Q&A: Jon Engelhardt

February 11, 2008
On July 15, 2007, Dr. Jon M. Engelhardt began work as dean of the Baylor School of Education, after leading schools of education at Wichita State and three other universities. Randy Fiedler of BaylorNews spoke with Dr. Engelhardt about his goals and priorities as dean.

BaylorNews: Tell me a little about your background before you got to Baylor.

Jon Engelhardt: I was born in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago, but when I was a child my family moved to Arizona. I spent most of my adolescence and early professional years there, receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from Arizona State University. I was a middle school math teacher for several years and then decided I could help more kids by helping prepare teachers. Based on that I went to the University of Texas at Austin and earned a PhD in mathematics education. Interestingly enough, I went back to Arizona State as a faculty member and was there 16 years, first as an assistant professor, then as an associate and full professor. As a Research I institution it had a particular character to it, and was developing that character while I was there. Along the way I got interested in and sort of "pushed" into leadership, I guess, by the faculty. After serving as department chair, assistant department chair, associate dean and a variety of other administrative positions in the College of Education, I decided I would try the deanship. I left Arizona State and went to the University of Texas at El Paso, where I was dean of their School of Education for five years. I left UT-El Paso with a great opportunity to lead a very innovative program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. It was very non-traditional kinds of partnership programs that I got involved with there. We had programs spread all the way from the Mexican border to the Utah border. We had faculty, for example, who lived on site and traveled to campus to attend faculty meeting, an experiment with a different definition of what it meant to be a faculty member. I was there for five years, and in that period of time my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At that point I decided I needed to do something different with my life for a while; after a relatively short time, however, my wife and I decided this wasn't a good thing to be doing -- sort of sitting around waiting for my wife to die -- and that made neither of us very happy. So, I threw my hat back into the ring for a deanship and wound up at Wichita State University in Kansas. (Sadly, some 18 months later she died.) After 10 years at Wichita State, I felt like I had done pretty much all I could do. I led them through very tough and new state and national accreditation review processes and built various partnerships, but I also had come to a place where I thought it was time to move along and maybe contribute something somewhere else.

BN: What led you to Baylor?

JE: I have been a middle school classroom teacher, college professor and dean at other outstanding universities. Early in my career, I felt led to the training of other teachers -- I believed I could help more kids by helping prepare teachers. One of the unique things about Baylor is its striving to be a top tier institution offering world-class masters and doctoral level education programs without giving up its commitment to high-quality undergraduate education. The integration of Christian principles and this commitment to high-quality undergraduate and graduate education made Baylor a very unique and exciting place for me.

BN: What is the biggest challenge you're facing in the School of Education?

JE: The School of Education's accreditation review is coming up in a year and a half. This specialty accreditation takes place every seven years by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The accreditation review is always a challenge that requires attention to every detail of the teacher training process. I've had many years' experience with the accreditation review, though, and the School of Education has much in place and a hard-working faculty.

BN: Is the review of the Schools of Education done separately from Baylor's overall accreditation review?

JE: That's correct. There are both institutional and specialty accreditations. Specialty accreditations are either by college, by discipline, or both. The Baylor School of Education has a separate accreditation done by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which approves the portion of the School of Education that prepares education professionals. We also have programs in premedical, health and human services, human performance, and so on, and some of those programs have their own specialty accreditations as well.

BN: How often must schools of education be reaccredited?

JE: Every seven years, and for us that process will begin very soon.

BN: What are some of the other challenges the School is facing?

JE: In addition to teacher training the School of Education also prepares professionals in health, human performance and recreation. The growth in these fields has been tremendous and Baylor's success in creating nationally recognized programs impressive. Managing the growth, research demands and cultivation of quality undergraduate and graduate training programs will always be a priority and a challenge.

BN: Where will the people who get doctoral degrees in education from Baylor end up? Will they become administrators, or will they become teachers?

