By Brooks Whitehurst
Dr. Jon Engelhardt, dean of the School of Education, is not without accolades in his final year at Baylor. Engelhardt recently received the Robert B. Howsam award, just on the brink of his May retirement.
The Howsam award is a rare lifetime achievement award given on occasion to a deserving individual who has made significant contributions to education, according to the Consortium of State Organizations for Texas Teacher Education website.
The Lariat sat down with Engelhardt to talk about his career at Baylor as it comes to a close and the honor of receiving the Howsam Award.
What does this award mean to you?
There are lots of different meanings, one of those is recognition of Baylor’s role in the state of Texas, and I think that’s important. Some of the things that I’ve been able to do I haven’t been able to do except were it for the institution where I’ve been, and Baylor has been especially supportive in doing all sorts of different kinds of things.
And of course it’s personally rewarding. The way I like to explain it is that most of us work in the garden not for recognition, seeking or expecting it, but because it’s the work that’s worth doing. It’s really surprising and exciting when someone actually notices.
How does this award speak to Baylor’s role in the education field?
I think it’s an acknowledgment of the pivotal or potentially pivotal role that Baylor could play in the state of Texas. Texas has a large number of private institutions, and it clearly points to Baylor as a leader among those.
What were some of the significant moments in your career?
I’d say one of those is that from the time I entered higher education as a teacher educator, I’ve been working to reform the way teachers are prepared in our profession. The schools that prepared teachers, called normal schools, at the end of World War II, as part of the GI bill, were all converted to state universities, and in some cases private.
They all converted what was professional preparation into academic majors, which in many ways destroyed the notion of teacher education, and so my preparation came in that period of time when you heard a lecture about teaching rather than going to do it.
The most significant piece for me looking across my career is having been involved in just about every major movement to reform and change the way teachers are prepared so that today we call it “clinical teacher preparation.”
Some other things have been building a partnership with the superintendents in Waco. Instead of having school districts competing with each other, they’re collaborating with each other and trying to strategize for how to improve education and how to influence the Legislature to improve education.
It’s really easy in higher education to have people in their own little silos where they don’t interact with each other, and that’s not who we are as an institution, and not the way higher education is intended to be. I like to think that when one person succeeds, we all succeed, and we should celebrate that together. We raise each other rather than compete with each other.
What does the future of K-12 education look like in Waco?
K-12 education in Waco is poised to address issues of poverty and education outcomes for Waco children like no other time in the city’s history. With its roots in the education alliance, the new work of Prosper Waco, with its triple emphases on education, healthcare and income and productive employment for all citizens, is poised to make an enormous difference in Waco.
Focusing on the education part of this equation, we know that poverty takes a huge toll on many aspects of a quality community life, including the effectiveness of education.
To address one and not the others is effectively doomed to failure, or at least to severely limit success. Research has shown when you find ways to positively address the economic lives of all citizens, the educational experience of children of parents living in poverty is significantly benefited, even with no other intervention.
The role of Baylor in all this is to do its part as a responsible community partner.
How is Baylor approaching the need for teachers among K-12 schools that have students whose first language is not English?
This has been an issue that has challenged Baylor for some time. The presence of increasing numbers of second-language English speakers in Texas has never been a surprise to educators. Even a simple-minded look at demographics leads one to the conclusion that this needs to be addressed.
To date, Baylor has addressed this through broad availability of English as a second language preparation for those who would be teachers. Bilingual education, per se, by contrast, requires that instruction in schools be taught, at least for part of the day, in Spanish; this means that fluency in Spanish for the teacher must be rather strong.
With plans to retire in May, when you look back, what have been some of your favorite things about your career with Baylor?
Probably one of my most favorite things was the first day I was here. Robbie Rogers, who is the director of Baylor photography, was taking my picture and he said “Welcome to the Baylor family,” and that became symbolic to me, because Baylor is a family unlike any other institution that I’ve experienced.
Probably that is the most striking thing about Baylor to me. I think that working with people that are here, the level of sincerity about commitment to accomplishing what it is that we’re trying to do, putting students and colleagues first, and really trying to take the high ground. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience here.
What do you think your most important contribution to Baylor has been?
To put the School of Education on a firm footing and to, some would say, reestablish or expand the reputation and respectability of the School of Education and our programs within the broader institution.
I think that addressing the issues that existed and then establishing that place of respect for the institution. Close to that is the building of the endowment for the school. It’s nearly doubled in the last seven years or so, and of course that’s not all me, but being par of that, and valuing that and trying to get out there and do that work is important.
Also, the creation of the advisory council for the School of Education, we have a wonderful advisory council of about 10 or 12 people mostly from Texas, but across the country and they are business leaders, former students, parents, and they have been wonderful, and it’s been a thrill for me to have that group come together.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave at Baylor?
A legacy of caring. I once had someone that I worked for at another institution that insulted me by saying “Have you ever met an idea that you didn’t like?”
What that person didn’t understand was that there may be a lot of ideas that I did like, but there were also a lot of ideas that I didn’t like. What I appreciate are people who are willing to take risks and try new ideas to move things forward.