This edition of Who Makes Millersville Special features Dr. Jason Baker, assistant professor of psychology and the coordinator of the School Counseling Graduate Program.
Q: What influenced you to study psychology?
A: I have always had a passion for the field of psychology, even though I began undergrad as a pre-med major. In my high school library, I was able to find a dusty copy of William James’ “Principles of Psychology,” and this provided some early impetus to strengthen my knowledge base. From here, I sought out books in the subject and tapped into what became a wellspring of internal motivation. The interesting part about psychology is that we are all naïve theorists, which makes talking about the subject exciting and interesting in nearly any group. Also, I was lucky to have had many great professors in school who inspired me along the way.
Q: Did you always want to become a psychologist?
A: As a child, I remember wanting to be a marine biologist, which in my professional work with children, I have surprisingly found to be a popular career choice for the young! I suppose it neatly combines the care for another with the vastness of the ocean. Of course, this was at a time when fantasies loomed larger on my career horizon than actual opportunities, and I found myself refocusing when the realistic parts of that occupation were exposed.
Q: What was your favorite part of your years spent working as a school counselor?
A: The best part was/is working with the children. I met so many inspiring, creative and interesting young people. It is so great to have a job that energizes. It sounds trite, but having a heart, a hand and a head in the future generation really is inspiring. To me, it makes it easier to roll over those times of existential dilemma.
Q: What are some of your hobbies away from work?
A: I really enjoy the outdoors. I like mountain biking, boating and generally communing with nature. I also enjoy music and spending time with friends and family.
Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your life?
A: This is a really tough question to answer. As I think about the many opportunities I have had in life, I think both sociologically and psychologically I am very fortunate to have been born into and lived through a time of what I perceived to be supportive opportunity in this country. I was a student throughout the 1990s, and I never remember the broader culture generating widespread doubts or concerns about the future. In my recollection, it was a time of prosperity (in a collective sense—not personally, I was a student!). It was a hopeful time; crime was generally on the decline, Silicon Valley, the Internet and computers were changing the world, and it was easy to jump into that current of free-flowing possibilities.
Of course, I also had supportive family members, teachers, professors and mentors who influenced me every step along the way. As I spend more time thinking about what it takes to “actualize” a human being, I am drawn towards the culture, the connections and chance happenings that support the individual.
Q: Do you have any quotes or a philosophy you choose to live your life by?
A: I am constantly jotting down notes and updating lists of quotes. There is a Stephen Jay Gould quote that I really like:
“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.” (Gould, 1981)
I think this one is great because it is at once a humbling recognition of the individual spirit and a compelling “call to arms” to broader social advocacy. In essence, life is lived in the line between what we think we can accomplish and what our environment inspires us to accomplish.
Q: You have said you are interested in music, do you play any instruments?
A: Yes. I play drums and guitar.
Q: What has been your favorite part of teaching at MU?
A: I really like our students. Nearly every time I walk out of a classroom, I find myself energized by the ideas that bounced off the walls. It really only takes one pair of wide eyes, one knowing nod or one satisfied grin to know that connections were made.
Q: Why did you decide to leave your counseling job to become a professor?
A: I still hold a license as a professional counselor, and this is a part of my career that I want to continue to cultivate alongside my work at MU. As a professor, I am better able to advance my own ideas, stay connected with the “cutting edge” of the profession, and promote the larger interests of the counseling profession. The great part about this position is that I can work to unite the university community with the great work that is being done in our K-12 schools by talented counselors every day.
Q: What impact do you foresee technology having on the field of psychology?
A: In tracing the history of psychology from the time when it emerged as a “rigorous science” from the deep and churning cauldron of philosophy, much has changed. I believe the technological advances of the future will bring increased ability to map the brain and mind through scanning and modeling processes. The field of neuroscience is increasingly both melding with and coming from the knowledge base of psychology. I think this will continue to happen. It is really an exciting time to be alive as our generation has the opportunity to peer into our brains in ways that previous generations may have only dreamed. Of course, this is always the case with progress, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be excited!
Q: If you could have dinner with one person, dead or alive, real or fictional, who would it be?
Probably Leonard Cohen, though it seems that the art and depth of his words and music probably wouldn’t come across the dinner table well…maybe a long drive across a fog-clouded, undulating countryside as he slowly unfolded the narrative…