Designing a dream
Tanya Baker, a graphic designer, author and breast cancer survivor, credits an education at College of the Mainland with helping her to reach her goals.
A COM professor “was the spark to ignite my flame,” said Baker.
Currently working at Texas A&M University, Baker is a communications specialist and webmaster for the Sea Grant program, which develops and supports research, outreach and education programs.
After leaving the military due to medical issues and holding a number of odd jobs, including working for a veterinarian, Baker realized she wanted to do something else with her life.
“Cleaning out dog cages will make you find your focus really fast,” she said.
She’d loved graphic design since high school and enrolled in College of the Mainland’s Graphic Design Certificate Program with Sandra Duvall as her graphic design instructor.
“She must have seen something in me because I remember her asking me to go to Houston with her to learn about the Apple computers,” she said.
Together they learned and shared information with the rest of the class as COM transitioned from the old imagesetter to the new Macintosh technology.
After completing her certificate, Baker worked as a graphic designer with a small monthly publication and copy place and later with the newspapers Texas City Sun and Galveston Daily News.
“COM helped me realize my calling,” she said. “I can honestly say I always enjoyed my work.”
In 2004 Baker realized that to advance her career she needed more than a certificate, and she again enrolled at COM, this time aiming for an associate degree in graphic design.
“Going back to school did allow me to develop … better skills using the most current software,” she said. “[COM professors] Coleena Jackson and Freda O'Connor are great instructors and understand both the younger generation taking classes and the older students going back to school.”
Just a few months after returning to school, she faced a new challenge when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While working and going to college, both full-time, she underwent three surgeries. With her professors’ support and her drive to succeed, she persevered.
“I was in class one week after a mastectomy,” she said. “I was there with the help of friends and the instructors.”
Baker graduated in 2005 with honors and moved to College Station to take her current position with Texas A&M.
She enjoys her work and continues to learn. In 2008 she completed the Apple Certificate Program, which in 10 days taught her to troubleshoot and repair Macintosh computers, and passed the two exams to earn her certificate.
“I am very proud to hang my associate degree and my Apple Certificate side by side,” she said.“I am where I am because of the college and its instructors. In 1989 the college gave me the courage to pursue a career in graphic design. In 2005 the college again provided me with the motivation and skill to finish my associate degree and find a ‘day job’ with Texas A&M University.”
Instructor Coleena Jackson remembers her.
“She’d been out in the workforce so she knew how competitive the job market is,” Jackson said. “She was just a jewel to have in the classroom, very eager to learn. I wish I had a classroom full of her because she was so hardworking and eager. It’s neat to see students succeed.”
In addition to her work, Baker has often volunteered her skills to help schools or churches with graphic design projects.
“It's awesome to realize your potential and do the things you enjoy doing not just for money,” she said.
One of the individuals she helped was Carlton Holm, an eight-year-old whom she babysat. Together they wrote a book, "Harvey the Hiccupping Hippopotamus," to keep him busy. Linda Holm, Carlton’s mother and Baker’s former English teacher, suggested they publish it, so Baker queried publishers.
After sending dozens of letters and receiving more than 30 rejections, she finally heard yes when Barron's Educational Series accepted it for publication. She and Carlton then visited elementary schools sharing the story.
She understands the importance of being willing to learn.
“I am proud to say I went to COM not once but twice!” she said. “Was it all easy? No. But I really, really wanted to do more than I was in my current place of employment. College of the Mainland was the place to go! I tell people who complain, ‘If you don't like what you do, go back to school. The doors are open in a community college. You just have to walk in and get a start—even if it is one class at a time.”