By David Pennington
A little over 42 years ago, I came to Baylor fresh out of graduate school and a brief postdoctoral stint. I found a place where teaching and research were (and remain) professional expectations in a Ph.D.-granting department also known for its strong undergraduate program in chemistry.
I, however, was wet behind the ears and green as a gourd. I recall the results of the first exam I gave in first-semester general chemistry. One student, a track athlete, scored a 90; the next highest grade was in the 60s. Thankfully, the 20 science majors I had in a senior-level Inorganic Chemistry class kept me walking a tight rope with their probing questions. In my experience, Baylor is a great place to teach because we attract bright, hard-working students, dedicated staff, and a diverse but generally congenial faculty.
Especially memorable are those faculty mentors like Thomas C. Franklin, who taught me patience in dealing with student questions, and Virgil L. Tweedie, who was my "John-the-Baptist" figure--preparing the way for me later to work with pre-professional students and the Premedical/Predental Advisory Committee, which he chaired for a quarter of a century. Having access to highly motivated Honors Program students and other intellectually curious students in research is yet another plus to working at Baylor, notably so when they go on to greater successes in their chosen professions.
I also appreciate the freedom Baylor affords faculty to embark on new ventures, developing new courses in the department and even in interdisciplinary programs. For me, those opportunities came within the department through the creation of a new Inorganic Preparations Laboratory, new graduate courses such as Physical Methods in Inorganic Chemistry and Bioinorganic Chemistry, and later in Honors sections for general chemistry. Teaching the Honors courses every semester save three since the mid-1970s has kept me young at heart and afforded me opportunities to work with some of Baylor's finest students.
The creation of the Institute for Environmental Studies allowed me to broaden my perspectives on environmental issues and to develop an introductory laboratory course. Journalism professor David McHam and I team-taught an Environmental Readings class; he covered the popular literature and I the scientific literature. Later, German professor Philip Martin and I served as project managers for a group of five students in an Environmental Problem-Solving course. These students from divergent backgrounds successfully tracked down the malodorous problem emanating from the Waco wastewater treatment facility near campus. In the process, the students met Waco city officials, plant operators and Texas Water Control Board and Brazos River Authority officials. With the help of President Abner McCall and Baylor engineer Ralph Darling, these students made a formal presentation of their findings--you don't really want to know what they were--to the Brazos River Authority Board; that meeting served to accelerate by two years a plan to move the treatment plant five miles down river. One of those students went on to become a prominent environmental lawyer in Seattle.
Baylor has been a great place to work because so many people are willing to take risks. Former Arts and Sciences Deans John Belew, William Cooper and Wallace Daniel took risks on my representing Baylor to health professions schools and working with a large segment of our pre-health student population as chair of the Premedical/Predental Advisory Committee. In turn, they supported my gradual shift from half-time research to half-time administration of that program.
Our success over the years resulted from a team effort: the diligent work of seasoned committee members who served without pay or release time, a dedicated and experienced administrative associate/assistant director in Nancy Johnson, senior peer-advisors from Alpha Epsilon Delta and later full-time advisors Karen Wootten, Caleb Marsh, and Linda Haynes. Further help came when President Herbert Reynolds appointed James R. Schofield as Consultant and Distinguished Visiting Professor of the History of Medicine.
Dr. Schofield initiated the highly visible Baylor2 Medical Track and personally assisted in raising a $1.6 million endowment, which Baylor College of Medicine manages, in support of scholarships for that program--half the income to Baylor and half to Baylor College of Medicine. Additionally, he served for some seven years teaching a History of Medicine course without pay other than reimbursement for travel to and from Georgetown, plus food and lodging while in Waco Tuesday-Thursday. Using his experience with medical education, he enlightened freshmen on the rigors of the premedical track, encouraged sophomores to sustain their academic efforts (while he asked me to deal with those whose academic accomplishment were not yet up to par for medical study), and assisted juniors and seniors applying for medical study. He weighed in to promote shorter pledge periods and lobbied Student Life to provide quiet zones in some of the residence halls, including Penland Hall fifth floor. Following my experience with burnout in the spring of 2006 and resignation as Committee Chair, Dr. Mark Taylor and Dr. James R. Tandy shepherded the program over the past three years with generous help from Dr. David Eldridge, especially last spring when Dr. Tandy was unable to continue his leadership role.
Continuing his predecessors' risk-taking, Dean Lee Nordt sought nominees for Interim Chair within the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry when Dr. Marianna Busch unexpectedly announced her resignation in April of 2006. With the encouragement of several faculty members I decided to toss my hat into the ring and was selected. The department has received some superb national and international press over the past three years due to research presented by the Chambliss, Stone, and Busch groups. We hired four new/replacement faculty, including a new tenured Department Chair, Dr. Patrick Farmer.
Last but not least, I'm grateful for the bountiful set of benefits that Baylor faculty and staff enjoy. Educational opportunities are outstanding, and cultural amenities abound: musical venues, theater performances, and art shows and exhibits are all here and complemented by the Mayborn Museum and Discovery Center and the acclaimed Armstrong-Browning Library. Throw in the new McMullen-Connally Faculty Center, and I can't imagine a better place to be than Baylor!