Student’s future takes root at UC Clermont

Exploratory program grows passion for environment

After graduating from West Clermont High School in 2019, Koda Baker took the traditional next step — pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. But once on campus, Baker felt lost.

“The college experience was really hard for me,” said Baker, who was born in Ohio but grew up in Tennessee and returned to Batavia at age 11. “I reflected on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go — and realized I really didn’t know. I just knew that college was the way to get there.”

Baker recalled a high school tour at nearby UC Clermont, where they also had learned about Exploratory Studies, a program targeted toward students unsure of their academic direction. Baker enrolled in the program and started taking classes in fall 2021, “just to see” if the fit felt right. Approximately 110 students have enrolled in the Exploratory Studies program each fall for the past five years.

From day one, Baker was hooked.

“I loved campus right away. I loved the small classes and how accommodating and friendly the staff was — how everyone knew everyone,” said Baker. “I would ask one person for help, and they would connect me with someone else. It’s a very connected campus.”

In the Exploratory Studies introductory course, taught by Professor Greg Sojka (also a former UC Clermont dean), Baker and their classmates learned about resources available on campus directly from guest speakers representing student services, mental health, Career Services and the library. Baker also completed self-assessments and conducted informational interviews with faculty and community professionals to get a better idea of what different professions involved. The exploratory class motto — “explore, discover, decide” — guided their lessons each day.

If you have enough compassion for yourself, take that step, be a little undecided, and be courageous in that. You’ll find yourself in places you never thought you would be, and it’s amazing.

Koda Baker UC Clermont Exploratory Studies '22; DAAP student

The process ultimately steered Baker, who had been leaning toward a major in anthropology but had an interest in science, to an opportunity as a biology lab assistant. Sojka and Glenda Neff, director of UC Clermont Career Services, helped Baker land the on-campus role.

Baker worked side-by-side in the lab with Assistant Professor Danielle Winget and enjoyed the job so much that they began asking Winget about career paths in the field.

“I was wowed by Koda’s passion for the environment and interest in making meaningful change for the health of humans and wildlife,” Winget said. “When students like Koda choose careers that match their interests and knowledge base, I have hope that our world will be better because of the new ideas and enthusiasm they have to meet and conquer our society's challenges.”   

This fall, Baker transitioned to UC’s Uptown campus and is now a horticulture major in the college of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. After earning a bachelor’s degree, Baker plans to start a permaculture farm that is sustainable and self-sufficient. They said their goal of helping the earth was planted during days spent in the UC Clermont biology lab with Winget.

“I want to work with soil the most. That’s the main way to get good food and a healthy environment. Go back to your roots,” Baker said. “The exploratory program and my time spent within the UC Clermont community cultivated my dream into an actionable plan. For that, I will be forever grateful.”

Baker said that while they miss the close-knit UC Clermont campus, they feel excited and prepared for this next chapter — and the direction the college helped them find. Baker encourages other students unsure of their futures to pursue the Exploratory Studies program, too.

“Start the program and follow your intuition. There are a lot of people there who are ready to help you discover what you want to do,” Baker said. “If you have enough compassion for yourself, take that step, be a little undecided, and be courageous in that. You’ll find yourself in places you never thought you would be, and it’s amazing.”

Learn more about UC Clermont’s Exploratory Studies major at https://ucclermont.edu/explore.

Featured photo at top: UC Clermont alumnus Koda Baker in the college's recently renovated Student Lounge. Baker is now studying horticulture in UC’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. Photo/Danny Kidd

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