'Favorite teacher' retires after 40 years

Gary Baker help studentLast semester, Gary Baker, professor of finance, asked a student to take out an iPhone and ask Siri, the device’s intelligent personal assistant, the price of AT&T’s stock. The class knew in seconds the real-time data available through Siri.

Those scenarios didn’t happen in 1975 when Baker started teaching at Washburn. Computers and the Internet weren’t prevalent, and calculators cost $100. Chalkboards have been replaced, and Washburn has grown considerably.

Much has changed on campus since that time, but some things have not, including Baker’s passion for education and his respect for his peers. Few have served as a professor as long as Baker. As he was preparing for retirement in May, Baker reflected on the best parts of the last 40 years.

“Seeing when a person finally ‘gets it’ is the highlight of teaching for me, and it’s so fun to see the students when they come back,” he said. “I’ll miss the comradery among the faculty members. Everyone here is well-respected in their fields, and we’ve worked really well together.”

Out of the 80 semesters he served as a faculty member, he said his favorite class to teach was the Introduction to Finance class at the junior level because it taught so many practical skills. His goal with each student was to give them the “roots and wings” to succeed later on in life.

“Even if a student decided not to become a finance major,” he said, “the class still taught them great life lessons like how to compute payments when they were buying a house.”

Nathan Hollingshead, a junior economics and finance major from Mapleton, Iowa, said he enjoyed Baker’s classes because he was engaging and could easily apply what they are learning to projects he’s done. “He’s by far my favorite teacher,” Hollingshead said. “I took a senior-level class a year early because I knew he was retiring.”

Baker’s 40-year commitment to Washburn is a reflection of his belief in education and what it can do for a person. He backed up his commitment by creating the Professor Gary Baker Finance & Economics scholarship for Washburn students and supporting the university in many other ways.

“I created the scholarship to show my own children and grandchildren that education is important,” said Baker, who has four children and 10 grandchildren. “My family is my proudest accomplishment, and education got them where they are today.”

Outside of the classroom, Baker worked extensively with longtime professor of finance Jim Eck. They created two consulting firms, researched and wrote dozens of published journal articles, wrote two books, taught continuing education courses and regularly testified in court as economic experts. Their work made Washburn known on a national and international level, as lawyers in all 50 states and five countries retained them for their economic expertise. In retirement, Baker plans to continue consulting and updating his books.

“When he would testify, he could really get the attention of the jury because of his personality,” Eck said. “He carried that over into the classroom. The students really like him because of his confidence, sense of humor and smile – it’s very infectious.”

Teaching Awards

1979 – Merit Teaching Award

1980 – Faculty Certificate of Merit

1993 – Ned Fleming Excellence in Teaching Award

1998 – Outstanding Contribution to “Business and Economic Society International”

2005 – John and Betty Dicus Excellence in Teaching Award

2010 – Student Life Achieving Excellence Award

2013 – Washburn Alumni Association Col. John Ritchie Award

Some Areas of Washburn Philanthropy

  • Professor Gary Baker Finance & Economics Scholarship

  • Washburn University Football Suite Fund

  • Washburn University Memorial Fund

  • Trees Project Fund

  • Ichabod Athletics Scholarship Fund

  • Washburn Alumni Association

  • School of Business Dean’s Fund for Excellence

  • Billie Jean Bergmann Business Scholarship Fund

By the numbers

40 -Years of teaching

23 - States in which presentations were made

8 - Foreign countries in which presentations were made

1 - Sabbatical semester

1 - Semester he didn’t teach night classes