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After Grad School, the Call of the Wild

Lee Baker, one of UNLV Graduate College’s initial class, put his education to work with four-legged friends.

UNLV History  |  Oct 4, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center
A group of students work in a lab.

Lee Baker (standing, center) works in the lab while a graduate student at UNLV in the late 1960s.

Editor's Note: 

The UNLV Graduate College this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary of awarding graduate degrees at UNLV. In 1967, 23 students graduated with master’s degrees in education, biology and business. This milestone, and these alumni, will be celebrated at the second annual Graduate Student Showcase on Oct. 13. This story was written by graduate assistant Ashley Jagodzinski.

When Lee Baker accompanied his daughter on a campus tour of UNLV, he didn’t know where anything was, even though he studied at the university.

“The campus was very small at the time,” the 1967 graduate said. “There were just a few buildings, and a lot of your classes were in the same building.”

Baker, who earned his master’s degree in biology from the School of Science and Mathematics, was one of the first 23 students to earn a master’s in what was the first year UNLV conferred grad degrees.

“It was a great experience. I have nothing but gratitude for UNLV,” he said.

After attending school in Southern California, Baker moved to Las Vegas to deliver milk for Arden Farms and complete his bachelor’s degree at UNLV. He ultimately stayed for an additional two years to earn his master’s degree.

Baker fondly recalls the familial spirit of the biology department, whose professors worked closely with students and provided valuable learning experiences not typically offered to students.

“All of the staff was just great. They were all young,” Baker said of his professors. “They involved us in all of their studies. Dr. Williams in botany, Dr. Deacon: fish, Dr. Bradley: desert mammals. We all became really great friends. … The environment was great. It was the way education should be.”

Baker's time at UNLV prepared him for a job as a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Northern California. After working in Fish and Wildlife Services for a year, Baker tried his hand at veterinary school. He wasn’t sure how it would go, at first.

“When I passed my first test, I told my wife ‘I think we’ll be here for four years.’ UNLV prepared me well,” he says.

Eventually Baker settled in California with his wife, whom he met at UNLV and who graduated with a degree in zoology. In California, he worked at a veterinary practice then an emergency clinic before opening his own practice. He retired last year, and he and his wife have been settling into this new chapter in their lives.

“[We’ve been] taking up old hobbies. We’ve done a lot of traveling. We’ve definitely been enjoying retirement,” he said.