Thursday, May 20, 2004

Expanded curriculum at tech college bears fruit

545 students to cross stage at Gateway graduation

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

Family support specialist Mary Baker (left) talks with Holmes junior Susan Simpson while Susan's daughter Alyssa plays. Baker earned an associate's degree while working at the school's Chapman Child Development Center. She plans to earn a bachelor's degree.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
COVINGTON - As a teen mother, Holmes High School junior Susan Simpson says she often needs advice on personal or school-related issues. That's when she turns to Mary Baker.

"I was going through some family problems, and she helped out a lot," said Simpson. "I look at her as a mentor."

Baker, 31, is the family support specialist at Chapman Child Development Center on the Holmes campus, where Simpson drops off her 15-month-old daughter each day before school. The center provides day care for Holmes' teen moms, but Baker's focus is on the moms.

"If they have trouble at home or school, they can come to me anytime, and we'll see what we can do," said Baker. "I let them know that even if they have a baby, they have a future."

Today, Baker will help her own future when she becomes a graduate of Gateway Community and Technical College with an associate's degree in early childhood education.

With 545 graduates, it's the largest graduating class in Gateway's history. And with the associate's program in early childhood development started two years ago, Baker will be part of the first graduating class in that area.

Baker's pursuit of a degree began more than a decade ago. She started at Northern Kentucky Technical College (now Gateway) in 1992 after graduating from Holmes. She transferred to Northern Kentucky University in 1994 and also started work full time at Chapman. But she quit school a year-and-a-half later.

"My mom passed away and I just lost interest," said Baker.

She started back a couple of years ago with a little encouragement from Marinell Brown, her former instructor who has been teaching at the college level for 26 years.

"Once we were able to offer an associate's degree, I may have twisted her arm a bit to come back," said Brown. "She has a real genuine concern and commitment to young children and has a good rapport with the moms at Chapman."

When she walks across the stage today, Baker said, it won't be for the last time. She starts classes at NKU in August in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in social work.

Graduation is 7 p.m. today at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. Michael McCall, president of Kentucky Community and Technical College System, will speak. The ceremony is for graduates and their families only.

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