Baker to kick off new series

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The Academic Support Program of the Student Advising and Mentoring Center will begin a series called “Grassroots: Conversations on Leadership in a Diverse Community” on April 23 at 5 p.m. in the Olson Auditorium.

Bernice Strauss, director of Academic Support Programs, said she wanted to look at doing some creative programming that would support academics.

“(The series was organized to create) a positive academic environment and culture, and provide or address the learning that goes on outside of the classroom as well as inside the classroom,” Strauss said. “I went to a number of student groups and I talked to a number of different faculty members about addressing different student populations and coming up with some creative ideas for programming and this is an off-shoot of that.”

The SAM Center offers students a variety of different programs such as study skills, (Graduate Record Exam Preparation), test anxiety and test taking tips, first alert and other types of very standard or very traditional academic programs, she said.

Strauss said this series is more than a presentation; it is a conversational series that will allow Sam Houston State University students, staff and faculty to meet and visit with community members who have leadership expertise.

“Obviously very well known role models have a lot to teach us, but I think we are at a place where we want to understand and develop leadership within our campus community,” Strauss said.

Wendell Baker, who is recognized for his role in the desegregation of SHSU in1964, will begin the series by chronicling the desegregation process at SHSU.

“We are having (Baker) come not as a representative of any organization, but rather as a member of our community who knows a lot about leadership and has had a lot of impact on both the City of Huntsville and Sam Houston,” she said.

Baker was the first black man to work the voting poll since Reconstruction and also the first black man elected to the hospital’s District Board of Managers. He is also the author of “If Not Me, Who?”

“(Baker) has lead a very colorful life and done many different things here and ideally students, staff and faculty will have an opportunity to ask him more about the decisions he made, and the inspiration and motivation he had for some of his contributions,” Strauss said.

Along with other lifetime contributions to the Huntsville community, Baker was also recognized by the Texas Legislature as playing a significant role in the desegregation of SHSU on June 10, 1964.

“Whereas, Wendell Baker, Sr., of Huntsville is an accomplished Texan whose extensive contributions to his community, state, and nation are all the more remarkable for the considerable barriers he overcame,” the Resolution by the Texas State Legislature stated.

“The idea (for the series) is that these are people in our community who have made significant contributions and are useful role models for our students, as well as having interesting things to teach and tell to us,” Strauss said. “In and of itself I think that the integration of (SHSU) is a very useful and interesting story.”

Strauss said it is important to understand where we come from as well as to recognize the impact it has taken on where we are going in the future.

“I think (integration) is a piece of living history,” she said. “It significantly changed our institution and as a result of that, Sam Houston is a different place.”

Baker is expected to spend about15 minutes talking about the integration story of SHSU and how it came about. He will then talk more about how, and why, the Texas Legislature chose to recognize him.

A small reception will be held at the SAM Center following Baker’s talk in order for the audience to visit with him and ask questions, Strauss said.

The “Grassroots” series is not in connection with the SHSU President’s Speaker Series. Other influential community members are expected to take part in the series in September, October and November.

“We are looking at community people who have expertise in the area of leadership in a diverse community, and not necessarily the rich and famous,” she said. “When there is such wonderful expertise close at hand I would really like to tap into those resources.”

James Olson, chair of the history department, will introduce Baker on April 23.

The “Grassroots” series is co-sponsored by Student Activities and the Honors Program at SHSU.

“A lot of academic things happen outside the classroom and Huntsville maybe a small town, but it is a rich community in terms of knowledge,” Strauss said. “This is an opportunity to continue the learning outside of the classroom.”