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BOZEMAN – The day the Truman Scholarship was announced just happened to be the one time Andee Baker was running late to class.
As is tradition at MSU, Baker learned of the scholarship via a surprise class visit by MSU President Waded Cruzado, College of Agriculture dean Sreekala Bajwa and Honors College dean Jeff Heys, who is MSU’s Truman Scholarship program representative. Baker, who will graduate in December with degrees in agricultural communications and psychology, a minor in agricultural business and the highest distinction from the Honors College, had no idea at first that the president’s presence was because of her.
“The first time ever I was running late,” said Baker, who is originally from Park City, Montana. “I walked in and saw Dean Bajwa, and I just couldn’t comprehend what was going on. And then I saw Dean Heys and realized, ‘This is for me.’ I was shaking, waiting to hear the announcement. I was about to jump out of my chair. I couldn’t believe it.”
The Truman Scholarship recognizes students with outstanding leadership potential, community involvement and academic achievement. Through the scholarship, Baker will receive funding for graduate studies along with leadership training, career counseling and internship and fellowship opportunities within the federal government. She is the first MSU student to receive a Truman Scholarship since 2020 and one of 62 honorees nationally for 2023, selected from more than 700 nominees across 275 institutions.
Baker has been involved in agricultural activities her entire life, including holding leadership roles in both 4-H and FFA. It wasn’t until she got older that she recognized the mental health struggles that often accompany careers in agriculture, coupled with Montana’s suicide rate, which is third highest in the nation. Ever since she discovered that connection, Baker has made it her mission to help agriculturalists of all ages access resources and live more fulfilled lives.
It’s a calling that has manifested through hours of service and engagement in addition to Baker’s stellar academic record, which will culminate when she graduates this fall. In 2020, she ran for national FFA office, and while she wasn’t elected, she was introduced to a burgeoning interest from high school FFA students in mental health.
“I realized through that process that so many youths in agriculture were reaching out with the idea that it’s okay not to be okay,” she said. “I ended up writing my state FFA speech about mental health outreach for young students. I don’t hear of a lot of people going into agricultural mental health, so I thought, let’s fix something that needs to be fixed.”
She collaborated with assistant professor Michelle Grocke in the College of Education, Health and Human Development on research aiming to identify the biggest mental health stressors for farmers and ranchers and, ultimately, to create the desired resources to address those issues. She will intern with nonprofit AgriSafe this summer, which does work on both general agricultural safety and the creation of mental health resources. Her goal is to use that opportunity to develop programming geared toward younger students in 4-H and FFA.
“Andee is a shining example of outstanding application of our land-grant mission here at Montana State,” said Cruzado. “Agriculture is one of the foundational tenets of our mission, and this honor recognizes the wide impact Andee has had, driven by compassion for others and a desire to make a difference in the world. We are so proud of her many accomplishments and know she will go on to continue her impactful work.”
Baker will graduate with a nearly perfect GPA, but her involvement has extended far beyond the classroom. She has served as a College of Agriculture Ambassador, is an active member of MSU’s Young Farmers and Ranchers student group, and completed an independent program through the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in 2022 that was geared toward agricultural leadership and advocacy. She was honored in February alongside faculty mentor Shannon Arnold of the Department of Agricultural and Technology Education at MSU’s annual Founder’s Day Awards, which honors students and faculty demonstrating outstanding community service and leadership.
“Andee shows true dedication to advocating for the agricultural industry and educating others on its importance,” Arnold said. “She was elected by the entire Montana FFA organization to serve as the State Treasurer from 2018 to 2019 as a freshman in the college. Additionally, she is committed to improving mental health in rural communities. She truly is an outstanding advocate for the agricultural industry.”
Baker’s community involvement began at a young age and was instilled in her entire family’s daily life. The Bakers were so community oriented that they received an award in 2009 recognizing them as the most service-oriented family in Montana. Nominated by the United Way of Yellowstone County, the Bakers traveled to Walt Disney World in Florida to be honored alongside families from around the country who shared their commitment to service. Andee Baker was 9 years old at the time.
“I think it started when I was in 4-H. The four H’s are head, heart, hands and health. With that health, it’s all about making a better community and world,” said Baker. “When I was growing up, instead of ‘Do you want to go to the movies,’ my mom would ask, ‘What service project do you want to do?’ I really thank my parents for that kind of attitude. In my family, there’s never been a question of ‘if’ community service, but ‘when.’”
Since arriving in Bozeman, Baker has been involved with MSU’s LIFE Scholars Program, which provides support for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their pursuit of higher education. She has worked with Bozeman’s Eagle Mount, which facilitates outdoor and athletic programs for differently abled individuals, and she coaches the Bozeman Yetis Special Olympics basketball team.
“When I think of individuals that have been serving the public their entire lives, I think of Andee,” wrote Heys in a letter supporting Baker’s Truman application. “From volunteering in soup kitchens while she was still in elementary school to meeting with the governor of Montana to plead for better access to mental health care for farm and ranch workers, Andee Baker has been living as a public servant her entire life.”
Baker’s plan for graduate school is to study public health at Emory University in Atlanta. She said unique research at Emory examines rural health care responses in Africa, and she hopes that through studying programs and approaches on an international scale, she can bring new ideas back to Montana.
Despite her extensive and outstanding community involvement, Baker was shocked to be honored as a Truman Scholar.
“I’d been preparing myself to not get it, because these kinds of things don’t happen to students like me,” she said. “I’ve tried for other national opportunities that haven’t worked out, and I thought maybe I’m just good in Montana. Maybe I’m not good nationally. It made me feel so honored that they chose me. They could have picked anyone. To choose me as that person, I’m incredibly humbled.” The Truman Scholarship program was established by Congress in 1975 in the memory of President Harry Truman to support and inspire the next generation of public service leaders. Baker is the 13th Truman Scholar to come from MSU.
MSU News Service
Photo Credit: Colter Peterson-MSU