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About to Give Up, Donor Funds Lead Future Teacher to Graduation Stage

Dakota Baer

April 28, 2023

Dakota Baer was working two jobs, 40 hours per week as a shift leader at Walmart and for the City of Thornton as a swim instructor, when she transferred to UNC from Red Rocks Community College in 2020. Overwhelmed by her workload, paying for school and with COVID-19 turning the world upside down, she thought about giving up and dropping out.  

Baer chose UNC because of its reputation as a leader in teacher education, but she hadn’t been to campus yet. That’s when her mom put her in the car and drove her to Greeley. She fell in love with the campus, especially the libraries.   

“As we walked around campus she was like, ‘you need to be here,’” Baer said. “She was that motivational support I needed.” 

From that moment on Baer committed herself to finishing her degree. 

Neither of Baer’s parents had attended college and they wanted her to succeed, especially because she had fallen in love with teaching in high school. She attended school at Mount Range High School and joined the Teacher Cadet Program through the Bollman Technical Institute. Though she initially wanted to teach elementary school, she was placed in middle school and found her perfect fit. She said that she was able to overcome some of the areas that she found boring in school, such as lectures, by having the students analyze something and come to conclusions themselves, then coaching them into the lesson from there rather than starting with a lecture. After graduating with an associate degree, she said the UNC choice was straightforward because of the teaching program and the financial assistance she would receive.  

Part of this financial assistance was in the form of a transfer student scholarship. Her dad helped her pay for books and car insurance, and she worked to cover the rest of her costs, her goal being to graduate with no student loan debt. She was on track to meet this goal until her last semester during which time she had to student teach full-time without being paid. Fortunately, her teachers nominated her for the Goodman Teacher Scholarship. This scholarship, created by Casey (’10) and Lindsey (’10, ’14) Goodman, helps students during their semester of student teaching. 

The Goodman Teacher Scholarship has given me hope and provided that final push to get through this next semester, which will be one of the hardest I have taken,” Baer said. 

Not only did her UNC professors nominate her for the scholarship, but they were also incredibly supportive and willing to go the extra mile for her. One of those professors is her advisor Kelly Langley-Cook, a lecturer in UNC’s Department of History who also works with the Secondary Teacher Education Program. 

“Dakota is very dedicated to her students. She constantly challenges herself to get out of her comfort zone to really know them and serve them well,” Langley-Cook said. “Dakota worked at an alternative school for the past year - where the students often need different kinds of motivation and buy-in to connect to the learning, and she came up with some of the most creative and interactive lessons to make sure that they felt connected to the lesson. I watched her take a class that started as quiet and uninterested and turn it into a vibrant place of discussion and learning.” 

Another faculty member, T.J. Tomlin, professor of History, also enjoyed watching Baer teaching in the classroom.  

“In November2022, I had the opportunity to observe Dakota teach in a secondary classroom in Greeley. Unsurprisingly, she brings the same dynamic energy she brought to my classes into her own classroom,” Tomlin said. “I have no doubt she will soar as a teacher and help her students grow, thrive and excel.” 

Given this support, Baer said she was able to earn her Bachelor of Arts Degree and secure a job teaching starting this fall at Eagle Ridge Academy in Brighton, Colorado. 

“Once you connect with the students, and once you can reach them and their way of learning, it’s absolutely unbelievable,” she said.

– written by Christina Abel

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