University of Vermont

Office of Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning

SL-TA Profile: Danny Baker

"Incredibly meaningful" work experience

When junior Danny Baker was invited to be a Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (SL-TA) for a graduate level natural resources course last fall, he didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, he decided to accept the challenge that was presented to him and the rewards have far outweighed any difficulties he encountered along the way. “It wasn’t that weird being a TA for a class of graduate and PhD students,” Baker insists. He quickly adds, “It was really just a collaborative effort.”

The course, Natural Resources 385, was comprised of graduate level and professional degree students who were tasked with drafting the Vermont Climate Assessment, modeled after an existing national document. Baker became the main point of contact for the course, acting as a liaison between the community partners and the students (some of whom were more than twice his age). He read student reflections and provided feedback and even wrote a chapter of the 200-page assessment. Baker explained, “The class and the professor were really receptive to me. They were grateful for the help I provided.”


Challenges along the way

The biggest challenge Baker faced throughout the semester was working closely with multiple community partners to gather data and then having to synthesize that data into a document that would eventually go through more than eight drafts. “I learned a lot of new Word tricks and formatting techniques—thanks to Google searches! I learned as I went.” The document is still in progress and Baker says he’s still in touch with many of the students and community members he worked with last semester.

(UPDATE: The Vermont Climate Assement was released on June 10th, 2014. Read about it here.)

Building strong relationships, gaining experience

Baker feels strongly that service learning plays a vital role in a college education. “I think that service-learning is really important for the University’s relationship with the Burlington, Chittenden County, and Vermont communities.” He added,  “Being a land grant university, there’s this implied commitment to giving back. On the other hand, it’s a unique opportunity for students to gain experience without being employed at an actual job. The work and the experience are the same and it’s incredibly meaningful.”

As for the future, Baker says his work as an SL-TA has provided him invaluable experience that will help him after he graduates. Baker made many connections both within the community and within the field of natural resources;. he also gained skills such as project management, editing, and communication. But beyond that, Baker said, “This was kind of the first time that I felt I had something unique for my resume—something hands on—real work experience.”

Though Baker wishes he could be an SL-TA for more courses before he graduates, he’s pretty sure his schedule won’t allow it. “If I could, I definitely would,” he said, “And I would highly recommend it to anyone considering a service-learning course.”