Maggie Reid, Assistant Features Editor
When Rachel Baker found out that she was one of this years valedictorian, she was speechless for 30 seconds. When she was able to find her voice after being in shock, the first thing she did was pick up the phone to call her parents.
“Before it could fully process, I had to call my parents to tell them,” Baker said. “I think it’s still processing or settling in. It might not fully hit me until we graduate on May 6.”
Professor Victoria Nackely was thrilled when Baker told her she was one of this year’s valedictorian.
“Rachel is an astute, dedicated student who is a consumer of her education,” Nackely said. “She avails herself of multiple learning opportunities in order to get the most out of her education. She sets high standards for herself and works diligently to meet those standards.”
Marianne Durkin, a friend of Baker’s, was overjoyed when she found out.
“She works so hard in school and she deserves it,” Durkin said. “Along with academics, she works at the ARC and as a teaching assistant, takes elective courses to further her education, is an e-board member for Student Occupational Therapy Association [SOTA], and still has time to occasionally bake muffins for my classmates and I.”
After graduation, Rachel, who is an Occupational Therapy major, will have one more year at UC before she graduates with her master’s degree next May.
“After I graduate next May, I plan on staying fairly local,” Baker said. “I’m still deciding between working with adults or children. I’m liking everything we learned, which is great but also a struggle.”
Looking back at her classes, one of the most difficult classes she had to take was neuroanatomy. Despite it being one of her hardest classes, she found it to also to be one of her favorites.
“I liked how we learned about the material, and then applied it,” Baker said. “I probably spent three hours each week studying it to do well, but also revisiting the material in order to apply it to Occupational Therapy.”
Another one of Baker’s favorite classes was called Occupational Performance due to the fact that she was able to apply what she learned in that class to real life.
Getting a 4.0 involves a lot of studying, which Baker likes to do at her off-campus home.
“I like being in one place,” Baker said. “That way I can get up and do something else before coming back to it–such as distracting myself with baking.”
Out of all her professors, Baker had one who she believes taught her the most, Professor Victoria Nackley.
“She takes things from in the class and relates the material to her experiences in real life,” Baker said. “She teaches us things we will need to know and practice, and she demonstrates to us importance of being a genuinely great person and caring for others.”
During her time here, Baker was involved in activities such as student senate, softball, and SOTA.
When she isn’t busy with her coursework, you can find Rachel working at an afterschool program for children with autism, called The Arc.
“I work for an after school program to provide for children with autism as well as a saturday program where families can drop their children off to play for a while,” Baker said. “I like to ski, and I volunteer with CABVI blind and visually impaired ski, I also visit my family frequently [outside of Saratoga Springs], and I like to hike, paint and to bake.”
Baker’s favorite memory during her time here was participating in CABVI’s camp abilities.
“I found out through other students at utica, and I was able to meet other people from Utica I wouldn’t normally run into,” Baker said. “Helping those students learn to ski and try new things, that experience was definitely one of my favorites.”
When it came to deciding her major, Baker always knew that she wanted to do something medical, but she also wanted to be hands on, especially with children.
“This [occupational therapy] gave me the best of both worlds,” Baker said. “It is something I can be creative at, or with.”
For incoming freshman, Baker has some words of advice.
“Don’t limit yourself to things you are comfortable with,” Baker said. “Really try and expand your horizons, push yourself.”
One of the most difficult experiences for Baker was transitioning at UC after transfering from Rochester Institute of Technology.
“Transitioning here was the hardest experience because I came from another college into the UC community not knowing anybody,” Baker said. “The best thing I did was to get involved, Utica is great for that because of how many different opportunities there are.”
While Baker misses the friends she made there, she “absolutely loves the [OT] program, and knew that by coming to Utica, she would be able to start practicing OT sooner.
For transfer students, Baker has some words of advice, which is to not to be intimidated by something new.
‘“Utica isn’t just a college, it is a community that is welcoming to everyone, there is something for everyone.” Baker said. When it comes to dealing with stress, Baker turns to sugar breaks, as well as advice from her father.
“I deal with stress with ice cream, and by talking to family and friends,” Baker said.
“And as my dad says, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s important to remind myself that things will get done.”
Throughout her college experience, Baker’s biggest supporters were her parents.
“My mom and my dad never told me what I should do or were disappointed in any decision,” Baker said. “They were always supportive of any decision that I made.”
Perhaps one of the biggest questions to ask a graduating student would be if they would change anything about their college experience. For Baker, she believes everyone would take the path they knew would be easiest after looking back, but it doesn’t always end up being that way.
“I think we all say that if we new exactly the path we wanted to take, we would jump right into school that best supported that,” Baker said. “It would have been easier if I came to UC at the start, but I don’t regret going to RIT because of the friends that I made.”
Professor Nackley has some hopes for Baker in the future.
“I hope that Rachel will continue in her passion for the field of occupational therapy and find that niche in which she totally thrives,” Nackley said. “I hope that she can look back upon the lives that she has impacted over the years. I perceive her as a leader in the profession and hope that she will come back to the classroom to teach. She is a natural teacher and leader. I look forward to the day when I can proudly say, ‘I had her as a student in the Occupational Therapy Program at Utica College.’”
After Graduating, Baker only has a short window to celebrate with friends before jumping right into fieldwork for OT on May 14. After her 12 weeks of fieldwork is completed, she only has a two week break before coming back early to continue her studies.
While nothing is set in stone, a winery visit with her friends may be in the running for a quick break from school before jumping right back in to work.
After Baker is completed with college for good, she has many things to look forward to.
“Being able to practice what I learned, as well as the freedom to take that wherever I want with whoever I want, as well as more opportunities.”
But perhaps most importantly: “no more loans.”