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Political science grad takes lead in Washington

Posted: Feb 07, 2013

BAKER family

Dr. Peter Baker and his wife Lisa-Joe reside in Virginia with their three children, Jackson (7), Micah (5), and Zoe (almost 2).

Dr. Peter Baker ’97 currently serves as program director for the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C.  The program, which has existed for 36 years, has attracted many Olivet students over that time, including one enrolled this semester.

Dr. Baker, how did you get involved with the American Studies Program in Washington D.C.? 

Well, I first attended ASP myself as an Olivet student in spring 1996, and fell in love with the program. In 2008, I joined the faculty here, and currently serve as program director.

What is the purpose of the American Studies Program? 

Our job is to put college students on the front lines on the issues that matter most to them. There are two study tracks — public policy and global development. Our internship program allows each student to work three days a week in congressional offices, think tanks, advocacy groups, federal agencies and more. We also provide a professional mentorship program that matches students with professionals who have more than 25 years of experience in a given area.

Many tend to think the areas of politics and government are secular by nature. That’s not entirely the case, is it? What role does faith play in ASP? 

We see one’s followership of Christ and professional journey as one in the same. It’s not just praying before class; faith is integrated in every aspect of our program. From the mentors we choose, who are all thoughtful believers, to the issues we grapple with, faith is at the center of it all.

How did an ONU education prepare you for your career?

I really appreciated how my Olivet professors were so personally invested in my exploration of my calling. They encouraged me to dream big — nothing was off the table. DVH [Dr. David Van Heemst, political science professor] encouraged me to attend the American Studies Program here in Washington D.C. for a semester. Dr. Paul Koch [economics professor] found a study abroad program for me. I am forever grateful for the investment the University made in me, and for allowing me to go off campus.  Those experiences were an integral part of my Olivet education.

Any other favorite Olivet memories? 

The informal times with professors — hanging out in DVH’s office, the time spent with Dr. Koch outside the classroom. My encounters with my professors outside the classroom impacted me the most. You don’t get that at big state schools — there’s just not much access between students and professors. At ONU, I regularly interacted with my professors.

I understand you have visited and lived in several parts of the world. Where have you traveled? 

Yes, I love to travel! As I mentioned, while at Olivet, I not only spent a semester in D.C., I also spent a semester studying economic and political transition in Germany, Poland and England. It was a highlight of my college career.

Starting in 2002, my wife Lisa-Joe and I, spent two years in Kyiv, Ukraine while I researched and wrote my dissertation for the University of Notre Dame. From there, we moved to Lisa-Joe’s homeland in Pretoria, South Africa for a couple years. And now, we’re back in the States, working in the nation’s capital.


Olivet's School of Education is among the top six largest producers of teachers among all Illinois colleges and universities.