Cultivating Baylor’s Future: Baylor Young Scholars

July 18, 2017
In its first year, the Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force has already implemented a number of new and updated programs focused around Baylor University’s Christian mission. While some initiatives have concentrated on student development and others have focused on faculty and staff, the Baylor Young Scholars Program has taken a unique approach to impacting both.

Led by Dr. Darin Davis, vice president for university mission and director of the Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL), the Baylor Young Scholars Program seeks to foster the next generation of Baylor faculty and administrators by supporting and providing resources to Baylor graduates who are now pursuing advanced degrees at other universities.

“Given Baylor’s identity as a Christian university, there is both a need and an opportunity to identify potential colleagues who understand and embrace our mission,” said Davis, who leads the Baylor Young Scholars Program with Dr. Lori Kanitz, assistant director of the IFL. “The Baylor Young Scholars Program seeks to support Baylor graduates who are pursing graduate work in various academic disciplines, and who one day may be strong candidates for faculty and administrative positions at Baylor. It is a unique way to help prepare some of our own for university leadership.”

The University gains a candidates specifically equipped for Christian higher education and the students, in addition to the education they receive, improve the likelihood of returning and working for their alma mater.

The pilot phase of the program launched in Fall 2016 with six students who were selected to be a part of the initial cohort. This diverse group of students are pursuing graduate degrees at schools including Rice, Yale and St Andrews. They represent a broad range of academic disciplines — from mathematics to theology to statistics — in addition to a diverse set of racial and cultural backgrounds.

“We’re developing a clearer understanding at Baylor about who our students are and how we can encourage them once they leave the University,” Davis said. “But this program also aims to bless Baylor’s future as well. It fosters diversity in a way that is very much aligned with our Christian mission.”

As Baylor Young Scholars, the students are assigned readings to help develop understanding of what it means to be called to Christian scholarship and then connect regularly with Davis and Kanitz via Skype to discuss the readings as well as various topics centered around Christian higher education. The students are also each connected with a Baylor faculty mentor and are invited to the Baylor campus for the Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture and a Baylor Young Scholars’ retreat.

“The conversations we have range well beyond those that students might have in their graduate programs,” Davis said. “Graduate education by its very nature is specialized, sometimes exceedingly so. We are trying to help these young scholars to take a step back and ask broader questions about the aims of teaching and research and how their own Christian faith might animate their vocation.”

In addition to teaching the Baylor Young Scholars about Christian higher education, the program also focuses on growing a community of scholars who can encourage one another through the challenges they encounter in graduate school. The cohort regularly prays as a group and for one another, and several cohort members already have what Davis describes as “spiritual friendships.”

The pilot program will continue into its second year this fall with the initial Baylor Young Scholars cohort deepening their knowledge of Christian higher education and strengthening their relationships. During this time, Davis and his team will work to finalize logistics, such as the selection process for students, length of the program and more. As it progresses, the Baylor Young Scholars Program will help to grow the Baylor applicant pool with candidates deeply familiar with and equipped to advance the University’s mission.

“We hope the program will grow from its pilot phase to eventually prepare a significant number of young scholars to be positioned to serve in Christian Education in the years to come,” Davis said.

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