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Audrey Bakerson at the Niles campus

Audrey Bakerson at the Niles campus

’19 Grad Adds MSU, Notre Dame Degrees, Publishes Book, Moves to Florida

Published on January 18, 2024 - 1 p.m.

Audrey Bakerson keeps busy. In 2022, the 2019 Southwestern Michigan College 4.0 graduate finished her Michigan State University bachelor’s degree in human biology with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation.

In May she added her master of science degree in management from the University of Notre Dame while publishing a children’s book, The Little Egg.

In November she accepted a position as inside sales representative for Alro Steel and moved to Tampa, Fla., where she has taken up surfing.

“I’m looking at different boards to join and other ways to get involved in the community down here,” she said.

As Miss Michigan Collegiate America, Bakerson, 21, competed in Little Rock, Ark., in the June 27-July 3 Miss Collegiate America Pageant.

She doesn’t let health challenges define her except as platform issues. “I can’t wait to spread awareness for invisible diseases on a national stage,” she said in November 2022 upon her crowning in Dearborn.

Two maladies afflict her. She was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago after a car accident. If she consumes gluten, her immune system attacks the lining of her intestine, creating inflammation. There’s no cure except to avoid eating wheat, barley or rye. To avoid cross-contamination, she has her own toaster, condiments and cooking utensils.

Spondylolisthesis, a spinal condition that causes lower back pain, led her to found Spondy Strong and to write The Little Egg at 12. It won first place in Niles District Library’s 2014 creative writing contest.

As a middle schooler with glasses and braces, her back brace, cushion bag and rolling backpack caused her to be bullied. Self-love and uniqueness form the heart of her story.

“It built grit,” Bakerson said. “Even when I got the brace off, they’d poke me in the lower back. It was a difficult time.”

Brown Little Egg yearns to be bright and cheerful, but feels out of place until a wise caterpillar shows him the value of being himself.

Queens often find themselves reading to students. “Going into classrooms and sharing my story about being bullied when I was their age” — Audrey was first runner-up to Miss Niles Carsyn Franz in 2022 — convinced her to shelve seeking a publisher and self-publish through Amazon.

Audrey’s illustrator is her sister, Aliea, 2019 Miss Niles and SMC classmate. Aliea graduated from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in art from the Gwen Frostic School of Art and joined Three Oaks’ Judy Ferrara Gallery.

The sisters’ older brother, Bailey, a 2017 SMC graduate, graduated from MSU in computer science.

Why an egg? “The story came to me in a dream when I was a kid,” she said. “When I told my mom, she said I should write it down.”

“Kids get excited to hear something you wrote and have all sorts of questions,” Bakerson said. “That’s been the most surprising. I wasn’t expecting kids to want to know how making a book works. They’re brilliant! I have an activity to make them understand what makes them special. They color the butterfly from the book. Seeing what they write has been the most fun.”

In 2018, when she was Miss Niles Apple Festival, Audrey and Anaya Roschyk were the first dual-enrolled students admitted to SMC’s Honors Program. Bakerson, who attended Berrien County Math and Science Center in Berrien Springs, worked as an SMC professional tutor from 2018-20 in math, science and English.

SMC’s Honors Showcase exhibited her research, which she presented to the American Chemical Society in Orlando.

“I was trying to create a super plant to take pollutants out of the environment by mutating ryegrass seed with ultraviolet C radiation and starving the grass from cations with a potassium nitrate buffer.” She wanted to be a doctor.

“A lot has changed,” agreed the entrepreneurial young woman with a patent pending for magnetic nails.

“I would ultimately like to be a CEO,” said Bakerson.

“I didn’t feel passionate about medicine. All my extra-curriculars were in business at Michigan State.” She hopes to still earn a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

She was Executive Vice President of Mendoza Women in Business at Notre Dame.

Bakerson was flattered to return to SMC in April 2022 as a panelist for the Honors Program’s fifth anniversary.

Last January she interned as social media and marketing coordinator for Greater Niles Chamber of Commerce. She cleaned boats for Freedom Boat Club in St. Joseph. A dedicated volunteer, she packed meals for Cultivate Food Rescue in South Bend, leading other volunteers. She co-chaired the Miss/Mr. Niles pageant last year and knows Buchanan’s Miss Michigan Maya Schuhknecht through Blossomtime.

“If someone tells you can't do something,” she said, “use that as fuel to do even better. I've had people tell me I can't do something because I’m a woman or because I’m young. It used to beat me down pretty hard. I know a lot of women who let those words diminish what they can do. I’m hoping my positive attitude can enlighten and empower people around me.”