Student Life

July 6, 2012
Student Life

Integrated learning extends beyond the classroom and into multiple dimensions of campus life.

When Jordan Hannah, BA '10, came to Baylor as a freshman in 2006 from the small town of Cleburne, Texas, about an hour north of Waco, he, like so many of his peers, wondered how he could transition successfully into campus life. Baylor made it easy.

Over the past decade, as the 10-year plan known as "Baylor 2012" has come to fruition, student life offerings at BU have expanded from traditional introductory activities like Welcome Week (and campus-wide events like Dr Pepper Hour and All-University Sing) to include Baylor Line Camp, residential colleges, professors and chaplains who live alongside students in the residence halls, and other opportunities aimed at making the Baylor experience not just educational, but transformational.

The freshman connection

When Hannah arrived on campus in August 2006, he found several unique opportunities and traditional programs awaiting him that made all the difference in helping him adjust to college life during what many consider those early "make-or-break" weeks. Top among them was Welcome Week, a freshman orientation program begun in 1978 composed of activities in the days just before classes begin in the fall, including small-group discussions led by upperclassmen, that introduce students to the nuances of campus life and provide connections to other students, faculty and staff. Roughly 85 percent of incoming freshmen attend this pivotal event.

"Welcome Week helped me immensely during transition into student life at Baylor. It was my first impression of what it meant to be a Baylor student," says Hannah, who served as the student body president during his senior year and is now pursuing a graduate degree in college student affairs administration at the University of Georgia. "We had dinner with a faculty member at her home and worked on a community service project. I was in a small group of people that I still call friends."

Along with Welcome Week and a traditional two-day Orientation in June that familiarizes freshmen with Baylor's academic programs, academic support and campus resources, a new program begun in 2004 offers freshmen a more culturally immersive experience: Baylor Line Camp. This five-day extended orientation program, held every July, was developed to not only acquaint incoming freshmen with Baylor traditions and opportunities, but to delve deeper into helping students explore their personal calling to a vocation through one-on-one interactions, small-group discussions and social activities. The goal is that students gain a clear sense of what it means to be a Baylor Bear and where they fit in the Baylor Line. More than half of all incoming freshmen participated in Line Camp in 2011, up from 33 percent just three years before.

"We want students to feel grounded when they come to Baylor. We want them to understand the traditions, feel connectedness immediately and focus on total development," says Dr. Martha Lou Scott, BS '71, EDD '84, associate vice president for student life. "At the end of Line Camp, when students are given their Baylor Line jerseys and walk through the four remaining columns of the women's residence hall on Academy Hill, it's a visible, tangible moment of transition into the Baylor family."

Campus community

Such orientation programs are just the beginning of the vibrant student life at Baylor.

"Campus life has become very dynamic at Baylor. Working on the strong foundation that was in place when I arrived in 2009, we've made great strides toward creating a campus environment that speaks deeply into the lives of our students," says Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life. "It has been my experience that most universities will focus on the education, maturation and preparation of students, and a small number become very good at this. At Baylor, we aim for a higher goal, and that is the transformation of our students -- the renewing of the mind, body and spirit. In doing so, our ability to impact students' education, maturation and preparation is exponentially more powerful."

Students can choose to get involved in any number of the 280 student organizations on campus, whether they live on-campus or off-campus, helping them feel connected to the university -- and each other. Athletic gatherings -- be they crowds of 40,000 at a football game, or several hundred for a basketball watch party in the Student Union Building -- add to the sense of conviviality. This year's incredible success only multiplied that effect, as students celebrated Robert Griffin III's Heisman Trophy win, football's bowl victory, men's basketball's Elite Eight run and women's basketball's national championship.

But the Baylor spirit extends beyond the field or court, with activities and events that range from the Bed Races and Chili Cook-Off, the Acoustic Café and Stompfest, to fun for the whole family with Christmas on 5th Street, Parents and Family Weekend, and All-University Sing, a tradition since 1953. Also dating back to 1953 is Dr Pepper Hour, a get-together during which students, faculty and staff socialize over Dr Pepper floats one afternoon every week.

An even longer-standing Baylor tradition is Diadeloso, The Day of the Bear, a spring break for students that dates back to 1934. It's a dedicated day for the Baylor community to enjoy some downtime with friends amid a host of activities that run the gamut from ultimate Frisbee competitions to camel rides to live music acts.

Along with time for fun, time for self-reflection and strengthening the bonds of the Baylor community is rooted in the spiritual tradition of Chapel. Baylor 2012 brought a renewed commitment to a vibrant, worship-filled Chapel program. Twice a week, students, faculty and staff gather to worship, discuss important topics and enjoy guest speakers, music, art and drama, as they've done for the past 160 years.

