Rooted in Scholarship
Baylor’s investment in supporting outstanding students in their pursuits of elite international scholarships has led to the development of leaders across numerous fields around the world. We tracked down many of these individuals to see where their careers took them after these experiences. These are their stories.
One doesn't have to be an arborist to understand the importance of roots to a tree. Along with providing the proper water and minerals for survival, strong and healthy root systems stabilize the tree to keep it upright, store necessary nutrients for future needs and make room for growth. Strong roots are vital for healthy trees. The same is true for academic roots. Wisdom, knowledge, perspectives and ideals keep students grounded and growing. Baylor’s Office of Engaged Learning (OEL) pursues those ideals by mentoring undergraduate students through the process of applying for the most prestigious national and international scholarships. The strength of the roots that were established 39 years ago by now retired associate dean Elizabeth “Betsy” Vardaman, B.A. ’65, M.A. ’80, who founded the OEL office, empowers the scholarship recipients to flourish, develop as global leaders and do big things wherever their calling might lead.
Today, under the leadership of Andy Hogue, M.A. ’05, Ph.D. ’09, the OEL office continues to support elite scholarship recipients through programs like Marshall, Truman, Fulbright, Churchill, among others, at a clip that places Baylor among the top institutions in the country at cultivating these award-winning students.
Building a deep bench of scholars, many of the past award recipients have gone on to serve as global leaders in public service, public health, law, higher education and a number of other industries in their chosen pursuits. These past recipients carry the banner of Baylor University even today as they reflect on decorated careers and professional pursuits.
Dream Big, Dream Early
Jamie Gianoutsos, B.S. ’06, Ph.D., associate professor of history and director of the office of competitive fellowships at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, was awarded the Marshall Scholarship in 2006 in her senior year at Baylor. Her award allowed her to pursue two graduate degrees: an M.A. in English with a specialty in Renaissance literature at the Queen’s University in Belfast and an M.Phil. in political thought and intellectual history from the University of Cambridge.
“In the early months of my senior year, I spent many late nights contemplating and trying to write up those moments or experiences that had most shaped me, and also trying to articulate what I desired to research and do long-term,” Gianoutsos said. “My wonderful mentor, Betsy Vardaman, affirmed me through this process while also communicating that I needed to keep trying. She pushed me until I had landed upon those ideas and stories that best captured me and my fit for the program.”
Today, Gianoutsos continues her passionate pursuit of scholarship, teaching upper-level history courses in British and European history, while also training and supporting students to apply for many of those same elite scholarship programs that her mentor encouraged her to pursue.
“When mentoring students in history and elite scholar programs, I tell a lot of stories,” Gianoutsos said, referring to her experiences as a Marshall Scholar. “I try to help students envision themselves in the quirkiness of a new place. I find storytelling also helps me convey the types of skills and attributes they will need to survive and thrive in these programs. One needs a lot of tenacity and confidence, but also the ability to laugh at oneself; one also needs significant curiosity about others and teachability, a willingness to change one’s mind as more perspectives are encountered.”
For some, the discernment process of which scholarship to apply for can be a lengthy and daunting task. For John Hill, B.A. ’04, J.D., it was a presentation from former Truman Scholar Jerome Loughridge, B.A. ’95, who now serves as senior vice president for systems operations at Oklahoma State University, that sharpened Hill’s focus on the public interest and public service focus of the Truman award.
“The main attraction of the Truman Scholarship is that it puts you into a community of other like-minded public servants from across the country,” Hill said. “It’s meant to be an environment that helps you think about what the next level of public service could look like for you and gives you a community of people to support you as you pursue that.”
The pursuit for Hill led him to Harvard Law School, narrowing his focus beyond public interest and trial work. After graduating and returning to Texas to practice law, he knew that his next step would be as a criminal prosecutor in the justice system.
“Having identified that as the best option for me, the premier place in the country to develop that skill set is at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., within the U.S. Department of Justice,” Hill said. “It’s well-regarded as a place where you can go and get a lot of trial experience early on in your career on important cases. I applied for that and ended up moving to D.C. to pursue that opportunity on a four-year commitment.”
Hill’s service with the DOJ extended to 10 years, working up to serving as Chief of the Superior Court Division, overseeing the largest division of attorneys of any U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country, prosecuting nearly 13,000 cases a year.
