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Leadership Spotlight: Kate Semerad de Bakker, Trustee Emeritus

Kate Semerad de Bakker, a gifted communicator and leader, has served Zamorano with dedication and distinction for over 30 years.

She began her service to Zamorano in 1988 as Vice President for Development and Communications. In this role, she opened a Zamorano office in Washington, DC, and did much to expand Zamorano’s reach and funding base.  She stepped down from the position in 1991.

In 1992, she was elected to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees. As Chairman of the Development Committee from 1992 – 1997, she continued to provide leadership in fundraising – now as a volunteer!  Among her accomplishments were the initiation of fundraising in Latin America and the establishment of the International Board of Advisors.  Kate went on to serve as Vice Chairman of the Board from 1997 – 2000, and Chairman from 2001 – 2004.  She was named a Zamorano Trustee Emeritus in 2014.

Kate’s years of service spanned a period of rapid and significant change at Zamorano.  Under the rectorship of Dr. Simon Malo (1979-1992), the size of the university’s physical plant and student body tripled; admission of women was initiated; the outreach program was launched; and an optional fourth year was added to the curriculum. Under the rectorship of Dr. Keith Andrews, Zamorano adopted the 4-by-4 program, which institutionalized the requirement of a four-year degree and expanded career majors from one to four.  Dr. Andrews’ administration also focused on humanizing Zamorano’s culture, and reducing attrition by one half.

As Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Board, Kate worked closely with Dr. Andrews and Academic Dean Dr. Antonio Flores to present the design and rationale of this new curriculum to the Board of Trustees, and to support its approval and implementation.  They advocated that the 4 X 4 program was critical to Zamorano’s future. By their analysis, the four-year curriculum; the enhancement of student life on campus; the requirement of English language skills; and the modernization of Learning-By-Doing programs were essential for Zamorano to remain competitive among existing and emerging educational institutions.

Kate was also instrumental in Zamorano’s transition from being an “Escuela” to becoming known as a “University,” and recognizing its leader as “President” rather than “Director.” This, she believed then and now, was essential in both the recruitment of students and future fundraising.

Kate’s longstanding dedication to Zamorano is rooted in believing deeply in the transformational impact of a Zamorano education.

Early in her tenure as Chair, Kate attended a gathering of Zamorano’s first alumni. She recalls one elderly gentleman, a veterinarian, who took her hand as he said, “Every morning, for all of my life, I have thanked God for Zamorano when I rise.  Zamorano was the best and most important experience in my life.”

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Kate adds, “Zamorano’s motto is, ‘We grow leaders!’ And, for so many bright young people eager to have a chance at a meaningful life, and for their families who are willing to sacrifice everything to give them that chance, Zamorano is the key.”

She continues, “Our graduates go off into the world confident they have all the elements they need for success: strength of character; a quality education; and the technical knowledge to feed the world and care for the environment. They are prepared to be leaders in whatever they choose to do.

“What greater purpose could anyone have? To what greater endeavor could I have contributed my time and my resources?”

Kate also appreciates the adversity that many students and their families must overcome to enable their education, and the challenges that students must meet to excel in Zamorano’s rigorous academic programs.

She observes that Zamoranos must learn to view adversity – as she has during very difficult times in her life – as an opportunity to strengthen their sense of purpose, and develop the art of perseverance.

Prior to coming to Zamorano, Kate worked in public relations, and organizational and political policy development.  In 1981, she was appointed Assistant Administrator of External Relations at USAID by President Reagan and confirmed in that role by the US Congress. Throughout her career, she provided visionary leadership to both governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Kate has one daughter, Samantha, who is an artist, Master Gardener, jewelry designer, writer, Trustee of St. Lawrence University, and mother of her grandson, William. William is 25 and currently teaching French online and training horses as he weathers the pandemic. Her son-in-law, Bill, is an environmental attorney in Washington.

Kate’s first husband, Roger, was a recognized expert on labor, education, and workforce issues, serving four US Presidents and several CEOs at senior levels. Roger, also a great supporter of Zamorano, died of complications of multiple sclerosis in 2012.

Kate married Luis Bakker, a distinguished Ecuadorian businessman and also a Trustee Emeritus of Zamorano in 2016.  They reside both in Washington, DC and Ecuador.

On the occasion of their wedding, Kate and Luis established the Bakker/Semerad Endowment Fund at Zamorano, encouraging guests to make a donation to Zamorano in lieu of a wedding gift. In addition to their support of student scholarships, the Bakker’s continue to build this Fund, which supports the University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Kate and Luis believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are core values of a Zamorano education and critical to the success of its graduates in promoting enterprise across the region and improving the local economies of Latin America…one graduate at a time.

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