Debra Wainscott creates ‘safe space’ for international students as academic support specialist

Debra Wainscott is a lecturer for the Global Gateway Program and seeks to meet the needs of international students. Photo Courtesy of Baylor University

By Ashlyn Kennedy | Reporter

With almost 25 years of experience in international education, Debra Wainscott has found her calling as an international student academic support specialist.

Wainscott taught English in China for several years before coming to Baylor, where she began working as a lecturer for the Global Gateway Program in January 2019.

Wainscott said she started to notice that students who finished the Global Gateway Program still needed academic support after they were fully enrolled at Baylor. As a result, the International Student Academic Support Office was created in partnership with the Center for Academic Success and Engagement, with Wainscott as the main point of contact.

Wainscott meets with students individually to help with everything, ranging from understanding their assignments and improving their English to developing study skills and finding resources they need but don’t know how to access.

I’m trying to help find what some of those gaps are that may be reasons [international students] are not being as successful as they want to be,” Wainscott said. “It allows me to have a lot of individualized relationships with students. I want them to have a great American university experience that is beyond just the classroom.”

Wainscott said her position goes beyond academic support. She said she is a “listening ear” for students who are stressed or homesick and provides encouragement for students to get involved in organizations and activities on campus.

“It’s so much of how to do something, and it falls through their cracks of understanding how to do it, or maybe the way they do it is different here than the way they would be used to doing it in their country,” Wainscott said. “There’s a lot of connecting pieces, so I’m trying to go through life with them, help connect them to the resources they need and support them to join a club or be involved in something special.”

Students can make an appointment to meet with Wainscott, but she also meets with students whose professors referred them to her as needing English language support.

Because of her background in international education and living abroad, Wainscott said she enjoys working with people from other places and can empathize with situations they may encounter.

“Hopefully, when students come here, they know it’s a safe space,” Wainscott said. “Yes, I’m a professor, but I also have personalized relationships to check on you, ask how you are doing and see what’s going on, because those are important too.”

Regina Easley-Young, program manager for outreach for the Center for Academic Success and Engagement, said she sees the impact that the International Student Academic Support Office and Wainscott have had. She said the number of students coming for academic support has increased since the office was created, because Wainscott “connects so deeply” with students.

“She sees her role as more than just the teacher, more than academics, because that’s just who she is,” Easley-Young said. “It’s not just her personality that wins everybody, but it’s her deep caring concern for the whole student.”

According to Easley-Young, Wainscott’s experience “delving” into another culture allows her to understand what international students may be going through.

“She wants to see [international students] fit and see them thrive, and she wants to see them be resilient, because she knows it’s not easy for them,” Easley-Young said.

Wainscott said one of the best parts of her job is not only seeing the significant impact of students improving their English and going into the real world more prepared but also the smaller accomplishments like getting a good grade on a test.

“I want to make sure that if we’re going to have international students here and involved on our campus and classrooms, they can feel like they are being successful and thriving while being here,” Wainscott said. “If helping them be successful academically is one way to help them continue to do great and be here as a contributing person on the Baylor campus, then I think that’s one role I can help to meet some of those needs.”

Students who want to schedule an appointment to meet with Wainscott can do so through Navigate, and faculty who want to refer a student can email