Today, Hill serves as senior counsel at Boeing Space and Launch, shifting to work in the defense space business and the company’s space enterprises.
He credits his decorated career path as having deep roots in his time as an undergraduate in Waco.
“It started back at Baylor, really,” Hill said. “Being in an environment where as a student leader, I could take on significant responsibilities — both in student government and through some student organizations. I was really supported by faculty and administrators to think big and try big. I couldn’t have done it without the support of people at Baylor at that time who were really forward-leaning in their support of students.”
Buyer and Seller
The perpetual nature of seeing fellow students and classmates successfully apply for elite scholarships inspired Kristin Kan, B.A. ’05, M.D., to pursue the Truman Scholarship, citing two of her peers who received the scholarship in each of the previous two years: Skye Perryman, B.A. ’03, J.D., and the aforementioned John Hill.
“There had already been some coverage about the Truman Scholarship program, and I was interested in it primarily because it’s a public service-focused program and award, which is still something true to what I care about today,” Kan said.
With her Truman funding, Kan was able to pursue medical school and an additional graduate degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Today, Kan serves as an assistant professor at Northwestern University in the Feinberg School of Medicine and practices as a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
“I do research primarily on how to improve the access and quality of care for children with chronic diseases, mainly focused on children with asthma,” Kan said.
The application process and experience gained from the Truman Scholarship helped solidify Kan’s interest in providing quality care and equity to her individual patients, while also working at the aggregate level to advocate for policy and programmatic change.
“I think the Truman helped me paint a holistic picture of how all of these passions I have can come together in my career, and to be very honest, I’m still in that pursuit,” Kan said. “I’m continually going back to some of those formative moments to process what my career can look like so that I make sure I’m serving in the way that I should be in my career.”
Just as Kan had her classmates and faculty mentors to look to for affirmations when considering whether or not to apply for the Truman Scholarship, she hopes to offer a similar charge to current students considering a related path.
“It’s natural for students to feel impostor syndrome for what they’ve accomplished and they want to do,” Kan said. “This is the same way I council my fellows — fit is two ways, right? Framing it as if you’re not worthy of a scholarship really sets one’s self into a detrimental framework, and that should not be where we’re coming from. You’re as much a buyer as a seller. It takes understanding what your passions are, having a conversation about it, understanding which of these scholarship programs might be a good fit for you, and then putting yourself out there, which can be quite vulnerable.”
Be Present, Be Intentional
While not all the elite scholarship programs send students abroad, the flexibility to pursue a graduate degree overseas can offer a new and exciting experience for many students.
For Jade Connor, B.S. ’17, M.D., the Fulbright Scholarship gave her the opportunity to return to Maastricht University in The Netherlands, back to a city she was already familiar with from her undergraduate studies at Baylor.
“One opportunity that really stood out was the European public health program at Maastricht University,” Connor said. “I had studied abroad in Maastricht my sophomore year and I fell in love with the city. I loved living in The Netherlands for that semester and the amazing people I met and opportunities to learn in a different country with people who had different perspectives.”
Knowing she wanted to pursue medical school after completing her undergraduate studies, Connor was simultaneously progressing through the Fulbright application process while interviewing for admission into Harvard Medical School.
After being accepted to both, she opted to defer medical school for a year and earned her master’s in Maastricht as a Fulbright scholar.
“I really focused on public health and health policy across the European Union, looking at how we implement public health initiatives and policy across places with very different health systems, very different levels of resources and, oftentimes, different interests — directly applicable to the United States,” Connor said.
Completing her thesis on e-health interventions for caregivers of people with dementia, her career focus has been refined toward geriatric care and how to assist older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia to live and function in the world while also being mindful of the burden and mental health concerns placed on the caregivers and loved ones who walk through that process together.
Today, Connor is completing her internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, continuing to work toward combining her passions with her chosen career.
“I think Baylor gave me such a wide breadth of experience that I bring to my role right now,” Connor said. “Things that I learned in Great Texts, I apply to patients. Things that I learned in Intro to Christian Scriptures and communication classes and even basic biology classes, I still apply to patients now. I think having that wide breadth of experiences helps me to develop and be a better person, one who’s aware and attuned and empathetic to the multitudes of experiences that people bring to the hospital with them.
