Professor-student duo researches policy for Waco workforce

By Caleb Wheeler | Staff Writer

A new initiative by a Baylor faculty-student duo seeks to lower unemployment in Waco.

Calvert City, Ky., sophomore Jackson Boone received the Hatfield Prize in November 2023. With that, he was awarded the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Colby Humphrey, a professor of political science, to research social policy in Waco.

“The end goal [of the research] I see as twofold,” Boone said. “First, to have a report and to deliver a report to the [Center for Public Justice] about workforce development and Waco. … And then our secondary question on that is, are people’s needs being met? Are we able to connect people to the jobs they need?”

Boone said the central question they are looking to answer is the current landscape in terms of programs in the city. That means looking at nonprofit organizations, city governments, churches and industries to examine their workforces.

“I really see this as an opportunity to inform public policy in Waco,” Boone said. “Waco’s seen absolutely huge job growth, economic growth [and] population growth — along with other factors that are happening in the United States as a whole. … It was in a prime spot to be able to upskill their labor base, so we want to help not only the city government but also local nonprofits in informing their policy and their actions moving forward.”

Boone said he works a minimum of seven to eight hours a week, conducting interviews, drafting necessary documents and more. His research began in January and will conclude in May, with the final report of his findings being published in September.

“I’m kind of supervising [the research], editing the documents that [Boone] puts together,” Humphrey said. “I help with the strategy of what the research needs to look like and hopefully get some answers to the questions that we’re posing.”

Humphrey said that although he is working alongside Boone, he is not leading the project. Rather, Boone is doing most of the work and taking on the challenging aspects of reaching their final goal.

“[Boone is] definitely one of the better students I’ve worked with,” Humphrey said. “I think he’s very concerned about this topic in particular and what it means for Waco as a community and what story we can tell here that will help address some of the issues that we’re seeing with [the] workforce.”

Humphrey said they are working to identify the key players and problems within Waco’s holistic ecosystem. At the end of the project, a recommendation report will provide possible solutions the city could implement.

“I would love for people to read this and see these are some ways that we can improve the local economy for people in the city,” Humphrey said. “It’s not some theoretical concept. We’re actually developing some strategies that can really, at the ground level, improve people’s lives.”

While the duo has been working hard on the project for the past two months, most of the work is still ahead of them. Even though there’s a long way to go, Boone said he is happy with the current progress.

“We’re still in a kind of preliminary phase, but I will say the people that we have reached out to initially for interviews … have been incredibly helpful, and so that’s been great,” Boone said. “We’ve also already started to kind of identify some certain parts of workforce development that can use some work in Waco.”

The research is separated into three parts: discover, engage and frame. Boone said that while he is researching public policy, it does not mean what people often think of when they hear the term.

“I think a lot of times when you say public policy, you immediately think of government or federal action,” Boone said. “But what we really want to do is highlight … the people that are on the ground right now in our community that are volunteering or giving their time to better Waco.”

Caleb Wheeler is a freshman University Scholar from Tulsa, Oklahoma. My concentrations are in journalism and professional writing with a minor in legal reasoning. In my first year with the Lariat I am excited to experience what it is like to work for a professional publication and further my writing abilities. After graduation I hope to attend Baylor Law School.