More Than a Good Neighbor
Baylor’s Office of External Affairs coordinates the University’s efforts undergirding positive social and economic change through partnerships with non-profit organizations, community development resources and other educational institutions.
Jeremy Vickers, associate vice president for external affairs, discussed how Baylor works to be a Solid Gold Neighbor during a fall episode of Baylor Connections, a weekly radio show and podcast showcasing University people and programs.
Q: Has Baylor’s intentional engagement with the community changed?
Vickers: Baylor has a history of community engagement. What we see today is an opportunity to go deeper. We’ve seen the community shift. Instead of creating a bubble dynamic where there was Baylor and the rest of the community, they feel so much more intertwined. So many of those in community leadership are Baylor alumni. … They expect more from the University, which I believe is an opportunity for us to step up through a highly engaged community relations strategy.
Q: What do the phrases external affairs and engagement strategy look like in practice?
Vickers: At a high level, we play the role of this full-time ambassadorship on behalf of the institution in the greater community, particularly the greater Waco region.
We focus on three main pillars. The first pillar is community leadership. In many ways, as we have a new day and a new set of leaders in our organization, some of our longtime engagements are being rebuilt or re-engaged. We go out and represent the University … I find myself connecting with and meeting others at Rotary Clubs or business league conversations, and speaking at local conferences when the opportunity arises for us to talk about Baylor and its great work.
Our second pillar is something new. We’re rolling out the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative. Baylor is an anchor institution in this community. We’re one of the largest employers in town. We need to be a great neighbor. Our team is excited about rolling this out.
Then the third pillar is that we serve the University internally and externally through a robust institutional events staff. We have 14 or 15 staff who do everything from the logistics of scheduling conference rooms and organizing food to full-scale event management for some 200 to 300 events annually for the University.
Q: How will the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative work and benefit the community?
Vickers: Solid Gold Neighbor is about, first and foremost, being the right kind of partner in the community.
I use the analogy of a hamburger to explain it. When you build a hamburger, you start with the bottom bun which serves as the foundation. The foundation for our initiative is economic development. We strive to be forward thinking, highly engaged and strategically aligned with the economic development organizations in our community. We see successful Tier One universities in the world highly aligned as economic development engines, and they play important roles in innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, as well as business growth initiatives with chambers of commerce and other economic development type corporations.
Then, we add the meat. For us, this would be initiatives that seek to support and solve real issues that people are dealing with today. If we don’t do that, we aren’t serving our mission either. We focus on three particular areas. The first is education, particularly K-12 initiatives within Waco ISD. The second is health, health awareness, health access, and hunger-related issues. The third is cultural wealth and diversity. We want to not only work with diverse partners, we want to celebrate and honor that diversity. Baylor is one of the most diverse college campuses in this state, particularly for private schools, and we want to make sure we connect the dots with the community and our students.
The top bun of this hamburger is city pride. It ties with economic development because we want to build a city that attracts and retains talent. We want an urban district where people say, “I want to live there. I want to move back there and raise a family, or stay after I graduate, because there’s a cool thing happening there.” Those are the components of what it means to be a Solid Gold Neighbor. It’s an exciting time. There is momentum in the Waco community, Central Texas and at Baylor, and we’re moving quickly.
To hear the complete interview with Jeremy Vickers or conversations with other podcast guests, visit baylor.edu/connections. Learn more about External Affairs at their website, baylor.edu/externalaffairs.