“That’s one of the things that I learned throughout my classes at Baylor — how to be an advocate for people who are suffering, but then also how to be present at the same time. I’m just really grateful to Baylor for that, because I think I was surrounded by people — both faculty mentors and peers — who were just so lovely and so intentional. I learned how to be as intentional in all my relationships and all my capacities, but especially in medicine and being someone’s doctor.”
Like many of the scholars before and after him, Ross Natividad, B.A. ’10, M.A. ’12, J.D., saw his academic path from undergraduate studies to a major scholarship run through the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC) and the OEL on to earning the Fulbright Scholarship in 2012.
“The Fulbright allowed me to teach high school English in West Timor, Indonesia, from 2012 to 2013,” Natividad said. “I instructed freshman-level classes, assisted in creating an after school English club and coordinated an exchange program allowing my host school’s students to study in the United States.”
After his Fulbright studies, Natividad attended William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, narrowing his chosen field to international and immigration law. After clerking for the state circuit court in Virginia and immigration courts in San Antonio and Fort Worth, he now serves as an Assistant Chief Counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“My time at Baylor indelibly shaped my career path,” Natividad said. “By majoring in Spanish and International Studies, I was fortunate to learn from professors who deepened my passion for languages, cultures, political systems and global issues.”
With his recent move to the Dallas area, Natividad and his family are looking forward to being more active and involved in the Baylor community.
“I am excited to be close to Waco to reconnect with fellow alums and my former professors, give career advice to current students and support our Bears,” Natividad said. “Looking back, the relationships and networks I formed at Baylor and through the Fulbright shaped the person I am today. I would recommend anyone who wishes to follow a similar path to develop and foster your connections, push yourself outside comfort zones and maximize opportunities to fling that green and gold afar.”
Window to the World
Like many of her fellow scholars, Ashley Killough, B.A. ’09, was first introduced to the Fulbright and other scholarships in a seminar led by Dean Vardaman. Between studying in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC) program, writing for the Baylor Lariat and interest gained from a course on ethno-
political conflicts with a special emphasis on Armenia — taught by then-Baylor faculty member Artyom Tonoyan, M.A. ’07, D.Phil. ’12 — Killough refocused her efforts and pursuits on a Fulbright award that took her to Armenia for 10 months of intensive study.
“You have to network like crazy and treat the application like a full-time job,” Killough said. “I told every person I met for two years that I was applying for a Fulbright in Armenia, and I was surprised by how many people would respond with, ‘Oh, I have a cousin in Armenia,’ or, ‘Oh, I know this one Armenian expert.’ I met so many people that way.”
Despite leaving for her time in Armenia with plans to pursue a career in international journalism, Killough’s time abroad actually renewed her interests back home and she was accepted to Columbia’s Journalism School in New York City.
“I studied broadcast journalism at Columbia, which was a whole new world for me,” Killough said. “That eventually helped me get an internship at CNN in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2011, and I’ve been there ever since.”
Killough covered politics for CNN, writing and editing for the network’s former political blog, “Political Ticker.” In February 2015, she was given the opportunity to embed full-time in a presidential campaign, following Jeb Bush’s race for the White House before eventually switching to Donald Trump’s campaign and covering the race through his inauguration in January 2017. She moved on to a producer role covering Congress until fall 2019 when she was given the opportunity to move back to Texas as a field producer for CNN’s Dallas bureau.
“My time at Baylor helped foster my curiosity, which is my biggest strength,” Killough said. “Journalism is a great window to the world, and Baylor professors provided such a nurturing environment for anyone with a high level of curiosity.”
The Story Continues
Each year, Baylor scholars are breaking University records and achieving new scholarships, including naming 14 Fulbright Scholars — the most in Baylor history — earning a Goldwater Scholar for the fifth-straight year and placing a Baylor student as one of just 18 recipients of the Churchill Scholarship — all just in Spring 2022.
Like the alumni profiled in this story, each year a new class of elite scholars is just beginning their journey to fling their green and gold afar, building careers in global leadership that carry the Baylor mission with them.
For more information about Baylor fellowship and award opportunities, visit baylor.edu/EngagedLearning.