Baylor and the city of Waco have been partners since 1886, when the University moved from Independence, Texas, 41 years after its founding. As Baylor and the city have grown, so has the partnership between the two.
Kyle Deaver, BBA ’86, JD ’93, was elected as mayor of Waco in 2016. This spring, the City of Waco was awarded the University’s Founders Medal, one of Baylor’s most prestigious honors, and he accepted the award on behalf of the city.
On an episode of Baylor Connections, a weekly KWBU radio show and podcast highlighting the University’s people and programs, Deaver shared more about the ways Baylor and Waco work together for the benefit of the community.
The Founders Medal typically is awarded to a person or persons. What did it mean to see the City of Waco receive this honor and to be able to accept the award on the city’s behalf?
Deaver: It’s exciting to see that recognition of the work that’s been done since Baylor came to Waco and, particularly, over many recent years to partner on important issues. It’s work that raises the level of both the University and the city.
For example, we started work about four years ago on a concept called Anchor Institutions with monthly meetings between the Baylor president and our staff. We talk about ways that we can work together and that probably raised a level of recognition of how important each of us are to the other.
Baylor and Waco are inextricably tied. When the University does well, Waco does well and vice versa. A lot of hard work has been done here, it was nice to have Baylor recognize how important that’s been to both the University and city.
Over the years, Baylor and the city have worked to eliminate barriers between Waco and the campus. What are some of the ways you’ve seen the two connect more deeply?
Deaver: Let’s start with the physical barrier. One of the great things that is going to happen at the end of this I-35 construction process will be pedestrian walkways underneath University Parks Drive, 4th/5th Streets and 11th/12th Streets. They are going to enhance the area and make it more pedestrian friendly, walkable and safe. From a physical standpoint, that barrier will be softened.
Another example is Baylor’s presence downtown. When Baylor put the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work downtown, that was a meaningful move. They filled that building. It’s great to have Baylor students and faculty working in downtown Waco. And beyond that, downtown is becoming more of a destination for both faculty and students. It’s only going to get better.
There’s also the volunteerism of Baylor students, faculty and staff for the community, working with local organizations. There’s research and collaborations that enhance economic development, like the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative and the University’s status in moving toward Research 1/Tier 1 goals. (See page 13.) We’ve seen in other communities the impact an R1 institution can have. It’s exciting, and it will bring a new level of economic opportunity to the city.
Baylor and the city partner through organizations like Start Up Waco, Baylor’s Solid Gold Neighbor program and more. What can partnerships like these accomplish?
Deaver: Start Up Waco is taking a very conscious look at the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Waco. It grew out of a partnership between Baylor and the City of Waco, and eventually expanded to include the Waco Chamber of Commerce. It has evolved to include a great, diverse board that is looking at Waco, both from a tech-type startup and non-tech aspect. We’re trying to bridge the gap to build equity in our economy — how we can work with businesses on Elm Avenue and other areas of East Waco and South Waco, to help them grow in Waco’s business economy in a more significant way. We are working to remove some of those barriers. Baylor has been a significant part of that effort and is looking for more ways to be a great neighbor. There’s so much opportunity in downtown, East Waco, South Waco and in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. You’ll start to hear and see a lot about that as we go forward.
To hear the complete interview or conversations with other podcast guests,