Baylor professors engage students, shape lives

Jessica Hubble | Multimedia Journalist

By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writer

Members of the Baylor community aren’t the only ones who appreciate Baylor’s small class sizes and welcoming environment; the Wall Street Journal noticed it when it ranked Baylor No. 6 nationally for student engagement at the end of September.

The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education college rankings were designed to survey areas of importance to students and families when considering colleges and universities, according to the survey authors. The engagement category specifically considered whether or not students recommended their university, the level of interaction among teachers and students and the number of accredited programs.

“Decades of research has found that the best way to truly understand teaching quality at an institution — how well it manages to inform, inspire and challenge its students — is through capturing what is known as ‘student engagement,’” the surveys authors’ explained in their methodology.

Bellville senior Hannah Byrd said she’s been shaped personally and professionally through her relationships with Baylor professors and faculty, especially as she has begun thinking about life beyond Baylor.

“That’s something that’s on the brochure of a lot of colleges. You hear that Baylor’s a caring community but expect to hear those taglines,” Byrd said. “I think I was surprised to experience personally how much that was true. It wasn’t just a line on a brochure but I saw it in my own life and my friends’ lives.”

Byrd particularly noted one of her professors, Dr. Mark Long, director of Middle East studies and associate professor of BIC. Byrd got to know Long her freshmen year and the two connected through their common interest in the Middle East.

As an Arabic and Middle East studies and international studies double major, Byrd said Long encouraged her and took her under his wing by mentoring her and sharing what opportunities were available to her in light of her interests.

Byrd said she believes Long is able to connect with his students on a deeper level because he sees them as colleagues and values their input. When Long asks a question, he doesn’t expect a certain answer, Byrd said, but is genuinely seeking to learn something new from his students.

“I’ve had a lot of really good teachers and professors who have taught me a lot about a subject, but mentors kind of guide you through finding more about who you are and what your vocation is,” Byrd said. “That’s so special too in college, because it’s that time we’re all thinking about that. It’s so helpful to have older, wiser people to guide us in those questions.”

Byrd said having mentors such as Long has allowed her to see the importance of both being mentored and being a mentor. Byrd has served in Pursue Mentoring program since her freshmen year at Baylor. Now as the chapter’s president, Byrd said mentoring has been rewarding and one of the most impactful things she’s done in college.

“I think that’s what makes Baylor a distinct university, is that we have these people who are willing to pour into us and make us want to pour into other people,” Byrd said. “I think it’s a ripple effect for sure.”

Dr. Tamara Hodges, senior lecturer in the educational psychology department, was recognized this June as an outstanding faculty member in the area of teaching. Hodges said ever since she came to Baylor 10 years ago she has sought to make her classroom a place students look forward to coming to, a place where they can laugh while they learn.

Even more than connections in the classroom, Hodges said student engagement is about stepping out into the community side-by-side with her students. Through the EnAbled for College program, Hodges works alongside her graduate students to motivate and enable at-risk high school students to pursue post-secondary education.

For Hodges, it’s about “stand[ing] beside somebody with a common goal, not stand[ing] across somebody with an objective.”

While Hodges said it’s one thing to stand in front of a classroom and give students a lot of information, engagement takes it to the next level by building a personal relationship between professor and student. Right now, Hodges said she sees teaching and mentoring as two of her callings.

“[Mentoring is] looking at the whole person rather than just a student. Yeah, you might be my student, but you’re more than that,” Hodges said.

For example, Hodges said she tries to “read” her students. In the last 15 minutes of class, Hodges said she sometimes asks students to close their books and just talk to her about what is going on in their lives. She asks questions: “How much sleeping are you getting?” “How are you balancing your life?” “Are you exercising?” “Are you taking care of yourself?”

“You help [students] not lose themselves in tedious day-to-day exhausting homework and deadlines,” Hodges said.

According to Hodges, building personal relationships with students is an integral part of mentoring. She said it’s about professors not only teaching material but also forming habits, lifestyles and expectations.

“Teaching is not just through the head,” Hodges said. “It’s me touching your heart.”

Caty Beth Holstead, a master’s candidate in educational psychology, is one of Hodges’ students and mentees.

“If I could say one thing about her that sticks out to me, she just really does care about her students,” Holstead said. “She wants the best for you, from an academic standpoint but also personally, spiritually, emotionally. She’s just all about it.”

Holstead said Hodges’ work ethic and passion for knowledge encouraged her to go on to pursue her Ph.D. Holstead said their mentor relationship really began to grow when she came to trust Hodges with more than just her academic needs.

“Throughout the last year and a half, we’ve just been able to talk more about things … she’s been more influential in my personal life in addition to my academic life,” Holstead said.

According to Holstead, Baylor’s Christian standard and inviting atmosphere make it easier to have deeper connections with faculty and professors. She said in her experience it’s been easier to bring up topics of faith and spirituality.

“Professors really do care about you as an individual. You’re not just a number,” Holstead said.

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