Baylor And Waco: Proud Partners

June 16, 2010

Baylor biology professors teaching the concept of the "symbiotic relationship" need look no further than outside the doors of the Baylor Sciences Building. The connection between Baylor University and Waco is an excellent example of how a partnership can mutually benefit both parties, without either feeling subservient to the other.

In 1926, four decades after Baylor relocated to Waco from Independence, Dr. C.D. Johnson of Baylor's business school conducted a survey to determine just what impact the university had on the Waco economy. He found that Baylor's annual worth to Waco was $1.43 million (about $17.4 million in today's dollars). A similar survey done in 1956 found that Baylor's local economic impact had grown to more than $25 million.
More recently, studies by Baylor's Center for Business and Economic Research have shown the university's estimated economic impact on the local economy had grown to $787 million in 2000, with that figure rising to $1.3 billion of economic impact in 2009.
The announcement last October that Baylor and a group of local educational, business and municipal partners would create the Central Texas Technology and Research Park was just the latest in a long string of partnerships between Baylor and its community with long-term implications for growth and change. The park's first project, the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), to be housed in the former General Tire facility in Waco, will turn the long-shuttered manufacturing plant into a modern, 300,000-square-foot technology research center. 
The renovated plant will provide facilities and support to allow private companies and other educational institutions to collaborate with Baylor on cutting-edge research. It's expected to provide new jobs and a significant economic boost to Central Texas. 
Baylor and the city of Waco have partnered on a number of other recent projects aimed at fostering growth. Using a combination of university, city and state funds, work has been completed on extending the Waco riverwalk along Baylor's frontage on the Brazos River all the way to the Ferrell Center. And in August 2009, the city, Baylor and local merchants launched the Downtown Area Shuttle, or DASH, to provide free transportation between the Baylor campus and downtown stores and dining establishments during weekdays.

Enhancing the economy is just one way that Baylor has contributed to Central Texas. Throughout the years, the university has provided educational resources and opportunities not only for its students, but for the entire community.
According to the Baylor School of Education, each year the university sends more than 500 student teachers into public kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in Central Texas. In all, Baylor education students help educate more than 3,000 public school students each semester.
Baylor also supports local educational efforts through the GEAR UP Waco partnership, in which the university joins with community groups and other local educational institutions to increase the number of low-income students who will go on to college success. For the past two years, Baylor has co-sponsored a community summit that gathers local leaders to brainstorm solutions to local educational challenges and partnered with local leaders on the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance. 
More than 60 young musicians take part in the Baylor School of Music's Baylor String Project. This program matches local third through sixth graders with Baylor music education students to provide affordable instruction on string instruments such as the violin, viola, cello and bass. 
Originally discovered in 1978, the Waco Mammoth Site is on the brink of a National Park System designation that would reward the strong Baylor-Waco partnership that has resulted in the new Mammoth Site Visitor Center. The center, opened Dec. 5, 2009, and operated by the City of Waco, welcomed more than 8,200 visitors during its first four months. 
Numerous cultural activities and resources on the Baylor campus are offered free of charge each year, including musical concerts, art gallery exhibitions, poetry readings, public lectures and access to libraries and fine arts museums.

Baylor faculty, staff and students are long-time supporters of local charities and volunteer efforts, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United Way and other organizations and events, and volunteering more than 150,000 hours of local community service each year. 
About 3,000 students typically take part in Steppin' Out, Baylor's biannual day of community service that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Baylor also chartered the first Campus Chapter of Habitat for Humanity in 1987, and the effort continues today.
For many years, the Baylor University Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic has offered speech, hearing and language services to the community at greatly reduced rates, including providing free or low cost hearing screening and hearing aids to low-income clients.
Demonstrating its support for the revitalization of Waco's downtown, the University has relocated its School of Social Work and its nationally renowned clinical psychology program to the middle of downtown.

While Baylor has certainly enriched Waco during its long residency, the mutual partnership also sees Waco making significant contributions to Baylor's success. 
Since classes began in Waco in 1886, the city and McLennan County have sent many students to the university, and now account for about 5 percent of Baylor's undergraduate enrollment. 
Waco-area residents have been fervent supporters of Baylor with both their hearts and their pocketbooks. That support proved crucial in 1928 when strong financial commitments from local businesses and residents helped convince a Baptist General Convention of Texas committee to reverse their previous recommendation to move Baylor to Dallas. Soon afterward, Waco residents provided the bulk of the financial support that resulted in the construction of the large campus auditorium named Waco Hall in their honor. (See story page 42)
Local financial support for Baylor has been enhanced for more than 50 years due to the prodigious efforts of the Baylor/Waco Foundation, which raises money for projects that improve the quality of life in Central Texas as well as funding numerous improvements to Baylor's campus and facilities.

In the past few years, Baylor has sought to strengthen its ties with the Waco community. Building on a longstanding history of commitment to the city of Waco, Baylor launched a Department of Community Relations in 2008 to better focus its efforts at engaging the area.
One of the new initiative's first moves was to sponsor the now-annual Heart of Texas Community Tailgate Party at Baylor Ballpark each April, when thousands of people from throughout Waco and Central Texas are invited to enjoy a free Baylor baseball game and complimentary food and beverages.
The fruit of the mutually beneficial Baylor-Waco partnership might best be seen in the goodwill it generates. A recent survey of McLennan County residents commissioned by Baylor to find out how the university is regarded in the local community produced some very positive responses. The random survey, conducted in 2009 by the Baylor Center of Community Research and Development, found that almost 90 percent of county residents view Baylor either "very favorably" or "somewhat favorably." A large majority of respondents said they valued Baylor's cultural, educational and athletic contributions to the community.
Similar surveys will be conducted regularly going forward, providing Baylor -- and Waco -- with an objective measure of just how much their symbiotic relationship is growing.