By Mallory Harris | Staff Writer
In previous years, students have been able to serve the Baylor and Waco community through Baylor’s Missions and Public Life Department. However, when the pandemic hit, many local and global teams were classified as inactive for the fall 2020 semester.
Learning how to develop ways students can still serve, Rebecca Kennedy, assistant dean for missions and public life, shared how the department is growing.
“We’re trying to do more of that, embed some virtual experiences for our students who still want to make an impact in the world knowing that we’re grounded, literally,” Kennedy said.
While urban mission teams have been shut down for the fall 2020 semester and the spring 2021 semester lacks a spring break for students to go into the community, the department has found other ways to create service opportunities. Pivoting its focus to see the need that might be on campus, Kennedy explained how the department created Bear Aid for students who are quarantined due to COVID-19.
Teaming up with different areas of the university, such as Campus Living and Learning and Aramark, Kennedy said the program is meant to provide “wrap around care” by delivering food, mail or other necessities for students on and off-campus.
“We also still involve some of our students in our Bear Aid ministry to help fellow students. So, we have some students who will write notes [and] who will come pack bags,” Kennedy said. “We’re doing that to involve students who want to continue to serve, and right now they’re serving their fellow students.”
Due to the minimal amount of work the department can undertake, Kennedy said they developed prototype virtual mission projects last fall. Partnering with Dr. Annie Ginty, who teaches behavioral medicine within the psychology and neuroscience program, her class conducted a project where students would choose a non-profit organization and then develop solutions to the needs the organization presented. Over the course of the semester, students built relationships with these non-profits while also applying topics and skills they learned in the classroom.
“Students reported that they were able to see that for some of the complexities of the problems that people face there’s not very simple solutions, but that there are ways they can help in small pieces that can accumulate bigger changes,” Ginty said.
League City senior Bea Magsino was a student of Ginty during this project and explained how this experiential learning experience was something she loved. Explaining her work with The Cove, a non-profit located in Waco that provides a nurturing environment for homeless youth, Magsino said she saw how important relationships are to one’s life. Magsino explained that the goal of her project was to create a developmental training program for volunteers at The Cove on how to support the youth in the program.
“To me, it’s crazy to wrap my head around the fact that Baylor, being a prestigious private university, is in an area that needs help more than ever,” Magsino said in an email. “In my opinion, Baylor is truly a ‘Baylor Bubble’ because I feel like those inside the ‘bubble’ and those outside the ‘bubble’ have different lives, and those inside the ‘bubble’ need to help those outside of it.”
As part of Baylor’s mission statement, the Missions and Public Life Department strives to cultivate students who are prepared for worldwide leadership. Along with the mission statement, President Linda Livingstone has developed the Illuminate project that allows for a “transformative impact” on students. Kennedy explained that the department seeks to demonstrate of the values put forth by the illuminate project. Baylor’s missions are discipline-specific, which Kennedy said helps students and faculty serve within their expertise.
“We are creating these experiences for faculty and students to use their expertise, their field of study — engineers, business professors and students, nursing students, the list goes on and on — to use their field of study to do real work in the real world,” Kennedy said.
While the main focus of the Missions and Public Life Department has changed from going into the community at full force to moving with small groups and turning toward campus, there are still ways for students to be involved. As they work with different organizations within the community, students can find more information through the department’s website.
“One of the best ways other students can reach out to their fellow students [is a] note of encouragement, maybe even just to say ‘Hey, Homecoming wasn’t like it was this year but here’s what you can expect in the future,’ Kennedy said. “Things like that I think would be helpful and encouraging because some of our students know no different.”