A Gathering Place

Baylor has a new front door — a touchpoint welcoming current students, prospective students and alumni

Travel I-35 from the north or south through Waco, and you are sure to see the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center on the horizon. The impressive, modern building with nods to Baylor’s historic architecture sits along University Parks Drive and the interstate, greeting visitors as an inviting threshold to more than just the physical campus — but to the traditions, faith and history that help to make Baylor so special.

Baylor’s New Front Door

Whether you are visiting Baylor for the first time or returning to campus as an alum, there is no question where to go. The Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center stands at the entry to campus to welcome all Bears — past, current and future — home. The Hurd Welcome Center is a multi-faceted facility to foster meaningful opportunities for connection and serve as a launching point for activity on campus.

Hurd Welcome Center at Dusk
Symbolism is woven in the details of the Hurd Welcome Center’s architecture, from the four columns to subtler symbols in the natural light filling the space and the crossing beams.

“The Hurd Welcome Center will be a new front door to our campus, making a dramatic statement to visitors to Baylor and everyone who drives by on I-35,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., said at the Hurd Welcome Center groundbreaking ceremony. “It is a space that will be a celebration of Baylor — Baylor’s past, Baylor’s present and the wonderful and optimistic future that we have for Baylor.”

The need for such a space became evident over the years as the number of visitors to campus grew to more than 50,000 annually. Building an entry point to campus and expanding the University’s capacity to host prospective students and their families was an idea that needed a champion. Now, the Hurd Welcome Center is the focal point for prospective students and their families embarking on a campus tour, a living room for alumni returning to their alma mater and a place for current students, faculty and staff to connect and host events.

The Hurd Welcome Center
The Hurd Welcome Center showcases the beauty of campus and the transformative educational environment through intentional design and experiences that illustrate what it means to be at Baylor.

The Hurd Welcome Center is made possible by the generosity of Mark, B.B.A. ’79, and Paula Hurd, A.B.C. ’19, whose names the building bears.

“Our family is absolutely thrilled with the Hurd Welcome Center,” said Paula Hurd. “When we made this gift, Mark had a vision for how a welcome experience could transform this corner of campus, and the outcome has by far exceeded our expectations and dreams. I know he would be proud of not only what has been built but the way in which others in the Baylor Family rallied around the Give Light campaign to support the University he loved.”

Although Mark did not survive to see the doors of the Hurd Welcome Center open to the Baylor Family, Paula knows his vision comes alive in the building.

Visionary Giving

The Hurd’s generous leadership gift in Fall 2018 not only made the vision of a new front door to the University a reality, but also helped launch the public phase of the Give Light campaign, Baylor’s comprehensive fundraising campaign which has provided more than $1.3 billion in support to the University to date.

Hurd Welcome Center Amplify
Carlton Hall inside the Hurd Welcome Center features four columns (a reference to the four columns remaining on the Independence historic site) that each tell a part of the Baylor story. “Amplify” celebrates Baylor’s global impact as guests hear from some of our world-changing alumni.

“As a family, we are proud that the Welcome Center will bear our family’s name and continue our family’s Baylor legacy — a legacy that began with Mark and continues through us,” said Paula Hurd. “A legacy that is committed to serving our community and supporting programs and institutions that aim to have an impact upon our world.”

The Hurd family’s Baylor legacy began in 1975 when Mark Hurd came to Baylor as a student-athlete, proudly claiming his spot in That Good Old Baylor Line as a scholarship athlete on the Men’s Tennis team. During his time at Baylor, he pursued community as passionately as he played, earning two varsity letters, serving as president of his fraternity and graduating in 1979 with his bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“Baylor taught me a lot of important lessons: How to be an effective leader; the importance of building teams aligned to a common goal and the value of being part of a community,” Mark said in 2012.

Mark and Paula married in 1990 and were soon blessed with two daughters, Kelly, B.B.A. ’14, and Kathryn. Kelly followed her father’s footsteps to Baylor, and Paula was later honored as a Baylor Alumna By Choice in 2019.

