In 2017, The Wall Street Journal placed Baylor in elite territory when it comes to engaging students—ranking Baylor No. 6 nationally in a survey of more than 1,000 colleges and universities. An engaged student body is one with the potential to thrive, and the September 2018 numbers from Baylor’s Office of Institutional Research and Testing paint such a portrait
(see page 7).
Student engagement is intentional at Baylor. It takes place through the concerted efforts of outstanding faculty, committed leaders and an array of offerings found in the Division of Student Life to help Baylor students find their place on campus.
Baylor Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson, PhD, discussed student engagement during a July 27 episode of Baylor Connections, a weekly radio show and podcast.
Q: Student Life is a ubiquitous term in higher education, but what are the threads that tie together the more than 15 departments in Student Life?
Jackson: Ubiquitous is a good term. And in many ways, student life is everywhere.
Our business is helping students be successful. In Student Life, we define success as helping them become more and more the person that God has designed them to be so that they can then do the work that God will lay before them. So that is a unifying vision that undergirds everything we do.
The beauty about Baylor is, as a Christian university, we’re not here just to inform the mind, although that is important. We’re here also to form the heart and the soul of our students. We’re all on board with that mission. Regardless of what role we may take on campus, whether it’s Student Life, academic affairs, faculty teaching or whatever it might be, we all know that’s what we’re about, and it’s powerful to have that kind of focused mission.
Q: What does student engagement mean to your department, and what is the picture of an engaged student in your mind?
Jackson: You hear that term a lot—engagement. There was a theorist a number of years ago named Vincent Tinto. He wrote a lot about this notion of students being engaged in a college environment. One of the principles he talked about was psychological investment.
When you think about it, you have students coming to us each year from a set of experiences they have felt oriented to and comfortable with, even though they may not have enjoyed every aspect of it.
They’re moving from something where they’re oriented through a process of disorientation. They’re going off to college, and the vast majority of them will be living on their own for the very first time. They’re excited and they’re nervous, and there’s an experience of disorientation.
Our role in Student Life is to help them reorient. At Baylor, we talk about helping them establish a home away from home. Become a part of the Baylor Family, not to replace where they grew up, but to extend that place and space.
Q: Among Student Life’s 15 different departments is Student Activities. Its website features the slogan “Created to Connect.” What does that connection look like for students?
Jackson: It’s said that in order for students to truly grow, they have to be supported and challenged. That theory really plays itself out here. You mentioned Student Activities and over 320 student organizations that students can join. Numerous activities on campus are happening all the time.
It’s that wonderful idea, “Created to Connect.” It’s promoting supportive behaviors. You’re helping students find likeminded students and helping them maybe discover a comfort zone on campus. But you don’t want them to just stay there, because then you don’t grow the way you should grow.
We challenge them appropriately. We bring in speakers. We create experiences that cause students to have to think through, “What do I really believe? What do I really know? ” And how do they take this information they’re receiving and use it to figure out what that is, who they are, and their place in this world around them?
All of our departments are called upon to do this. We want to introduce ideas that help our students think beyond where they are, so that they can begin to grow into more and more, again, the person God has designed them to be.
We do this in a very intentional way, a way that matches up very closely with who we are as Baylor University—academically rigorous, spiritually faith formative in a caring Christian community.
Q: What impact does engagement have on a student’s four-year college experience?
Jackson: Engagement creates persistence. Persistence translates into retention. But, we don’t strive for retention for retention’s sake. We want our students to complete their educational and personal goals. An environment of engagement allows us to support, encourage and, in many ways, challenge students to continue their educational journey, and to do it in a way at Baylor where they are transformed in mind, body and soul.
When you see results like what we’re seeing in terms of retention and engagement, you know we’re moving in the right direction.
To hear the complete interview with Dr. Jackson and other podcast guests, visit baylor.edu/connections. Learn more about Baylor’s immersive opportunities for students to connect and find their place on campus at baylor.edu/student_life.