Return on Investment: Engaged Learning Leads to Record Student Success

May 4, 2022
Return on Investment: Engaged Learning Leads to Record Student Success

This spring, a record-shattering number of Baylor University students and their faculty mentors have been honored with some of the most prestigious – and highly competitive – national and international scholarships and awards, reflecting the University's growing investment in the Office of Engaged Learning (OEL).

The achievements in 2021-2022 are remarkable:

  • A record 14 Fulbright recipients, double the University's previous high of seven in 2019;
  • Students winning the Truman, Goldwater and Churchill scholarships; and
  • Another four students honored with the Critical Language Scholarship and the Boren Scholarship.

Baylor has a long and proud tradition of scholarship successes, much of it due to beloved Dean Elizabeth Vardaman, who retired in 2019. For 39 years – before there was a dedicated Office of Engaged Learning – Vardaman mentored and guided students to achieve their dreams of such life-changing opportunities.

Her "crowning achievement," said Andrew P. Hogue, Ph.D., who followed in Vardaman's footsteps as Associate Dean for Engaged Learning, was having established a fully functioning and expanded office. In addition to full-time staff, the OEL has been transformed into a central hub of programs through which students discover multiple avenues to maximize their undergraduate education by learning beyond the classroom.

"It's a huge testament to Betsy Vardaman and Dean Lee Nordt that the Office was created and the investments were made by the University because it’s really paying off for our students," Hogue said. "It is important to have people whose job responsibilities are dedicated to creating the pathways for students to flourish. In some ways, our office also is a bit reverse engineered. With scholarships, over time we knew if anyone is going to win, they would need to have experiences in research, study abroad and civic engagement and all these things that develop a profile and resume for students to be successful."

Hogue is quick to point out that in addition to the impact on winning scholarships, the work of OEL is paying off in students' admission to graduate school and medical school and career opportunities.

"Academic learning happens beyond the classroom, so by providing those pathways, it's our belief that it leads to student success. We are seeing that play out," he said.

The OEL includes three full-time staff members, including Hogue and Daniel Benyousky, Ph.D., who serves as Director of Major Fellowships and Awards. OEL now houses such programs as the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement program – better known as URSA – that supports, promotes and enhances high-quality undergraduate research and scholarship – and civic engagement programs, such as the Philanthropy & Public Service Program and Shepherd Scholars Program.

Additional investments have expanded OEL's bandwidth as other faculty members spend a portion of their time – and often additional time – helping prepare and empower students for engaged learning opportunities. They include Riz Klausmeyer, Ph.D., Director of Undergraduate Research; Mona Chocair, Ph.D., Director of Civic Learning and Engagement; Tamarah Adair, Ph.D., Director of URSA; and Rich Sanker, Ph.D., Senior Director of Prehealth Programs and Undergraduate Research. Faculty members also collaborate with the OEL while serving as campus representatives for the Goldwater (Jeff Olafsen, Ph.D., physics), Udall (Joe Yelderman, Ph.D., geosciences) and Schwarzman (Steve Gardner, Ph.D., economics) awards.

One of the most significant partnerships is with Baylor faculty who give their time to mentor students and facilitate the kinds of experiential learning opportunities that contributed to their transformational undergraduate education. OEL recognizes this faculty partnership annually through the Elizabeth Vardaman Awards that honor Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduates and Excellence in Research Leadership.

"It's not only teaching and research excellence, but it's doing all the little things that help students do the learning beyond the classroom that's so important. Everything we do relies fully on partnership with our faculty," Hogue said. "Every student who wins is reflective of a faculty member and staff member who has poured into them, mentored them, helped them know that this is a possibility for them."

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