Katie Uhlenhake, EdD, ’19, was named assistant dean of the School of Education and School of Professional and Graduate Studies in May. She has held several positions at Baker University over the past eight years.
In 2011, Uhlenhake served as an enrollment advisor for the graduate programs at the School of Education while completing a master’s degree in adult education at Park University. After graduating in 2012, she moved into an advising role and found herself in a quandary.
“At that point, I was trying to decide if higher education was where I wanted to stay,” she said. “I had always had a passion for two different fields: psychology and education.”
Knowing she needed a terminal degree to advance in either field, Uhlenhake took a few years to decide which of her passions to pursue.
“Ultimately, I landed on higher education,” she said. “It had all the components of therapy that I loved: helping someone improve their life and meet their goals.”
Baker’s Doctor of Education in Leadership in Higher Education drew her in, thanks in part to the expertise of the faculty and the practical learning outcomes that she could immediately put to use in the field.
Next, it was a matter of deciding when to begin.
Uhlenhake had her first child, Makenna, in 2015 and knew she wanted to enroll in the next couple of years; however, her husband, Blake, encouraged her to start in the August 2016 cohort. Although Uhlenhake was concerned about juggling school, work, and a newborn, Blake was ready to embrace the pandemonium and ready to take on more responsibilities at home.
“He said ‘Let’s commit to the next four to five years of chaos,’” she said. “‘So then we can coast, and the fun parts of life can happen.’”
Uhlenhake enrolled and immediately started reaping benefits from her education.
“It felt like rapid professional growth in a short period of time,” she said. “Every time I turned around I was changing something I was doing, or adapting as the result of what I was learning.”
It wasn’t easy to manage work, family, and school, and Uhlenhake credits a very supportive family for assisting her when times were tough. She even welcomed her second child, Harrison, while in the program.
“It was a family effort,” Uhlenhake said. “My husband stepped up, doing more than half of the housework load. Every Thursday, my mom cooked us dinner so we could have one home-cooked meal together. Blake’s parents helped take care of our kids when they were sick.”
Uhlenhake developed a motto to keep herself going.
“It felt really overwhelming at times,” she said. “I just kept telling myself it’s one step at a time. One foot in front of the other to get to the top of the mountain. Now that it’s over, I can do anything. I’m not paralyzed by fear, because I did that.”
As the assistant dean, Uhlenhake is excited to see where this role takes her.
“My hopes for this position are to continue to improve and innovate our online courses. As more and more adult students choose online, we need to think forward about how to keep our online courses relevant, engaging, and timely,” she said. “It means evaluating how we design, organize, and facilitate our online courses, as well as integrating quality technology that engages students.”
Most of all, she can’t wait to see what the future holds for Baker.
“Baker has not had the Dean and Assistant Dean model for SOE and SPGS in a number of years,” she said. “The challenge with that is still keeping both schools’ identities. The students and the faculties are very different. It’s finding that balance and asking, ‘Is this a place where we should align, or should we remain different?’”
As assistant dean, Uhlenhake will work closely with Dr. Sharon Zoellner, dean of the School of Education and School of Professional and Graduate Studies.
“I’m excited to work with Dr. Zoellner,” she said. “We share a vision for both schools, so I’m really excited to see what our symbiosis is going to do for our schools and catapult us into the future.”