Baylor All the Way
Excitement surrounding the start of the academic year is fueled by the verve of new students
U.S. News and World Report cites the Department of Education’s tally of colleges and universities at nearly 4,000 with substantially more worldwide. Given the number of higher education options available to prospective students, it speaks volumes to the Baylor experience that some of the most talented and academically qualified students choose to become Baylor Bears. Here are three such students who bring achievement, passion and purpose to the student body this year.
Some may think of a gap year as a fun, extended vacation between high school and the first year for college. For Rutendo Kahari, however, a gap year meant taking two years between high school and college to volunteer with STEM organizations, learn biotechnology, teach science and coding in her community, and immerse herself in social justice programs.
“I wanted to learn more about the healthcare system in Africa and also explore ways in which we can use emerging sciences to develop treatments for some of the prevalent diseases in Africa, such as TB, HIV, malaria and cholera,” Kahari says.
The pursuit was deeply personal to Kahari. When she was 8, her father was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and also suffered from a stroke that affected his hearing and speech. Consequently, he began a rigorous medication regime that required him to take around 16 different pills per day.
“That was huge, especially for an 8-year-old, just seeing someone you know who’s very strong changing and becoming bedridden for quite a long time. I became really curious in understanding more about what was happening and more about his medication,” Kahari says. “All I knew was that those tablets were what made him better. I think that’s where my passion then grew. I used to read the little medication packet insets that tell you about the drug — its contents and what it does — even though, at the time, I didn’t understand anything. I just enjoyed looking at those words.”
In high school, Kahari was able to learn more about the meaning of the words on her father’s medication labels. “I started reading more about how medication interacts with the body at a molecular level, about how a pill knows where to go in the body. That’s what really motivated me to get into medicine, I just had a dream of helping my dad.”
When her father passed away in 2020, Kahari knew that her passion for medicine was meant to serve an even broader purpose.
“I think his death was just a realization for me that I want to heal the world. Even though I couldn’t save my dad, I feel I can still help others so that they don’t suffer as my father did,” she says.
Almost a year later, Kahari learned about Future Earth Academy — a select educational opportunity to explore emerging fields and technologies that challenge the global perspectives of young students. She was one of only 13 high schoolers who were hand-picked from around the world to participate in the program, which is designed to enhance the students’ education through direct mentorship, travel and STEM experiences. It was during those experiences that she learned about the field of biotechnology, including genetic engineering, synthetic biology and molecular modeling.
“I began to question how emerging science tools help us to develop better drugs that can be customized for people, especially people from my region,” Kahari says.
Now, as a first-year student at Baylor, Kahari is continuing her scientific education and excited about the relationships she’s forming with her professors and peers while developing new skills in and outside of the lab.
“What I would like to receive from Baylor besides education and gaining more lab and technical skills is also the ability to be part of a community. I could have gone to any other school, but I also felt that I needed a school that was going to help me stay grounded in my relationship with God and provide me with a very supportive community. And what I hope to bring to that community is my international energy and passion to help others.”
Little Rock, Arkansas
Pulaski Academy graduate Everett Bruffett spent most of his life thinking he was going to be a doctor. Bruffett comes from a family of doctors and soon-to-be doctors. His dad, Wayne Bruffett, B.S. ’87, M.C.G. ’88, is a surgeon, his older sister is in medical school, and his older brother is currently on the pre-med track as an undergraduate.
“My family is full of people in the medical field, and that’s what I thought I wanted to do,” Bruffett says. “As I grew older and as I got more interested in social science courses and more discussion-heavy curriculum, I really started to dive into ethics, philosophy, and pursuing justice and fairness and equality.”
During his junior year of high school, Bruffett took an honors International Politics class that sparked his interest in global issues and set him on an unexpected path.
“The skills I acquired through that class helped me analyze issues that we face within this country. And my senior year, I wrote an approximately 75-page thesis project on the dangers of white power extremism within the United States, which further ignited my desire to seek justice,” he says.
That passion for justice led to Bruffett not only pivoting from the idea of a medical profession but choosing to attend Baylor over the University of Arkansas, where all three of his older siblings attended.
