Students get social in downtown Waco

Nick Berryman | Lariat Photographer
This semester students attend class in the new downtown building for Baylor’s School of Social Work.

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Baylor’s School of Social Work has a new home in downtown Waco.

The school, which has a staff of 35 and about 260 students, outgrew its old location in the Speight Plaza Parking Garage and is now moved into the former Wells Fargo building at 811 Washington Ave.

Dr. Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work, said the school is better located downtown.

“We had been in this wonderful space, but it had become totally inadequate for our needs,” Garland said. “The move to downtown was actually thought of first by the wonderful folks in design and construction at Baylor. We thought this was a natural fit for the School of Social Work to be in downtown Waco so we jumped at the opportunity.”

Dr. Gaynor Yancey, associate dean for baccalaureate studies and professor of social work, is excited for the opportunities the new location will bring to the school’s students.

“We believed that by being located downtown we would be in the midst of where we have so much of our work,” Yancey said. “There are many agencies there where our students intern, and we believed we needed to be in the midst of the needs and resources that help our students learn the practical things.”

Chris McGowan, director of urban development for Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the school’s move will have a positive effect on downtown Waco in many ways.

“Baylor’s expanding the scope of the university into downtown is good for the future of downtown and also further cements the relationship Baylor and the community have,” McGowan said. “Also, having 300 people downtown every day is great for the businesses down here, and having students off campus and in downtown on a daily basis is a great way to expose the student body to what the community has to offer.”

Garland and her colleagues are looking forward to being together in one space for the first time.

“We see ourselves as a community of people who care about one another, and being able to be together is really important to us,” Garland said. “For students to have classes in the same building where their faculty have offices is a really wonderful opportunity for us.”

The school completed the move downtown at the end of last December, and students began attending classes at the new location at the beginning of this semester.

Students are also looking forward to the opportunities the school’s new location brings, but there are still things to work out.

Lubbock junior Bailey Bartholomew said the school will mean good things for downtown Waco, but not without affecting how its students will travel between the downtown location and Baylor’s main campus.

“[Teachers] haven’t figured out the scheduling of it yet, so it’s kind of hard to get from on campus down here,” Bartholomew said. “But we really like our new location. It’s a lot nicer than the parking garage.”

Bartholomew said she either takes the DASH bus between Baylor’s main campus and the school of social work, or she drives her own car. “Either way, you’re cutting it close for making it on time to class, but teachers are going to be really flexible this semester until they get everything figured out.”

The future of the school and its effect on downtown Waco is still uncertain.

“I hope we’ve brought a lot more diversity to the community in terms of age. We will have lots of students in downtown Waco during the day,” Garland said. “We can walk to local eating establishments for lunch, so I hope we will be spending money and supporting businesses downtown. Beyond that I think it remains to be seen, and we are not presuming we know what our role is going to be here.”