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Grad tracks rank high

April 29, 2010

By Sara Tirrito
Staff writer

Several Baylor graduate programs have been nationally ranked in "America's Best Graduate Schools" by U.S. News and World Reports for 2011.

The Baylor Law School was ranked at No. 64, Hankamer School of Business' MBA program at No. 52. Sciences programs that were ranked included statistics at No. 64, in a tie with two others,earth science at No. 108, in a tie with eight others and psychology at No. 117, in a tie with 13 others.

Business, education and law programs are ranked according to experts' opinions, combined with statistics on the qualities students and faculty members bring to the program and the graduates' accomplishments related to their degrees. These statistics are gained through surveys about the program's faculty, research and students. Science programs are ranked by academic experts' ratings of the programs. The expert opinions come from deans, program directors and senior faculty who were surveyed. For business, education and law programs, professionals who hire recent graduates completed surveys as well.

The graduate program in physics came in at No. 113, tied with eight other schools.

"Well, we're very glad that we're in the mix, but I guess I'm a little disappointed at the number," said Dr. Walter Wilcox, professor and director of graduate studies in physics. "We thought we would do better."

However, Wilcox said the ranking might have been higher if others were more aware of recent improvements in the department, such as the addition of "extremely advanced" faculty members and the new physics department website.

"I don't think word has gotten out yet about our new faculty for example," Wilcox said. "[Or] all these new things that are happening and it's just a matter of time before the word spreads. We're on a steep slope up, and the rankings just haven't caught up with us I would say."

Dr. Greg Benesh, professor and chair of physics, said he also thinks the new faculty, the construction of a new lab, and collaboration on projects such as the European Council for Nuclear Research's Large Hadron Collider will help boost the program's rank in the future. "I think a certain rate is what your peer colleagues believe about the institution and I think it just takes some time to learn about improvements that are made in your program," Benesh said. "We are making improvements. We've joined the collaboration at Fermilab and we're in the process of joining the collaboration at the LHC, and hopefully they'll get to know us better through those collaborations and other improvements."

The chemistry department's graduate program was ranked at No. 94, in a tie with 12 other schools. Patrick Farmer, professor and chair of chemistry, said he believes this is the first time the department has been ranked in the top 100. "I think it's great," Farmer said. "We're hoping to do better than that, but it's great that at this stage we're already being recognized in the top 100."

Farmer credits the work of "high visibility researchers" in the department with helping the program to earn a national ranking, as well as Baylor's efforts to improve the sciences. "I think it comes back to 2012 (Baylor's 10-year vision) and the money invested in the Baylor Sciences Building and the sciences in general," Farmer said. "I hope the success would lead to more success in the future."

Graduate director and professor of chemistry and biochemistry Dr. Charles Garner said current and ongoing improvements probably helped the department to rank. "They might have taken into account that things are happening in our department," Garner said. "Lots of things are happening: we have a new chair, we're hiring new faculty for the fall, just really powerful stuff. We've got great chemical instrumentation well beyond what a department our size would typically have."

Garner said the ranking should help Baylor continue attracting some students over schools like Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin.

"To the extent that students pay attention to these rankings and I think they do, it'll have some influence on the kind of people that apply to our graduate program. We have won students away from schools that rank much higher than us on the ranking scale," Garner said. "We've been very competitive for the last few years." The biology department's graduate program was ranked No. 82, in a tie with 10 other programs. Dr. Ken Wilkins, associate dean of graduate studies and research in the graduate school, said he thinks having stronger, more research-oriented faculty who produce high-quality projects with graduate students in the department contributed to the ranking.

He said the ranking should help bring in more strong faculty members and students in the future. "The higher the rankings, usually the more attractive the university is seen to be," Wilkins said. "It attracts stronger faculty when opportunities come available to fill positions, it attracts stronger graduate students, and universities that have the highest [ranked] graduate programs tend to be seen as the most attractive to undergraduates."

The School of Education's graduate program ranked at No. 74, in a tie with four others.

"Obviously I'm pleased that we're ranked," Dr. Jon Engelhardt, dean of the School of Education, said. "These things are nice but they're not what someone tries to achieve. As I've said to the faculty on various occasions, you try to do things that make a positive impact on the world, and if someone recognizes you, that's great." Engelhardt said he doesn't expect the ranking to have much effect on the program, except to possibly help attract more students. "I think the effect may be that some people may who are into checking ratings may notice us that might not have noticed us otherwise," Engelhardt said. "Other than potentially having some impact on individuals that might want to come to Baylor to the School of Education, I don't see any other particular implication for us."