Nelson Baker Honored With Leadership Award

Professional Education Dean recognized by the leading organization in professional, continuing, and online education

April 12, 2023 | By GTPE Communications
Nelson Baker in front of UPCEA branded backdrop holding award alongside the current UPCEA president.

Nelson Baker, dean of Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), has been awarded the Julius M. Nolte Award for Extraordinary Leadership, the highest award granted by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The prestigious award is only granted when deserving individuals are identified. Additionally, nominations from the recipient's own institution or staff are specifically excluded.  

With over three decades of service to Georgia Tech and higher education, Baker was recognized as a global thought leader in professional, online, and lifetime learning. During his tenure, his leadership has contributed to the Institute's growth in online education and presence as a model for creating accessible, affordable, and high-quality online programs that meet the rigorous demands of a top-ranked university. 

“Dean Baker’s forward-thinking, transformational leadership has been instrumental in setting the Institute’s course as an educational innovator,” said Steve McLaughlin, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Georgia Tech. “Today, outside of our traditional degree programs, we serve thousands of learners of all kinds through our at-scale master’s programs. That growth is a true testament to Dean Baker’s vision, and we are so proud to congratulate him on this well-deserved honor from UPCEA.”  

Baker was part of the Georgia Tech leadership team that envisioned the nation’s first at-scale online degree, a Master of Science in computer science in 2014. The ground-breaking initiative led to two additional at-scale online master’s degrees with tuition less than $10,000. Currently, there are more than 20,000 students enrolled in the three online master’s programs, comprising nearly half of credit-seeking enrollments at Georgia Tech. 

The award honors the memory of Julius M. Nolte, a pioneer in the field of continuing higher education, and is given to an individual in recognition of unusual and extraordinary contributions to the cause. 

“Nelson is a rare gift to the field,” said Bob Hansen, chief executive officer of UPCEA, “though his influence spills over into higher education itself. His innovations at Georgia Tech inspired institutions throughout the United States to bring high-quality, at-scale programs in areas of crucial importance to regional and national competitiveness in a global economy. And he did it with extraordinary grace and generosity of spirit.”

In addition to his industry leadership and professional achievements including numerous articles, book chapters, and presentations, nominators from across the country noted the value of Baker's collaborative spirit and steady leadership.  

"Nelson has been a visionary architect for creating equitable, accessible, achievable, and affordable programs," says Yakut Gazi, vice provost for Learning Innovation and Digital Education at Duke University and former associate dean of Learning Systems at GTPE. "He is an inclusive leader, and a generous, kind, and empathetic mentor. I cannot think of a person who is more deserving of this award."