the people of Baker University are exceptional in the best way possible,” he said. “The kitchen staff, custodians, professors, coaches, ministers, and beyond were all of the best quality I could ever ask for. Dr. Jim Foil, Dr. Charlsie Prosser, Dr. Amy Wintermantel, and Dr. Tamara Slankard all had a large impact on me. Obviously, they presented content that I now use daily as a professional. More importantly, these people showed me love, kindness, patience, understanding, mercy, and grace during my time as a student at Baker University. While content knowledge is essential to my professional life, the social-emotional impact these professors had on me continues to serve me in my everyday interaction with students and other stakeholders. In some form or fashion, I strive to emulate each one of these people in both my professional and personal life.”
Roth hopes his impact on students goes beyond curriculum and content.
“Obviously, the content and standards are very important; I would be a terrible educator if I thought otherwise,” he said. “But, in all reality, 10 or more years from now, few students will remember what books we read or how to construct a works cited page in MLA format. On the other hand, I like to believe that every one of my students—past, present, or future—will remember how I treated them, how I was there for them, and how I loved and cared for them. I hope my students are better people after my time with them.”
With six teachers in his family, Tanner Matthias, ’22, was destined for a career in education.
“I just enjoy being around my kiddos,” said Matthias, a special education and physical education teacher at Ottawa High School. “Interacting with them and helping them succeed and realize they are capable of succeeding is the most fulfilling aspect of my life. I truly enjoy being around my students every day.”
Baker helped Matthias develop his skills and confidence.
“Baker really helped me understand how a classroom should look and operate, but I also feel like the most important aspect of education that Baker instilled in me was experience,” he said. “I had several classes where I was in a live classroom observing and working and learning from different types of teachers in different situations.”
Matthias noted Dr. Verneda Edwards and Dr. Wintermantel as two faculty members who made an impact on his educational path.
“They taught me patience, love, and the willingness to continue to educate every day that I had class,” he said. “I truly owe my career to those two. If all students could be taught by these two women, our world would be a better place.”
Matthias was honored as a Teacher of Promise his senior year at Baker. Students for the award are selected for their professional commitment, achievement, and leadership while in their teacher preparation programs.
“I was shocked and honored at the same time, and I am still honored to this day to receive the honor,” he said.
Matthias began his career focusing on physical education because of his interest in coaching. He soon worked with special education students during his physical education practicum classes and realized he loved being around all types of children.
“I just hope my students view me as a positive portion of their life and that I am an individual who can and always will be there for them,” he said. “Some of my students have never experienced support from adults, and I guarantee you that I will be a supportive teacher that will go to bat for my students every day of the week for the rest of their lives.”
In her first year teaching, Grace Duddy, ’23, teaches fifth graders at Baldwin City Intermediate Center. She has embraced setting up her own room, establishing her own routines, and building a community with her own students.
“I student taught in third grade, so making the jump to fifth has been a learning curve, but I finally feel settled and like my class has found our groove,” she said. “As a fifth-grade teacher, my biggest hope is that I prepare my students for middle school and equip them with the necessary skills to be successful learners. Anytime a student asks why we’re learning something, I always take time to connect content to future experiences and life outside of school. In addition to mastering content, we spend a lot of time practicing executive functioning skills such as organization and goal setting. My goal is that my students see that learning is an invaluable experience and that they have the necessary skills to solve problems, express themselves, and adapt to changes.”
Courses outside of the School of Education curriculum helped prepare her. The Introduction to Poetry and Creative Writing Workshop with creative writing professor Marti Mihalyi helped nourish her love of writing and literature that she has been able to apply to her lessons. Social Psychology with Dr. Sara Crump helped her better understand the additional factors students may be facing inside and outside of school.
In terms of education classes, practicum experiences and Psychology of the Exceptional Learner were her favorites because of how tangible and applicable all the assignments were.
“I truly felt that I was gaining experiences and knowledge that would help me on a daily basis as an educator,” she said.
Every Baker faculty member contributed to her success as a teacher.
“The passion and dedication that every faculty member brought to campus and into classrooms became my inspiration for my own classroom and teaching style,” she said.
Duddy appreciated Wintermantel setting a high standard for her students, building meaningful relationships, and creating balance between life and school.
“Not only did she influence my view of the education system as a whole, but she also has a wealth of knowledge that I can only hope to have a fraction of someday,” Duddy said. “She challenged and encouraged me throughout my time at Baker, and I am a better educator and person for it.”
During her time at Baker, Duddy was the School of Education Ambassador president. Her primary role was to grow the organization and bring new ideas and events to campus.
The amount of experience Duddy was able to attain during her time at Baker through practicum courses and substitute teaching was invaluable. She seized every opportunity to get into elementary classrooms by taking additional practicums as well as the recently added substitute teaching course.
“By the time I reached student teaching, I was already comfortable planning units, teaching lessons, and accommodating for exceptionalities, so I could really hone in on my classroom management,” she said. “Without this much hands-on experience, I don’t feel as though I would have been nearly as prepared.”
Duddy hopes she continues to make a difference in the lives of her students.
“My favorite aspect of teaching has been seeing my students’ growth—both academically and socially—and celebrating their successes with them,” she said. “Some days are difficult, but it’s the lightbulb moments and pride in their accomplishments that make it all worth it. Being my students’ personal cheerleader and voice of encouragement brings me so much joy.”
Written by Steve Rottinghaus, ’14 MSM