The Hurds proudly maintained close ties to Baylor University through their service and philanthropy. Mark served on the Baylor Board of Regents from 2014 to 2019, and Paula currently serves on the Board, as well. Mark was celebrated with the 2012 Baylor Legacy Award and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2008, and both Mark (posthumously) and Paula were honored with the 2020 Baylor University Founders Medal.

When the Hurd Welcome Center opened its doors in August 2023, the high-tech and high-touch environment began a new chapter for the University — one that helps Baylor tell its story of global impact made possible because of the generosity from families like Mark and Paula Hurd.

A Hub of Inviting Spaces

Baylor’s Waco story dates back to 1886 when it moved from Independence, Texas. The beautiful campus stretches more than 1,000 acres along I-35, easily recognizable by McLane Stadium and the campus’ red brick buildings and spires. As a prominent corner of Baylor’s property at University Parks Drive sat empty, a vision for what could be a new grand entrance to campus took shape.

Hurd Welcome Center Connect
Also in Carlton Hall, the “Connect” column helps visitors see themselves in the action and experience Baylor’s time-honored traditions.

“We’ve been able to recruit incredible students from across the country and around the world and attract faculty and staff members who have incredible credentials, because they grow to love this place,” Jason Cook, A.B.C. ’20, vice president for marketing and communications and chief marketing officer, said of Baylor’s campus. “We began to imagine how this world-class institution could become even more recognizable with a new front door sitting on that vacant corner. Mark Hurd painted a picture of that for us with his vision for everything this facility could be.”

The Hurd Welcome Center is much more than a clear starting point to immerse yourself in Baylor. At the forefront of campus, it offers a sense of what it means to be a Baylor Bear. You may find it difficult to resist the invitation.

Designed by global design firm Populous, the architecture, layout and functionality of the building was carefully considered in collaboration with entities across campus.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Hurd Welcome Center is the sharedness of the space, bringing together individuals and groups across the Baylor Family to cultivate a true hub of activity. The Hurd Welcome Center houses offices and operational space for Undergraduate Admissions and Baylor Alumni, and it has a ballroom that can be configured to host events of all kinds and sizes for the Baylor community. A new Baylor Spirit Shop now has a home in the Hurd Welcome Center, and the Varsity Coffee and Soda shop offers all who visit a place to meet or unwind with a cup of Peet’s coffee.

“First and foremost, we wanted it to be a gathering place,” Cook said. “It is a gathering place for campus tours before and after with prospective students and families. We want it to be a gathering place for alumni when they come back to campus. We want it to be a gathering place for current students — in some ways a second student union building for events, studying and more.”

Building Intentionally

When you walk into the Hurd Welcome Center, the first thing you are likely to notice is a brightness and openness to the space. The ceiling allows natural light to filter down to Carlton Hall on the first level. This is not an accident or a designer’s preference, but an intentional plan with Matthew 5:14-16 in mind. These verses stand at the core of the University: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Hurd Welcome Center Reflect
Inside the “Reflect” column, visitors experience the sights and sounds of our award-winning campus and see themselves reflected in the Baylor Family.

The theme of light is a consistent and important part of Baylor’s mission, and that symbolism is reflected in the physical presence of light in the Hurd Welcome Center.

As President Livingstone said, “Baylor is a place where brilliance is celebrated and faith is strengthened — a place where lights shine bright.”

Rising from the floor of Carlton Hall up through the ceiling are four columns. Prospective students and guests can enter the interior of these columns for interactive experiences that showcase what it means to be at Baylor and beyond. The columns bring together the history and future of Baylor in the experiences of students, while recalling Baylor’s earliest students walking on the Independence campus.

“The details in the building are a manifestation of old and new Baylor. Historic ties are evident in the red brick, for example, and with the columns that represent the original campus in Independence, Texas. The space also communicates the momentum or this modern direction of the institution as well,” Cook said.

