By Cassandra Coria
GCU News Bureau
Lauren Baker didn’t wait long to fulfill a promise to her grandfather.
The Grand Canyon University junior was heading to the airport after visiting him for the last time as he lay in intensive care. She wanted him to know how much he had meant to her – and to her education.
“I promised him I would take every opportunity and take every risk and just put myself out there in college. I said goodbye to him, thank you for everything, for contributing to the person I am today,” she said.
Then she got the call that would change her summer plans and maybe her life. She had been chosen for the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship, an opportunity from the Council on International Educational Exchange that begins July 10 in Washington, DC, and continues in Ireland.
The fellowship offers undergraduates from under-represented backgrounds a free trip to study intercultural communications and conflict resolution. The fact that her grandfather’s wife is from Ireland makes it even more special for Baker.
“I’ll be the first person in my family to see where his wife is from, to not only learn about my heritage as a Filipino student but also my Irish ancestry,” she said. “It’s both parts of who I am, and I got to share with my grandfather before he passed that I was going on this study-abroad opportunity.”
Baker, an Honors College student majoring in government with an emphasis in legal studies and minoring in philosophy, is from Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii.
“I’m a Hawaii local girl through and through,” she said. “I am passionate about speaking up for those marginalized or those who don’t have the same platform or privilege as I do.”
She sees two major benefits to the fellowship: It will encourage her aspirations and also teach her solutions she can bring back to her community.
“While I am not ethnically native Hawaiian,” she said, “I see a lot of native Hawaiian people or indigenous or Asian American people who have been born and raised there be exploited because of people perceiving Hawaii as just a tourist destination, completely disregarding the hard work that people have put in to making Hawaii this special place that it is.
“Being here at GCU and seeing all the diversity on campus and seeing people come from different walks of life and them experiencing injustice in their own way, maybe I can learn from not only GCU but from the study-abroad opportunity, go back to Hawaii and really bring change to my community.”
As a precursor to what she told her grandfather and what she plans to do with the fellowship’s benefits, Baker changed her approach to campus life during the 2021-22 academic year.
“You know what? I’m going to put myself out there, I’m going to get involved,” she told herself.
She joined the Young Athena program, a mentorship and professional development opportunity for young women in the Honors College, and worked in Student Conduct.
Student Conduct Coordinator Rachel kistwhom Baker considers her mentor, wrote a letter of recommendation for the fellowship application and considers it a natural outgrowth of her protege’s passion.
“To see her get this opportunity, after knowing how much hard work she puts in every day, is so exciting,” Kist said. “Lauren has such a heart for others. Some of my favorite conversations with Lauren are when we will be discussing a social justice issue and her face lights up with passion and empathy. ”
Baker enjoyed the freedom to express her passions with Baker.
“As she allowed me to open up about the things I am passionate about, she did the same as well,” Baker said. “She plays a really important factor to why I got this. That just shows the mentorships that GCU can really pour into you.”
Baker is also a member of the GCU Speech and Debate team. She placed fourth in poetry and fifth in oral interpretation last year at the National Christian College Forensics Invitational. She also wrote a speech, “The Passing of Flowers,” that expressed her pride for the Hawaiian culture and her heartbreak of the commercialization of the home she loves so much.
“To me, this exemplifies Lauren’s innate compassion and ability to advocate for the injustice she sees while leaving room for those impacted to lead the conversation,” Kist said.
Honors College Dean Dr Breanna Naegeli knows Baker through Young Athena.
“Lauren is ambitious, exceptionally driven and proves a commitment to excellence daily,” Naegeli said. “She is beyond deserving of this fellowship opportunity, and we’re so excited to see how this experience will shape her as a leader in the coming year. She is absolutely leaving a footprint here within the Honors community.”
Baker’s busy campus schedule will get even more crowded in the fall, when she will be Vice President of Honors VOICES, a community-focused Honors College club.
“We plan community service events around campus by intentionally observing a need that we see on campus,” she said. “For next school year, we really plan on working with different parts of the student body to foster needs through mental health and making sure people feel seen, heard and valued on campus, whether that’s out-of-state students, international students or students that are struggling and feeling isolated, and just meeting them where they are.”
The once-in-a-lifetime fellowship opportunity figures to help Baker continue to find her voice. Among the attendees are students from Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Columbia, and Baker said she is open-minded “to see how all these students from different walks of life challenge me to learn more from other political leaders.”
It all started with taking a chance.
“Taking chances works out,” Baker said. “From somewhere small, rural… your background, your past, doesn’t define the outcome of your future.
“If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, then where you want to go will happen. You just have to put yourself out there.”
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