"Reaching out to broader populations, Baylor's activities and events bring everyone together to create camaraderie and provide opportunities for worship and engaging in the community," says Jackson. "And more recently, many of these events are being created by students or are student-staff-initiated."

Living the holistic life

Still, "creating a truly residential campus," which was the second imperative of Baylor 2012, means more than a host of events and activities and increasing the number of beds on campus, says Jackson, adding that student success hinges on a high level of interaction with faculty, including engagement in academics outside the classroom walls and with the campus itself. Over the past 10 years, Baylor has developed new approaches to on-campus living. Engaged Learning Groups (ELGs), Living-Learning Communities (LLCs) and Residential Colleges provide vital connections and support for students from a holistic living-learning perspective.

About 36 percent of Baylor undergraduates -- about 4,500 students -- currently live in campus residences, including in eight LLCs and two new residential colleges. North Village, constructed in 2004 and accommodating 576 residents, includes four LLCs, and Brooks Village, opened in 2007 and housing 687 residents, is the home of the interdisciplinary Brooks Residential College. Baylor has also developed an Honors Residential College, located in Alexander and Memorial Residence Halls, open to 325 students who are members of the Honors College programs. The university recently acquired University Parks Apartments, a 520-bed apartment community that will introduce the new Transfer LLC this fall, and construction is underway on the East Village, a 700-resident housing complex with a 500-seat dining hall slated to open in August 2013.

Each of Baylor's ELG communities consists of about 25 to 40 students and a faculty member who explore topics from an interdisciplinary perspective while living together for one or two years in Kokernot Hall, which underwent $2 million in renovations in 2008. Recent study topics range from Hispanic Families in Transition to Scriptures and Heritage to Medical Sciences.

"We're taking today's headlines and working on solutions to them," says Dr. Randy Wood, BA '70, PhD '78, a 27-year Baylor faculty member who has led an ELG ever since their formation in 2007. "We also talk about personal issues. At the end of every meeting, we have the 'Last Five Minutes' in which we talk about real life. The students live together, deepening their understanding of each other, and we have lunch together twice a week. We're building a family relationship."

While ELGs are tailored to freshmen, Baylor's LLCs invite students of all ages to apply for the opportunity to live and learn in groups of anywhere from 20 to 225 students focused around an academic theme under the guidance of a faculty in residence. Students not only share core courses and on-site amenities such as classrooms and common spaces, but share ideas that galvanize academic and social enrichment.

More than 1,400 students are engaged in LLCs throughout campus, including two in Allen and Dawson Halls (Leadership and Air Force ROTC), four in North Village (Entrepreneurship, Fine Arts, Outdoor Adventure and Engineering and Computer Science), one in Brooks Flats (Global Community) and one just for transfers in the Baylor-owned University Parks Apartments.

"Living-Learning Communities provide a holistic vision of education as the formation of lives and minds; it extends the bounds of the classroom as an extension of living, which is an idea that dates back to Aristotle," says Dr. Jonathan Tran, a religion professor and a faculty-in-residence at Brooks Flats, home to 350 students, including 55 students in the Global Community LLC. "Education is not just the acquisition of knowledge; it's the totalizing character of a person within the view of Christianity. We talk about God in the classroom and issues around how residential life looks different when you're a Christian. It's the integration of faith and learning that provides the transformational student experience."

Along with the social cohesion of participating in residence social events like game nights and service projects such as river cleanups, students also benefit from living in communities in which they advance academic interests through special programs. Led by Tran, along with senior lecturer in Spanish Rosalie Barrera, MA '00, and program director Holly Joyner, BA '07, the Global Community LLC, for example, studies education in a global context in partnership with the Modern Foreign Languages department to facilitate the integration of foreign-language learning. The "suites" in the residence hall are organized by foreign languages (for example, a French suite, a Chinese suite, a Spanish suite and so on) so that students can immerse themselves in a particular language and culture daily.

"LLCs provide an intentionality to the way you want to live," says Tran. "We're a family away from family; there's a comfort and intimacy that we all share."

Living and learning: the next level

Residential colleges, also open to freshman through senior students, are often considered the paragon of the living-learning concept, providing concentrated faculty-student collaboration in a culture that fosters academic excellence. Students must apply to live in a residential college and, if accepted, make a two-year commitment. Student life often includes community dinners, special lectures and Master's Teas with faculty from across campus, as well as student governance through elected councils and committees.

