Going Beyond the Classroom

The Office of Engaged Learning helps Baylor students apply their knowledge and skills out in the world

Going Beyond the Classroom

Baylor students who are eager for learning opportunities that take place beyond the traditional classroom will find advice and access to resources in a new office within the College of Arts & Sciences.

Dr. Andy Hogue

While the Office of Engaged Learning is a fairly new entity within the College, it brings together some people and programs that had been in place for years. The result of that merging gives the University’s top students a central location to learn about fellowships, internships and scholarship opportunities, some of which can be life-changing, according to Dr. Andy Hogue, associate dean of engaged learning in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“We continue to recruit very high ability students, many of whom come to Baylor expecting these kinds of opportunities,” Hogue said. “They want to learn beyond the classroom, and they want to apply their learning beyond the classroom from the time they arrive. They want to maximize their learning while they’re here.”

The Office of Engaged Learning is part of a “long-running effort” to bring those opportunities under one roof, said Hogue, who previously served as senior lecturer in the Honors Program and as director of the Philanthropy and Public Service Program. And even though the office is housed within the College of Arts & Sciences, it serves students from all disciplines across the University.

Engaged learning, Hogue said, is “learning that allows students to apply or transfer knowledge across contexts, to move beyond the classroom and extend learning out into the world.”

There are five components the Office makes use of to assist students in gaining education beyond the classroom — undergraduate research, civic engagement, internships, study abroad and major fellowships and awards.

Learning outside the classroom

Undergraduate research means “students not only have the classroom experience, but then they apply all the things that they learn in the classroom” in labs and other research environments, said Dr. Riz Klausmeyer, director of undergraduate research for the Office of Engaged Learning. “And in research undergraduate students get to interact with graduate students, who have a completely different perspective from undergraduates.”

Klausmeyer, who has a PhD in chemistry, teaches a research methods class for freshmen enrolled as Science Research Fellows majors.

The Office also encourages students to take part in civic engagement so they can “engage with partners in the public and social sectors, the nonprofits out there, the government entities that enable our students to apply their learning for good,” Hogue said. Baylor students engage with local civic organizations through volunteer work, research assistantships or internships. Student internships, another area of emphasis for the Office, are a good way for students to enhance both their career development and chances for graduate school admission by giving them hands-on experience in the fields they are interested in, Hogue said. “Internships really maximize their summer opportunities, so they can learn in a professional or research setting,” he said. The engaged learning office works with the Center for Global Engagement to pair students with study abroad opportunities that match their interests.

“If we learn that students are interested in language acquisition, or in becoming an expert in a particular region, or if they’re interested in trying to do an internship and study abroad experience in a certain field, we can help guide them toward the study abroad programs that already exist at Baylor,” Hogue said. “We’re also working with the Center for Global Engagement to think about what kinds of new study abroad opportunities we can create, for those students that might want to embed a research project and an internship into a semester abroad or a summer abroad.”

Competing for scholarships

The final area of emphasis for the Office, the “culmination,” as Hogue calls it, is assistance with applying for major fellowships and awards, such as Rhodes, Fulbright, Truman and Marshall Scholarships. These opportunities can be life-changing for the students who receive them.

“We help students seeking major awards with any part of the process — from brainstorming at an information stage, to talking about how to find who they might ask for letters of recommendation, to how to ask for letters of recommendation, how far in advance to do that. We then help them with the application itself,” said Dr. Daniel Benyousky, director of major fellowships and awards for the Office of Engaged Learning.

The Office also provides help to students in writing their application essays, Benyousky said. After a student writes a first draft of the essay, Benyousky will read it and suggest modifications. “And we’ll go back and forth as many times as they want, anywhere from one to six or seven or eight, however many drafts,” he said.

The application process should begin several months before the application deadline, Benyousky said, to allow time for multiple essay drafts and give the Office of Engaged Learning time to conduct interviews with applicants.

“With some awards, such as the Truman Scholarship, Baylor can have a maximum of four candidates that we can endorse or nominate,” Benyousky said, “so we interview candidates for those specific slots.”

For other scholarships, such as the Fulbright, Baylor can nominate as many qualified candidates as it wishes, “but we’re still interviewing them to give them feedback, but also to make sure that we can endorse them,” Benyousky said.

Many scholarships and awards such as the Fulbright, Truman, Rhodes, Mitchell and others fully pay for graduate school for their respective selected scholars.

“It changes the students’ entire trajectory,” Hogue said. “If you’re a Marshall Scholar, you’re likely to gain admittance to just about any graduate program you want in the United Kingdom. You have a very prestigious degree. You’ve studied with world class scholars, and you have no debt to show for that. And you are part of a network of people who are difference makers, people in influential positions. Your employment or ongoing education prospects look very good.”

While students may have access to all the preparation help they need and they’ve written multiple drafts of essays, sometimes an application still isn’t successful, but that doesn’t mean the effort was a failure.

“We also know that going through the application process itself is a transformational experience, so we work with students individually as they prepare applications,” Dr. Lee Nordt, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said in his September 2019 newsletter to Arts & Sciences faculty.

Students in the Lab

Success story

One success story the Office of Engaged Learning played a part in creating is that of student Micheal Munson. When he first arrived on campus as a freshman from San Jose, California, “I was unaware of what careers I wanted to pursue. In fact, I was even unaware of what types of careers I could pursue given my interests,” he said.

During the second semester of his freshman year, Munson met with Elizabeth Vardaman, who was associate dean for engaged learning in the College of Arts & Sciences at the time, and Dr. Kirsten Escobar, who held the title of Scholarship, Programs, Awards, Research, Knowledge (SPARK) advisor for the College. Vardaman and Escobar comprised the staff in the College overseeing engaged learning prior to the formation of the Office of Engaged Learning in June 2019.

That meeting “completely changed my academic trajectory,” said Munson, who is now a senior University Scholar concentrating in applied math, biochemistry and philosophy.

“Dean Vardaman and Dr. Escobar encouraged me to apply for a biomedical research internship. After working with them, I was fortunate enough to be offered a summer research position at Johns Hopkins Medical School,” Munson said.

That summer position taught Munson valuable lessons such as proper lab technique, research presentation skills and how to write an abstract.

“However, the most important takeaway I garnered from this internship, that would best assist me in the future, was my love for the work,” he said. “For the first time, I was given the resources to conduct a science project which I had to think through myself and attempt to solve. I learned how to think critically regarding biological problems, and I learned the amount of work necessary to conduct the thinking itself.”

From there, Munson’s career plans became more focused, and he ended up winning a Goldwater, a prestigious scholarship for undergraduate students hoping to pursue a career in research.

Since then, Munson has worked with the current staff of the Office to prepare his application for a Fulbright Scholarship. After graduation from Baylor, Munson said he’ll pursue a master’s degree in computational neuroscience and follow that with either a medical degree or a PhD.