“My dad always kind of told me it’s like a prophecy and I was destined to go to Baylor, but I wanted my college choice to be different from my siblings and my dad. But the thing was, the more I researched Baylor and the more I prayed about it, the more I was drawn to it,” he says.
With his interest in Baylor piqued, Bruffett attended the Baylor2Baylor Pre-law Program, a competitive experience designed for high-achieving students with an interest in attending law school. As a senior in high school he was able to engage with department faculty, experience a mock Baylor Law class and hear from “Double-Bears” — students who attended both Baylor University and Baylor Law, solidifying his choice to pursue the law as a vocation and Baylor as his school.
“I love that the law allows for all voices to be heard, and I believe that the justice system must establish equality by upholding ideals within the U.S. Constitution. Baylor’s stellar pre-law program is what attracted me to the University, in addition to its nationally ranked Law School. I believe that my education here is vital as I strive toward a law degree,” Bruffett says.
Coming from an academically rigorous high school, Bruffet is undeterred by the demands of the pre-law track at Baylor. In fact, it was the high-caliber academics that finally sold him on the idea of becoming a Baylor Bear.
“A fantastic pre-law program, incredible academics, great Christian community and loving people — these influences were undeniable. It’s been a great experience thus far!”
San Antonio, Texas
First-year student Elena Semler may be headed “home” to San Antonio over Christmas break or to do the occasional load of laundry in the house her family has owned there for nearly a decade, but she truly is a citizen of the world. Semler was born in the United States, but comes to Baylor by way of Concordia International School in Shanghai, China, where her parents worked for the past 14 years.
“One of the interesting things about Concordia is you can’t have a Chinese passport to go to the school, you have to have a foreign passport. And so, my friends — my best friends — are all from different places,” Semler says. “I think it’s given me a lot of empathy for different people from different backgrounds and different experiences.”
Along with exposure to a variety of cultures at Concordia, Semler also was introduced to many innovative and academically demanding classes. One, in particular, was designed to focus on social entrepreneurship, which is starting a business for the greater good and not simply for profits. Concordia’s social entrepreneurship class focuses on the strategy and operations of a non-profit social enterprise called Third Culture Coffee Roasters. The organization creates social impact by roasting and selling specialty-grade coffee through student-led, experiential learning.
“We collaborated with farmers in the Yunnan province, which is part of the coffee belt near the Equator. The class established a direct trade model and was in communication with the farmers. There’s no middleman. We sourced the beans from the farmers, roasted the beans in the class, packaged them and sold them to the community,” Semler says.
She was so invested in this pursuit that she wrote a proposal to the high school principal and teamed up with another student to convert the class to a club over the summer to sustain it.
“The whole experience showed me how to reach for things that might seem a little bit daunting. It was something outside of my comfort zone, and taking that initiative and utilizing some grit to get something done for the good of the community is important to me,” Semler says.
Through her work with Third Culture Coffee Roasters, she cemented a calling to pursue social entrepreneurship as a vocation. As she was researching and applying to colleges, finding ways to use her leadership and business acumen for the greater good was at the forefront of her decision.
“I know that Baylor has one of the best entrepreneurship programs in the country, so that academically really drew me to the school. I’ve really enjoyed being challenged in that way intellectually and engaging curiosity and creativity,” she says.
Now, as an honors student in the Hankamer Scholars program, Semler calls Baylor — and the Baylor and Beyond Living Learning Center in North Russell Residence Hall — her home.
“Baylor was my number one choice. During the first round of college applications, I only applied to Baylor. Toward the end I applied to two other universities, but about one week later I decided to commit to Baylor and withdrew my other applications. It’s been Baylor all the way for me,” she says.
And because the Hankamer Scholars program has Semler on an accelerated track with early access to upper level and major courses, there is more space in her degree plan to pursue several study abroad programs and additional coursework to augment her studies and fuel her love for world cultures.
“Even when I’m not studying abroad, I can still engage with people and other cultures through the clubs and organizations here and through my residence hall experience in the Baylor and Beyond community. You don’t have to go to another region of the world to serve somebody, you can serve right in your own community.”