Other details in the architecture weave the story of Baylor into the space, but you have to look more closely to find them. With the towering columns and wide, open ceiling, your first instinct will not likely be to look down. When you do, though, you will see a stripe of gold inlaid in the floor traversing the length of the building. This line running north to south through the middle of the building is the Baylor Line.

“That symbol is so powerful because the building really does bring perspective students into the Baylor experience to then come back as alumni. This building is a manifestation of the journey of the Baylor Line, of an individual’s journey as a freshman to becoming alumni,” Cook said.

Subtler symbols recall themes throughout Baylor’s campus. The white beams around the perimeter of Carlton Hall have an abstract organic design in which the beams branch out at different angles — a nod to the numerous live oaks on Baylor’s campus. Many of the windows throughout the building have a squared geometric pattern in the glass, hinting at the complex stained-glass designs found in chapels and libraries across campus. And if you look up while ordering a Dr Pepper-infused drink at Varsity Coffee and Soda, you will see a ceiling that is actually a wooden map of downtown Waco.

These details woven into the building’s design honor Baylor’s history while pointing toward its bright future.

An Immersive Experience

Welcome is key to finding where you belong, and the Hurd Welcome Center plays a large role in making Baylor feel like home for prospective students and their families.

Hurd Welcome Center Aspire
The “Aspire” column offers prospective students a personalized experience as they scan their badges on the center pedestal and see their future aspirations illuminated on a dynamic ribbon board.

Baylor welcomes more than 50,000 prospective students and their families every year for campus tours. The Hurd Welcome Center increases the capacity of Undergraduate Admissions to tailor students’ experiences — Baylor doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all course of academic study, spiritual enrichment or community connection, so why should a campus visit?

From the moment a prospective student enters the Hurd Welcome Center with their family, they embark on a full interactive experience. The space boasts state-of-the-art technology that connects students with a picture of what it means to be a Baylor Bear.

“The Hurd facility resets the standard as to what a prospective student can experience when they visit a school or college,” said Ross VanDyke, B.A. ’03, assistant vice president of enrollment management marketing and recruitment.

Upon entering Carlton Hall, prospective students check in for their tour at the John Cheng Welcome Desk, named for the late John Cheng, B.A. ’91, whose heroic actions helped subdue and restrain a gunman in a 2021 California mass shooting attempt. From there, they are encouraged — if they don’t make a beeline for it first — to explore the interactive experiences within the interior of each of the four columns. The columns inspire participants to reflect on where they are at the beginning of their college journey, connect with the experiences of current Baylor students, dream big with aspirations of their future and see how alumni are amplifying Baylor’s mission with their global impact.

“The columns interact with the student so they can see the full transformative education that Baylor provides from what they hope to be one day, to then carrying them through to what they will be one day,” said VanDyke.

The Hurd Welcome Center serves as a practical launching point for campus tours. The Fudge Family Auditorium facilitates a deeper introduction to the Baylor experience before students and their families are greeted by student tour guides. Then, they board golf carts to take in the expansive beauty of campus.

The Hurd Welcome Center has still more to offer, though.

Students return from the campus tour to the Hurd Welcome Center to collect swag from the Spirit Shop and a drink from Varsity Coffee and Soda.

VanDyke sees this as a valuable part of the tour. As prospective students select their spirit wear and take a moment to enjoy their drink and reflect on their tour, they will likely see current students and alumni engaging with spaces in the Hurd in a similar way.

“I love the mixture of having not only prospective students, but also current and former students in the same building. That’s pretty powerful to be able to see as a new student — hey, that’s going to be me one day if I choose to attend here.”

On the floor level of Carlton Hall are rooms for prospective students to end their tour with a conversation with an Admissions Counselor to answer any remaining questions. These spaces provide a quiet place to discuss the admissions process and also meet with financial aid professionals. At the end, students walk away with a clear idea of what it would be like to be a student at Baylor.

