Nate Houser, ’94, who has a long history with Baker athletics as student-athlete, coach, and athletic director, is looking forward to using his leadership and administrative skills in a new realm. He was recently named associate vice president of advancement and senior advisor for DE&I initiatives.
“Nate’s successful approach to recruiting and coaching student-athletes translates well to his new role,” Baker University President Lynne Murray said. “He understands the needs of Baker both from a student perspective and at an institutional level. His dedication to Baker shines through, and I’m eager to watch him share Baker’s story and raise funds for our students.”
Houser’s Baker experience began as a student on the Baldwin City campus and member of the soccer team. He majored in history and political science and minored in Spanish. He was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and served as the Interfraternity Council president and president of Mungano, the student-run diversity organization. He met his wife, Erica (Swensen) Houser, ’96, at Baker. They first met when he was a University Admissions Assistant, and she and her family were part of a group tour he was leading. They reconnected later in a music class and were married in Osborne Chapel in 1997, by Dr. Ira DeSpain, ’70, former minister to the university. They have two children, Micayla and Michael.
As a forward for the Wildcats, Houser was named an NAIA All-American and conference, district, and regional Player of the Year. He still holds the single-season record for goals and all-time assists. After his college career, he spent 12 seasons in the indoor National Professional Soccer League, 11 of them playing defender for the Kansas City Comets. Houser also played outdoor soccer in the USL A-League for three seasons. In 2007, he was inducted into the Baker University Athletics Hall of Fame.
A Return to Baker
In 2003, as Houser’s professional career was winding down, he returned to campus as head coach of the women’s soccer team, a role he held until 2013. He also coached the men’s team from 2008 to 2022. He was proud to carry on the strong Baker tradition of supporting students.
“Baker values people for who they are. Tony Brown [psychology professor] invested in me personally. He is a soccer fan and came to many of our games,” Houser said. “Dr. Brown would stop me on campus or in the union and ask how things were going, what was next, how was class, how was my family.”
He also values the influence of Jesse Milan, former assistant professor of education, longtime civil rights leader, Baker’s first Black professor, and founder of Mungano.
“Dr. Milan was an important guide for me as a young student taking my first steps into leadership,” Houser said.
In 2017, Houser was named athletic director. During his five years in this position, he stressed both aspects of being a student-athlete, leading to growth in athletic achievement and in academics. In the year before stepping into the role, 13 Baker teams earned NAIA Scholar-Team status, which requires a combined 3.0 GPA. Since then, at least 20 teams each season have earned this honor, and in 2019-2020, all 24 teams held a GPA of at least 3.0. Along with team success, 479 Wildcats have earned over a 3.50 GPA and become NAIA Scholar-Athletes under Houser.
During this time, Baker also saw growth on the field of play, winning 16 Heart of America Athletic Conference Championships and making 38 NAIA National Championship appearances. During those years, 62 student-athletes earned NAIA All-American status.
A Strong Foundation
“I am thankful for the tools I gained at Baker: problem-solving, critical thinking, and the challenges of leadership,” Houser said. “In Dr. Exon’s [professor emeritus of history and former golf coach] classes, there was no other expectation but excellence. So I purposefully made an effort to hold myself to that standard as a student, an athlete, a coach, and athletic director. And I will continue reaching for that standard.”
In his new position in advancement, Houser will be responsible for designing and implementing comprehensive institutional advancement programs with the goal of increasing fundraising outcomes and increasing constituent involvement. He will also work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on campus to create a more inclusive community.
“I owe Baker a debt. It helped mold me into the person others thought I could be. I am fortunate that I can spend my days repaying that debt by trying to make Baker a better place than when I found it,” Houser said. “That will be a big challenge in my new role. The development team is coming off the highly successful Forever Orange campaign, and I look forward to introducing new ideas and initiatives and pushing the university forward.”
Susan Decker Named Athletic Director
Assuming the duties of athletic director will be Susan Decker, who just finished her 17th year at Baker, first as a coach and since 2017 as the assistant and then associate director of athletics. In her most recent role, she developed a mentorship program to build stronger connections between athletics and the classroom and oversaw the athletics study hall program. She was named the Heart of America Charles Morris Administrator of the Year in 2020. And in 2021, she was named Baker’s senior woman administrator, providing leadership and guidance in the area of Title IX and gender equity planning for both men’s and women’s sports.
Decker served as the head women’s basketball coach from 2000 to 2011, amassing 183 wins, the most in Baker University history. She produced 25 NAIA Scholar-Athletes and coached three 21-win seasons.
“I am extremely grateful to President Murray for giving me the opportunity to lead the Baker Athletic Department and for believing in me to continue moving Baker in a positive direction,” Decker said. “When Coach Houser hired me five years ago, he taught me how to run a successful athletic department and that has put me in a position to build on those qualities that I believe will help Baker Athletics continue to grow. I look forward to continuing to work with our student-athletes to be successful both in their respective sports and in the classroom.”