How attractive is Waco to graduating students?

By Linda Nguyen

Staff Writer

College is a time of transition.

Some arrive knowing they’ll go on to jobs in other cities or return to families and hometowns, but others stay.

Some Baylor alumni have found a home in Waco, living in and giving back to the community where they received their higher education.

After finishing his undergraduate degree from Baylor, alumnus Justin McBride started an internet company based in Waco in April that sells eco-friendly stationery and products like pens.

“I stayed in Waco mostly because I had a lot of friends still here in Waco and there wasn’t anything for me in my hometown,” McBride said.

McBride said he hadn’t envisioned staying in Waco when he first came to Baylor his freshman year.

“My original plan was to go to medical school somewhere, but from freshman year, your plans change a lot by the time you graduate,” McBride said.

McBride said the community he found in his church Korean United Methodist Church also influenced his decision to stay.

“I started going to a church here my freshman year,” McBride said. “I still go to that church, so I’ve made a lot of good relationships here.”

McBride said he was involved with the Waco community throughout his undergraduate experience.

He said the organizations he was in that facilitated community involvement were Medical Service Organization, Korean Student Association and American Student Dental Association.

“We’d do things like go out to lower-income areas and hang out with kids, play with kids there,” McBride said. “I always did Steppin’ Out. All the community involvement I have right now is through our church and we randomly go take food to homeless people. Our church also goes to Friday morning breakfast with Mission Waco.”

McBride said he believes Baylor does a lot to influence the Waco community.

“Honestly, just from my general perspective, it seems like Baylor and Waco are two totally separate things, and I feel like Baylor helps Waco survive,” he said.

McBride said Baylor helps Waco in many ways. For example many Baylor students frequent the local businesses and restaurants.

Baylor also has a variety of student programs that try to connect Baylor and Waco.

“Waco is important to Baylor because it provides a somewhat humbling experience,” McBride said. “With the poverty rate so high here in Waco, I find that it’s much easier to be thankful for the things we have and often take for granted after seeing and experiencing how others who are less fortunate live. Hopefully we can continue to learn and grow with each other.”

McBride said he thinks alumni don’t stay in Waco because they don’t have an incentive to stay in Waco.

“If Baylor offered alumni an incentive or a reason to stay, I think they would,” McBride said.

McBride said one way Baylor could motivate alumni to stay would be through the McLean Student Life Center.

“What would be cool is offer an alumni plan at the SLC or at least a half-off charge at the SLC,” McBride said. “There’s not that kind of plan at the SLC and it’s $10 per trip. If Baylor offered alumni an incentive, a reason to stay, I think they would.”

Some students may not decide to stay in Waco indefinitely but decide to stay a little longer after receiving their undergraduate degree and pursue post-baccalaureate work at Baylor in the form of graduate school or law school.

Baylor 2012 alumna Melissa Tran is currently a graduate student in Baylor’s Master of Social Work program.

“I thought about going to a school out of state, and I actually made the decision to do that, but when I made it, I felt really uneasy about it,” Tran said. “In the end, Baylor was a year-long program and I got an internship in Dallas, so it made it easier for me to commute back and forth.”

Tran also cited the community she found at Baylor as a reason she decided to stay.

“It was easier to be somewhere I already knew and be around community that was already established,” Tran said.

Tran, who graduates in May, said she is not necessarily opposed to staying in Waco, but her decision depends on the job market.

“I didn’t think I would ever stay in Waco, but it’s grown on me over the past four to four-and-a-half years,” Tran said. “It’s grown to be called my home. I never did think coming in I would want to move to Waco or possibly move here permanently.”

Tran said she’s really enjoyed interacting with the community outside of Baylor.

“My greatest experience outside of Baylor, is outside of Baylor, I’ve become more aware of what the community does for each other,” Tran said. “There are so many great social service agencies in Waco. Everyone has a great heart as a whole in Waco, which is something I appreciate and love.”

Jillian Buttecali graduated in May and found a job in North Houston but left for a different opportunity in Waco.

“My new job is with the Dwyer Group, which is well respected,” Buttecali said. “The CEO is a Baylor Bear and when I was offered the position, I jumped at it. There’s a lot more room for growth and they understand the value of a Baylor education.” The CEO of the Dwyer group is Dina Dwyer-Owens, who attended Baylor from 1981 to 1983.

Buttecali said when she graduated and left Waco, she felt like she was leaving home.

She said she hadn’t expected to feel so close to Baylor and Waco when she first came here.

“I think it was a gradual process,” Buttecali said. “Lots of times, you go off to college and enjoy the experience. You associate the college and college town as home. Gradually I became more and more in love with Baylor, and Waco is an extension of that.”