“It’s not just a building, it’s not just four walls. It’s multiple opportunities to connect with students wherever they are. The Hurd Welcome Center has all the tools necessary to show prospective students and their families the best of the best, and the best of what Baylor has to offer,” VanDyke said.

The Hurd Welcome Center helps Undergraduate Admission achieve their most essential aim. As VanDyke said, “We’re not just recruiting an incoming class, but we’re looking to recruit a graduating class.”

McLane Family Alumni Center
The McLane Family Alumni Center

A Generous Welcome Home

At Baylor, the McLane name is synonymous with generosity and transformational leadership. The impact of their giving extends across the University, with the McLane Family Alumni Center being the most recent example of their philanthropy. Drayton, B.B.A. ’58, and Elizabeth McLane of Temple, Texas, established this family tradition of philanthropy with their deep connection to Baylor’s mission. Their two sons, Drayton III, B.B.A. ’96, and Denton, B.B.A. ’99, and their respective families joined together in helping shape this latest gift, creating a distinct home for Baylor’s alumni prominently located in the Hurd Welcome Center.

The McLane Family Alumni Center is another example of their commitment to a robust Baylor experience, as they have continued to seek out spaces on Baylor’s campus where alumni can feel at home. From McLane Stadium and the McLane Organ in Jones Concert Hall to the McLane Carillion at Pat Neff Hall and McLane Student Life Center, the McLane family has supported the iconic landmarks that beckon alumni home and foster a sense of belonging among our Baylor Family.

The McLanes’ enduring relationship with Baylor University began when Drayton McLane came to campus as a student. Drayton and Elizabeth later passed their love for Baylor to their sons, who are both proud Baylor alumni and global business leaders, as well as serving with their families to impact their communities.

Through their family’s philanthropy, the McLanes honor a personal legacy of giving while continuing their support of Christian higher education, celebrating the ties — and the faith — that binds the Baylor Family together in support of this institution and its students.

The Door is Always Open

Alumni returning home to their alma mater now have a living room for gathering. The McLane Family Alumni Center is a dedicated space for Baylor alumni to connect and learn about alumni programming across the country to find Bears at their home away from Baylor.

The Hurd Welcome Center is multi-functional for returning Bears. With the alumni-dedicated rooms on the second floor, there are meeting spaces for groups of all sizes, from smaller gatherings in seminar rooms all the way up to very large groups in the ballroom. These break-out rooms revolve around a homey space very much like a living room with couches and a balcony.

McLane Family Alumni Center
Alumni have a place to gather when they return home — whether it’s to connect in the welcoming living room or a conference space in the McLane Family Alumni Center.

The facility is a natural and convenient place to gather. It can host gatherings before events elsewhere on campus, like sporting events, or host meetings for alumni groups like women’s councils, alumni board of advocates, regional councils and even reunions. Baylor Alumni staff have offices in the space, and they look forward to connecting with alumni returning home and hearing about where they are and what they are doing.

“At Baylor, we are known for our excellent faculty, our incredible students who are seeking more than how to grow their minds but also their understanding of what it means to be a Baylor Bear in the world — a Christian servant to their community who values faith and integrity and who works to make the world a better place. One wonderful thing about Baylor is how our alumni stay connected and involved, as they are providing those very real and powerful examples to our students,” Drayton McLane said of the magnetic pull of this University that welcomes alumni back home.

“Our alumni are a valued and important part of this community and as such deserve space within this beautiful welcome center, and as a family of alumni and alumni by choice, we are proud to support the McLane Family Alumni Center.”

The structure of the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center is uniquely designed to reflect Baylor’s mission, its identity as an almost 180-year-old institution and its shining future to impact generations. The next time you are traveling along I-35 in Waco, exit at the Hurd Welcome Center. You’ll find a remarkable place and family waiting to welcome you home.