New Baylor Fellows seek to holistically address student well-being

10 Baylor faculty members have been selected to serve as Baylor Fellows for the 2023-2024 academic year. Photo courtesy of Baylor University

By Tyler White | Staff Writer

Ten Baylor faculty members have been selected by Provost Nancy Brickhouse to serve as Baylor Fellows for the 2023-2024 academic year. Chosen for their impressive innovation in the classroom, these faculty will continue to strive for excellence in their teaching.

The Baylor Fellows program, launched by the Academy for Teaching and Learning in 2011, provides recognized professors with the opportunity to implement new approaches to teaching. This year’s theme incorporates student well-being and flourishing.

Dr. Michael Whitenton, lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, said he’s always prioritized these goals as a part of his vocational identity.

“When I think about student flourishing, I’m thinking about connecting them to resources that we have here but also connecting them to other students, helping them find a friend group, connecting them within themselves and connecting them to some kind of spirituality,” Whitenton said.

As a part of the Baylor Fellows program, Whitenton said he has the opportunity to create a capstone course, which he wants to use to holistically address student well-being and the challenges that come with finding community.

“What I’m really wanting to focus on is addressing polarization and loneliness,” Whitenton said. “So one of the things that college students, nearly all of us, deal with is trying to find belonging in a time when everything is so deeply polarized.”

Whitenton said one of his priorities is recognizing that, although people have fundamental differences, it’s important to set them aside sometimes to address a common pursuit.

“Students are really hungry for the opportunity … to set down their weapons and to exist with people that they disagree with,” Whitenton said.

Sam Henderson, assistant professor of film and digital media and theater arts, said he was humbled and honored to be selected for the Baylor Fellows program. He said that with this opportunity, he asked his classes what it meant to focus on student well-being so that he could develop ways to help them.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all,” Henderson said. “There’s some basic things that need to be covered, but beyond that, each individual student is going to view it a different way. I think what I’m trying to develop for next semester is, how do you narrow down how broad this meaning is to affect the individual student and not just kind of create this one-size-fits-all thing?”

Henderson said Baylor Fellows were chosen based on how they’ve been innovative in their classes in the past. He said he’s always made his office a safe place for students, and he hopes to implement this as a broader university opportunity for students in listening sessions.

“What that’s looked like to me in the past, is this: students coming in my office and talking to me, either about class-specific things, life, boyfriends, girlfriends, I mean literally anything,” Henderson said. “And so I feel like what I have accomplished up to this point is … this a safe space, which is very, very important to me.”

Henderson said with a university as large as Baylor, people do fall through the cracks, and not everyone is addressed individually. He said he encourages students to recognize that they are not alone in what they’re going through and that they can utilize Baylor’s resources and reach out for help.

“They don’t always know what they are or where they are,” Henderson said. “They don’t always know who to talk to or when to talk to them, but I truly believe the resources are there, and so I would encourage students to not go it alone.”