"LLCs, ELGs and residential colleges speak volumes about Baylor student life and academic affairs. We've grown from a system of effective but vanilla residential halls, to a system of a number of flourishing LLCs," says Dr. Ian Gravagne, an engineering professor and a faculty-in-residence who lives and learns, along with his wife and three children, among some 250 students in the Engineering and Computer Science LLC in North Village's Heritage House.

"There needs to be opportunities for students to engage with faculty outside the classroom, for faculty to know students as individuals and what makes them tick," he adds, pointing to residential colleges' long existence on many Ivy League campuses, from Yale to Harvard to Princeton. "The same ideals and values modeled in academic life are modeled in residential life. Faculty-in-residence programs help tear down the barriers between these worlds."

In the 2010-11 academic year, 120 faculty members -- and in many cases, their families -- participated in various residential programs, up from 92 faculty participating in 2004-05, when the initiative was launched. And their labors are beginning to bear fruit as several research studies, including The National Study of Living-Learning Programs, show that students in living-learning groups are more inclined to take advantage of academic resources and social activities than students not in LLCs. This elevated engagement also translates into the increased likelihood of student success, including increased student retention rates and graduation rates, says Dr. Jeff Doyle, dean for student learning and engagement.

"Residential life at Baylor focuses on the quality of the living experience through academic enrichment. Faculty create mentoring relationships with students and invest in their lives, sparking students' curiosity and their desire to learn more. It's not merely a brain dump of information," says Doyle. "Baylor develops leaders who are focused on God's calling to lead them to serve. We empower and educate our students for 'peer leadership' with niche learning experiences. The most powerful form of learning is when one person teaches another."

Stewardship and spiritual formation

And just as teaching and learning unfold from the classroom and into campus life, they also extend into the surrounding communities -- and around the globe.

"Student involvement in mission trips in countries around the world has exploded in the past 10 years like never before," says Scott, pointing to recent Baylor mission trips to Honduras, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, Belize, Cambodia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, England, France and Greece. "Students look inwardly at the talents God gave them and leverage those talents to be successful and serve others. They learn how to use their strengths, not focus on deficiencies."

Creating more opportunities to integrate faith and learning has also encouraged student involvement in service work and stewardship throughout the U.S., from Los Angeles to the Mississippi Delta. Even here at home, under the Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative, launched in 2007, Baylor became the first Campus Kitchen in Texas, saving, re-preparing and delivering food and nutrition education to local disadvantaged communities.

Faith is woven through the fabric of Baylor life, and Christian spiritual formation animates everything students do, says Dr. Burt Burleson, BA '80, university chaplain, who also directs the Chaplain-in-Residence program, launched in 2001 with funding from the Lilly Endowment.

"The Chaplain-in-Residence program is a unique concept, bringing the ministry of the church to the LLC," explains Burleson. "Programmatic efforts include grief groups, Bible study, book groups, prayer service and mission activities. If a student needs to go the emergency room, a chaplain will be right there beside him or her. If a student experiences loss or is in crisis in any way, a chaplain will be there to provide pastoral care and support. The level of care that takes place is also unique, especially in a school of our size."

Each year since 2007, 12 chaplains from Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary have lived in residence with students, ministering to them and engaging in conversations about what students want to do with their lives, says Burleson. "Hundreds of these conversations might not have happened if the chaplain were not present in the residence hall at the moment. Many students wouldn't walk across campus and knock on my door -- although some do -- to have a conversation. Living among the students, resident chaplains can be 'present in the moment.'"

Hannah, who, as a freshman, had frequent conversations with his resident chaplain at Penland Hall, can attest to that sentiment.

"Having a resident chaplain, Christopher Mack, whom [the students] called CMack, was very valuable for me. He was a sounding board, helping us [students] focus on developing our faith," says Hannah. "The faculty at Baylor help students think through their faith and how their faith relates to their work. We were encouraged to ask questions about how our faith played into the world, and those questions were answered. It's the commitment to the integration of faith and learning that's the hallmark of a Baylor education."

Furthering the vision

While the Baylor community has made significant strides in its aspiration to become a top-tier American research university while deepening its Christian commitment, there's always more work to be done, as put forth in Baylor's new strategic vision, Pro Futuris.

"We're always working to help students identify and pursue pathways by which they develop into leaders and servants who go forth and impact the world," says Jackson. "Baylor is unique because we are called to create an educational environment that speaks into every aspect of a student's life: intellectually, socially, culturally, spiritually and physically -- and to do so at both the individual and collective level.

"Ultimately, we want to help each student discover -- and take a giant step toward becoming -- the person that God has uniquely designed him or her to be," he adds. "This is our passion, and that is the Baylor difference -- a transformational education that empowers each graduate to be a transformative presence in the world."