The Dexter Baker challenge will live on
Dexter F. Baker's mantra was "challenge the status quo."
Baker's words rang out at the launch party for the iDeX Creativity and Innovation Lab at Wilbur Powerhouse, Lehigh University, Bethlehem.
The launch party was one of the last major events attended by Dexter "Dex" Baker, 85, who died Nov. 1.
The Innovation Lab is part of Lehigh's Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, founded and funded by Baker, who retired in 1992 as CEO and board chairman of Air Products. Baker received a BS in mechanical engineering ('50), MBA ('57) and honorary doctorate ('81) from Lehigh, where he was a Trustee Emeritus.
Baker and his wife Dorothy, who have lived in Salisbury Township, co-chaired the $33-million capital campaign for Lehigh's Zoellner Arts Center during the 1990s, with Baker Hall named in their honor.
The Bakers' contributions to the arts extend to Muhlenberg College, Allentown, where their namesakes include Baker Center for the Arts and the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre.
Dexter Baker received the inaugural lifetime achievement award last month from Lehigh's College of Business and Economics.
Baker was beaming and ebullient at the exciting and inspiring Oct. 23 launch of the Innovation Lab at Wilbur Powerhouse as he greeted and chatted with professors and students who displayed their latest projects.
Todd Watkins, Baker Institute Executive Director; Marc de Vinck, Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity; Pat Farrell, Lehigh University Provost; and Dexter Baker spoke to the more than 100 at the party, which included festively-decorated sheet cake and cupcakes.
The Wilbur Powerhouse is a perfect metaphor for the power of innovation. The facility, built in 1908, indeed once housed a coal-fired steam power plant at Lehigh. The 19,000-square-foot building was renovated in 2002.
"It's really great to see it repurposed. Steam and coal was the high-tech of that time," de Vinck said.
The Creativity & Innovation Lab at the Wilbur Powerhouse is described as Lehigh's "createspace" to inspire students from all disciplines to turn their ideas into reality.
In an interview at the party for the lab, Baker told a reporter for Lehigh Valley Press of his hopes for the facility's impact.
"The main thrust is to stimulate creativity on the part of Lehigh University students as a discipline," Baker said. "Most discoveries are part of the interaction of several disciplines."
Later, at the podium, Baker said, "Creativity and entrepreneurship and innovation are what make the world go round.
"If it wasn't for creativity, we'd be back in caves rubbing two sticks together," Baker added.
Holding a ballpoint pen designed to rest securely between one's thumb and index finger, Baker noted, "There's nothing that we can't improve upon.
"Our future is what we create for ourselves," Baker concluded.
The Wilbur Powerhouse facility includes 3-D printers; electronics work stations; prototyping materials; computer-driven router, mill and lathe; meeting spaces; and classrooms.
Since March 2010, the Baker Institute has held events for Lehigh alumni, students, faculty and staff about green and clean technologies, fashion and retail, start-up ventures with social impact, web technologies, biotech and start-ups in the arts.
Courses in entrepreneurship are offered at Lehigh across many disciplines, including venture capital, non-profit start-ups and pre-launch innovation. An annual Eureka! student competition and awards dinner is held.
Lehigh's Integrated Product Development (IPD) teams engineering, business and design arts juniors, seniors and graduates with industry partners to design, fabricate and produce new products. Sponors include B Braun, Dresser-Rand, Lutron, OraSure, Stryker and Victaulic.
Student start-ups to ventures include EcoTech Marine, aquarium pumps; George Guest, Ltd., multifunctional backpack; Gigmax, online file storage; hField Technologies, Inc., WiFi products; and Viddler, video clips and photo sharing.
The IPD program has been lauded by The New York Times as a model for the "workplace and its cross-disciplinary teams."
The Baker Institute holds the International Undergraduate Workshop, May 22 - June 12, 2013, for college students from around the world.
The Wilbur Powerhouse party was the last public event at Lehigh University attended by Dexter Baker.
Alice P. Gast, Lehigh University President, released the following statement on his passing:
"The Lehigh University community is saddened by the passing of Dexter F. Baker. He has been a friend of Lehigh University for more than 50 years and generous benefactor and passionate advocate for the arts, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.
"Dexter has been instrumental in shaping our university culture and encouraging our students to be creative and not accept the status quo. He has helped generations of students to develop a passionate pursuit of creativity and innovation. He leaves a lasting impact on the university and our students a legacy we are proud to embrace."
The following statement was released by the Baker Institute:
"We were greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Dexter F. Baker, an esteemed Lehigh University alumnus who founded our institute in 2010 through a generous donation from the Baker Foundation.
"Dexter Baker was not only a steadfast supporter of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, he was our philosophical patriarch, driving the mission of the institute to forge opportunities for students and others to cultivate their creativity, strive for innovation, and launch entrepreneurial pursuits.
"We were fortunate to have shared an evening with Dexter during his last public appearance at Lehigh University Oct. 23. He attended and was the keynote speaker at the unveiling of our new Creativity & Innovation Lab. It was rewarding to see Dexter enjoying the fruits of the creativity initiatives that he was integral to launching.
"We express our sincere condolences to Dexter's family in their time of loss. We are thankful to them and to Dexter for sharing his spirit and inspiration with us."
Dexter F. Baker's call to challenge the status-quo will live on at Lehigh University's Baker Institute and beyond.