Eastern Kentucky University held fall commencement ceremonies on Dec. 3, 2022, to celebrate over 1,200 students achieving their degrees. Students from this graduation class hail from 11 countries, 40 states and 94 Kentucky counties and range in age from 19 to 71. The 71-year-old graduate, Keri Baker, returned to EKU after a career in California to earn a master’s in social work and a certificate in mental health.
Baker said achieving her master’s degree and the experience she got along with it was thanks to the faculty and staff who make up the social work program—especially her advisor, Kelly Cogar, and the people in the Noel Studio who were instrumental in her educational success.
“Keri’s differences as a graduate student are what made her stand out above the rest. When she spoke of how she could use her degree to help the marginalized in this world, her entire being would light up. Her eyes would often fill with tears,” recalled Cogar, senior director of EKU’s Center for Student Accessibility. “I fervently believe that her compassion and innate desire to help others is what drove her unsurpassed work ethic. Witnessing her growth as a student inspired me and motivated me to work harder to serve others.”
The Fall 2022 commencement was not the first time Baker received a degree from EKU—she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in the spring of 2016. Following her first EKU graduation, Baker worked in California as a drug and alcohol counselor.
“The population I worked with were incarcerated individuals in prison and in aftercare programs,” Baker said. “The highlight of my career was being able to watch individuals change their outlook and want to live clean, sober and crime-free.”
Baker decided to return to EKU to earn her master’s degree after being in the workforce, because she loved the faculty in the social work department. She also appreciated the variety of services offered to students that she utilized during her time on campus, like the Noel Studio, and the sense of community that surrounds it.
Baker said, “EKU has all the components that larger universities offer, but they are more personalized. Classes are smaller, and the curriculum taught by professors and grad students show how phenomenal the faculty are and that they really care about the students.”
Baker said she decided to pursue her master’s degree in social work because, in today’s economy, you have to be marketable. Obtaining her degree will allow her to pursue a state license in clinical social work. Baker also said she had been looking forward to graduating last semester because she is eager to enter the workforce again.
She wants to encourage others to seek higher education and to take matters concerning mental health more seriously, especially when it comes to one’s own mental health. Colonels like Keri show the community that it’s never too late to earn a degree doing what you love and the importance of passion in the workplace.
To learn more about the EKU social work program, visit socialwork.eku.edu.
To learn more about mental health resources available at EKU, visit counselingcenter.eku.edu.