Creating a culture of compassion, kindness and connection is the core focus of Alex Baker’s leadership and student engagement philosophy at UCCS. Baker, who serves as the case manager for the Office of the Dean of Students, says he didn’t experience that type of inclusiveness very often growing up in his small hometown of Wagoner, Oklahoma, and he hopes that his efforts will mean others don’t feel that same sense of separation.
“Being a gay male in Oklahoma proved to be quite interesting,” Baker said. “Oftentimes growing up, I felt so isolated and so ‘other.’”
That sense of “otherness” has motivated him to create an environment where such divisions don’t exist. As a first-generation college student attending the University of Central Oklahoma, Baker spent four of his five years there working as a resident assistant, serving on the student programming board and organizing student events while earning a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications with a minor in leadership.
“I want anything that I’m a part of to help others to feel like they are a part of something much bigger than themselves — and that they can connect,” Baker said. “There should be a seat at the table for everyone. And if there’s not a seat at the table for everyone, then we need a bigger table.”
After graduation, on the recommendation of a trusted mentor, Baker sought a career that would allow him to continue fostering connections. His job search led him to UCCS, where he accepted a position as a residence hall manager and continued his education, earning a master of arts in student affairs in higher education. That experience set the foundation for his current role as case manager and a core member of the university’s Student Response Team, which provides outreach, advocacy and crisis response.
“The foundation I bring to the case manager position is what I learned and implemented as a residence hall manager: crisis response, working with students through a lens of compassion and understanding that even though a student has violated a policy, there’s still a human sitting on the other side of the table,” he said.
In addition to his role as a case manager, Baker also serves as the president for the university’s staff association, a position that is just as engrossing as his full-time job. He said the extra work is worth the effort in the benefits it provides the staff, faculty and student body.
“It’s so important in any organization for people to feel valued and to feel heard. I think that really is the role of the staff association, to provide opportunities for folks to provide feedback,” said Baker, noting that talking over issues and offering critiques — no matter how constructive — can be daunting for anyone. However, he points out that collaborative relationships are an important part of the work of the university and benefit everyone — particularly during difficult times.
“It’s so important that we continue to move forward with compassion and grace, and we really act and react with kindness,” Baker said. “It is more important now than ever that we all remember to just slow down and recognize we’re all in this together. We don’t have all the answers and we just need to be kind to each other.”