Sometimes all it takes is one person, passion for a cause, and the desire to make a difference. There’s no predicting how many lives will be transformed as a result.

Case in point: A fund created through the ISU Foundation will significantly bolster the preparation of educators working to build better schools in the 21st century.

The impact will forever be traced back to College of Education Distinguished Professor Emeritus Paul Baker and his wife, Sharon, who established the Leadership in Educational Administration for the Development of Schools (LEADS) Fellowship for Doctoral Students.

The fellowship assists Ph.D. candidates with a research project addressing a real-life Illinois school problem. The recipients in the college’s Department of Educational Administration and Foundations (EAF) will benefit immediately. Down the road, those PK-12 students who depend on public schools will gain from the investment —a cohort that may number in the hundreds of thousands.

The gift reflects Paul’s belief in the need for school improvement and a desire to help doctoral students—most of them full-time educators—find time to complete school-based research or an independent study project. It also gives busy doctoral students an opportunity to connect with a faculty member.

“I believe the LEADS Fellowship is a symbolic and tangible way for helping the EAF Department become a strong center for educational leadership in Illinois,” said Baker, who taught departmental graduate courses.

“Educational leadership is urgently needed in the public school system of Illinois,” he said. “I hope the LEADS Fellowship helps to strengthen the vital connections between Illinois State University and the public schools of the state.”

The Bakers’ investment was the first step in creating such a bridge. Upon Paul’s retirement in 2001, former students and colleagues stepped forward to show appreciation for his 36-year ISU career. Gifts made as a tribute to the man who served as an exceptional scholar, teacher, and mentor increased the LEADS Fellowship more than threefold.

The first recipients will be named this fall. The advanced doctoral students will develop projects that examine statewide standards, curricular changes, discipline issues and special education.

Regardless of the areas explored, the private support will enable the department to continue its long-standing emphasis on school-based action research to identify ways to improve public education. The fellowship further elevates possibilities through the EAF program, which is committed to strengthening PK-12 public schools through graduate education.

“The LEADS Fellowship has real implications for change,” said EAF interim chair Wendy Troxel. “The benefit of our program is that we have practitioners in the classroom who really support and learn from each other while being in the real world. This fellowship will provide financial support for them, further solidify connections with our faculty, and provide a lasting level of support so that we remain at the cutting edge of educational research.”

Baker knows from experience the impact that ISU has on statewide educational reform, having directed 40-plus dissertations.

“Our doctoral students are seasoned teachers or educators, leaders in their communities and school districts. ISU attracts highly committed professionals with tremendous capacity to make significant changes in schools,” Baker said, noting the need for school improvement has never been greater.

“We’re in the midst of the largest single era in American history to try to revitalize American public schools,” he said. “ISU stands at the crossroads as a statewide leader in this area. The fellowship is our way of saying, there’s nothing more important than to develop better schools.”