When I think of Science and Computer Science Teacher Ben Bakker, Jurassic Park’s Mr. Bakker immediately comes to mind, the mad scientist that initiates the “dinosaur renaissance.” Mr. Bakker often roams about the Koch in a similar fashion to the mad Jurassic Park scientist, though we hope that our Mr. Bakker doesn’t revive a dead species of velociraptors on campus. Apart from dinosaurs, there are a multitude of students and faculty that have been positively impacted by his presence, advice, and constant guidance.
It has been 24 years since Mr. Bakker first joined the Deerfield community in 1997 after working in the Maine School of Science and Mathematics as a physics and computer science teacher. Mr. Bakker said that, when he arrived at Deerfield as a physics teacher, the “computer science program [had] been driven by student demand.”
When students wished for more than just AP Computer Science, Deerfield created the Data Structures and Algorithms. When demand surpassed that class, the school created Digital Logic and Computer Architecture. During his time at Deerfield, Mr. Bakker has been an advocate for the continuous development of such academic programs that can enrich the learning experience of students.
This is particularly true of his teaching philosophy as well. Mr. Bakker describes himself as a “curator of problems, not a content deliverer.” You won’t find Mr. Bakker at the front of the classroom giving an hour-long lecture, but you will find him standing alongside his students, fiddling around with wires and LEDS, or frantically writing code on a whiteboard as his students chime in with new ideas and insights. You won’t get the content spoon fed to you in Mr. Bakker’s class, but if you decide to take one of his many courses, you will be given the opportunity to wrestle with problems that can, in Mr. Bakker’s words,“take you from confusion to clarity… with problems that are rich and that can foster a strong academic community.”
Many of Mr. Bakker’s students hold a deep appreciation for his approach to teaching. William Abou-Rjaili ’22, who took his Digital Logic and Computer Architecture class last year, said, “Mr. Bakker is in a class of his own. He is the most dependable, the smartest, the greatest person you could ever get to know.”
Mr. Bakker’s colleagues share a similar gratitude for his wisdom and experience. Science Teacher Megan Hayes-Golding noted, “every conversation with [Mr.Bakker] becomes incredibly meaningful, deep, and impactful… It’s such a fulfilling conversation every time you talk to him, [and] I’m sure his students feel the same.”
Beyond the classroom, Mr. Bakker has had a similarly inspirational influence on the Deerfield community. Mr. Bakker, in his own words, has had “hands in all kinds of things.” From coaching fourths basketball many years ago, to advising the robotics cocurricular, and even being a part of the Financial Aid office for a brief time, Mr. Bakker has secured the title of the jack of all trades in Deerfield administrative history.
Mr. Bakker’s main focus, however, is the Christian Fellowship. He said, “If the administration told me I couldn’t teach physics or computer science, but I could still do Christian Fellowship, I’d be fine with that.” Apart from enriching students’ academic lives, Mr. Bakker also believes that supporting their spiritual lives is integral for student success. His most memorable moments at Deerfield have been helping students realize their spiritual potential. Mr. Bakker remembers a few instances where students made the decision to accept Christianity in their hearts and wanted to be baptized in the Deerfield River amongst their friends and advisors. For Mr. Bakker, seeing spiritual growth in his students and being able to provide help when his students are facing trouble brings great delight to his heart.
His students seem to feel the same. Gloria Chun ’23, a member of the Christian Fellowship, said that she sees Mr. Bakker as a, “…fatherly figure on campus. I usually go to him whenever I have a problem. He is someone you can go to and not feel judged.” When asked what particular actions prompted such a heartfelt reflection on Mr. Bakker’s role as a spiritual guide on campus, Chun replied: “… the Saturday pancake breakfasts he hosted were a huge commitment on his part. Every Saturday he would always share something really interesting during Bible study that would make us see our daily problems in a completely different light.”
M. Bakker has his own share of quirks as well. According to Ms. Hayes-Golding, “He’s a total hoarder. Mr. Bakker keeps stuff because he thinks it will be useful in the future… working with him everyday was like reenacting an entire episode of Hoarders.” He is also a Red Sox fan and has a husky with bushy eyebrows like his own.
Above all, however, Mr. Bakker has been the greatest advisor, teacher, spiritual guide, mentor, and every other label that you could think of here at Deerfield. He has gone above and beyond for his students, and as someone who has had the privilege of learning from him for the past 4 years, I want Mr. Bakker to know that he is a blessing for this campus and that I, and many others, would not be the same without him.