Beth Allison Barr, Associate Dean for Professional Development
Christian mission remains central to the mission of the Graduate School and, according to the 2018-2021 Graduate School Exit Survey data (the survey is offered to each graduate student on completion of their degree and administered by the Office for Institutional Research), the vast majority of our students have positive spiritual experiences during their graduate years: 87% of our on-campus PhD students and 92% of our on-campus Masters students report good, very good, or excellent spiritual experiences. Yet, given the growing diversity of our students, how we implement Christian mission looks different than it did in the past. Instead of assuming a shared faith among our students, we focus on how the Christian mission of Baylor should manifest in caring well for our students along with providing opportunities for interested students to further their Christian formation.
Caring well for our students means taking seriously our calling as Christians to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our students as well as their academic ones. This calling lay behind our recent launch of the Graduate Student Advisor Mentoring agreement and our GPS Workshops for Faculty, aimed at equipping faculty to improve graduate student mentoring, understand the mental health crisis among graduate students (heightened by the pandemic), and be aware of all the resources that Baylor provides for students. We recently expanded these resources to include 24/7/365 unlimited counseling and health care services now available for every student at Baylor through our partnership with Academic Live Care. The Graduate School also offers parental leave for graduate assistants and short-term emergency leave for students facing unexpected health crises. Our goal is to foster an environment which helps our students succeed, understanding that their mental and spiritual well-being is just as important as their academic progress.
At the same time, the Graduate School also wants to provide opportunities for students interested in Christian formation. Through such programs as Conyers Scholars, Ramm Scholars, and the BCU (Baptist College and University) scholars, students who desire to grow in faith and learning and even pursue careers in Christian higher education have the ability to do so.
The Conyers Scholars and Ramm Scholars programs were launched specifically for students interested in exploring connections between their faith and their vocations. The Conyers Scholars program encourages and supports doctoral students interested in questions regarding faith, learning, vocation, and the university. Named in honor of A.J. “Chip” Conyers, a founding faculty member at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Conyers Scholars invites students to think of an academic career as a form of Christian service or a vocation, a religious vocation. Likewise, the Ramm Graduate Scholars program is a cross-disciplinary program for doctoral STEM students and M.Div. students co-sponsored by the Graduate School and Truett Seminary. Named in honor of Bernard Ramm, a key twentieth-century voice in science and religion dialogue and an influential member of Baylor’s Religion faculty in the 1950s, the Ramm Scholars Program seeks to encourage intellectually rich discussions about faith and science.
Directed by Laine Scales, Professor of Social Work, and Perry Glanzer, Professor of Education, the 2021-2022 Conyers Scholars include 14 PhD students representing 9 different departments. The 2021-2022 Ramm Scholars program is directed by Chris Rios, Associate Dean in the Graduate School, Kimlyn Bender, Professor of Christian Theology at Truett, and Rebecca Sheesley, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, and includes 8 STEM and Truett students. Together these programs enable students to foster interdisciplinary conversations about faith and scholarly inquiry. As these programs are sponsored and financially supported by the Graduate School, they demonstrate our commitment to building structures of support for students interested in Christian formation.
The Baptist College and University (BCU) scholars program goes one step further—providing not only Christian formation but also career-building opportunities. In Fall 2010, the Baylor University Graduate School launched the BCU program to strengthen ties among Baptist universities aligned with the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities (IABCU) member schools by identifying IABCU-educated students enrolled in PhD programs at Baylor. These BCU scholars prepare for future faculty life in IABCU schools, thereby helping increase the number of Baptist-educated doctoral students remaining in Baptist universities, as well as connecting Baptist universities through the ties of our shared students.
The goals of the BCU program are to increase the number of Baptist-educated doctoral students staying in Baptist universities, connect Baptist universities by partnering in graduate education, retain bright doctoral students in Baptist universities as both students and faculty, and—perhaps most importantly for IABCU schools—“stem the dying light of Baptist higher education by providing a continued education for bright students in a Baptist university committed to its religious identity.” BCU scholars must be current Baylor doctoral students (or MFA students) who attended an IABCU school as an undergraduate or for a previous graduate degree. Once admitted to the BCU program, scholars receive opportunities to meet with Baylor administrators, attend the annual IABCU meeting, participate in workshops on the integration of faith and learning, apply for the Schmeltekopf Fellowship in Educational Leadership, and participate in a discussion and reading group with other BCU scholars and Baptist administrators.
Over ten years after its founding, the BCU Scholars program continues to flourish. BCU scholar Taylor Poe, for example, graduated with her PhD in Mathematics in August 2021. She credits the BCU program with launching her job search. Two years after joining the BCU Scholars program in 2018, she began receiving interviews with IABCU schools and accepted an offer as Assistant Professor at Mississippi College, her IABCU undergraduate alma mater.
Altogether the BCU program boasts thirty scholars (including both alumni and active scholars). The scholars represent a wide range of degree programs—from Social Science fields like Education and Sociology, to Humanities fields like English, Philosophy, and Religion, to STEM fields like Mathematics and Chemistry. Through the program events, these students have received grounding in the Baptist tradition, gained insight into the inner workings of university administration, and participated in discussions about Baptist and Christian higher education.
Several have attended the annual IABCU meetings and participated in interviews with IABCU partner schools. Some even accepted their first job offers from IABCU schools. Josh Pittman (undergraduate degree from Campbell University and a PhD in English from Baylor), Jared Brandt (undergraduate degree from Southwest Baptist University and a PhD in Philosophy from Baylor), and Kim Bodenhamer (undergraduate degree from Hardin-Simmons University and a PhD in Religion from Baylor) accepted initial job offers from IABCU schools—Bluefield College, Dallas Baptist University, and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor respectively.
“I think being a BCU scholar—and especially attending the IABCU meeting—helped give me confidence in the distinctive ways that I can serve within Baptist higher educational contexts,” said BCU alumni Rebecca Poe Hays. “I was able to gain more familiarity with larger Baptist networks, celebrate their diversity, and identify the various areas of Baptist life into which I hope I as a female minister and professor can speak. Going into interviews with a committee and a faculty with this sense of purpose—this sense of calling—was tremendously powerful.” Dr. Poe Hays graduated with her undergraduate degree from Union University, her MDiv from Samford University, and completed her PhD in Religion from Baylor. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Theological Seminary.
Thus, over ten years after the birth of the program, BCU scholars has accomplished what it intended—preparing Baptist PhD students for life in Baptist higher education. Each Spring the Graduate School reaches out to PhD students with previous degrees from IABCU schools and invites them to consider joining the program.
As graduate education at Baylor continues to grow and excel, the Graduate School looks forward to pursuing even more opportunities for deepening our Christian commitment.