JE: The answer is yes to both. There are two kinds of professional education doctorates we offer here at Baylor. The EdD, the Doctor of Education, is a practitioner degree like the MD. It prepares people to go into practice like doctors go into practice. The other degree we offer is the PhD, the Doctor of Philosophy. It's a research degree, and it aims toward college teaching and research. We have both kinds of degrees in the School of Education. Right now we're working on a PhD in curriculum and instruction, a brand-new degree that's in the final stages of proposal development, focusing on teaching and learning. We already have an EdD in curriculum and instruction. It's intended for people who want to stay in schools and provide strong doctoral-trained curriculum leadership, typically either at a state or school district level. This other doctoral degree (the PhD) will prepare people to go into universities, research agencies or state departments of education where they'll have an interest in broad public policy, in research on the improvement of education, or teaching others who will become teachers -- which is the kind of degree experience I went through.

BN: Are there any other new degrees you'd like to offer in the future?

JE: Yes. We're planning work on new doctoral degrees in the fields of higher education and educational leadership.

BN: Will both of these be PhD programs?

JE: Well, that remains to be seen: there could be both EdD and PhD degrees in higher education, although it could become just one of these. The same thing would be true in educational administration. Think of the EdD in educational administration more as school superintendent and K-12 work, but there is a PhD side that's also viable. In educational administration there are a few other programs in Central Texas, but in education, Baylor has a long history of preparing people who have become professors and school policy and state leaders. What we have done thus far is develop a broad framework for doctoral programs that look at Christian-principled leadership in curriculum and teaching, higher education and educational administration. We're working on one of those degrees right now, curriculum and teaching, that is very near completion. Part of that framework is an emphasis on interdisciplinary work that involves other departments and schools around campus.

BN: Let's talk about the School of Education's undergraduate teacher training program. One traditional emphasis of the program has been providing quality teachers for schools in Texas and beyond. Will you continue this emphasis?

JE: Absolutely. Baylor students receive an unprecedented amount of field experience in the classroom, mostly in Waco's public schools, beginning their freshman year. They are trained and mentored throughout the program so that they are well prepared to enter the classroom the day of graduation. In fact, many employers who have hired Baylor grads say they are more like second- and third-year teachers when they start, in part because of the extensive hands on experience gained in training.

BN: Are there other ways the Baylor can work with local public school districts on educational projects?

JE: I'd like to see area school districts work together using the Baylor School of Education as a catalyst, to come up with a broader plan for ways to improve education as a whole in the Waco area. Helping a community improve its educational system is a role that a good school of education should play. While it's not Baylor's role to step in and provide education for children, we want to offer our expertise for local school districts and their teachers in raising the level of education for children as well as provide stronger learning laboratories and models for Baylor students learning to be teachers.

BN: Is the education job market good right now? Is there a high demand for teachers?

JE: There's a fairly dramatic shortage of teachers, but not in all areas. For example, there's not currently a broad shortage of elementary teachers, although it's peeking over the horizon because of impending baby boomer retirements. We have a dire need for teachers, especially those of color, who can be role models in schools with increasingly diverse populations. Right now where the education job market is especially soft is at the high school and middle school levels. That's where there are huge demands for teachers, particularly in the fields of science and math. Shortages are also looming in other areas, including foreign languages and even English.

BN: Are we experiencing these shortages because of competition from the private sector, with its well-paying jobs?

JE: Certainly in the fields of math and science you could make that case. I'm not sure that's true with English and foreign languages, although the growing international scene provides a reason why we might be short of foreign language teachers. There's also a broad shortage of special education teachers and has been for several years now -- and we are seeing an increasing number of special needs children.

BN: Is another challenge facing the School of Education to bring in more money for research?

JE: Well, it certainly is a priority to bring external funding into Baylor and into the School of Education. One way of doing that is through increases to the endowment, and the other is by securing grants and contracts. There tends to be a little less research money available in teacher education than in fields like engineering and science, so there is much national competition for those funds. Having said that, however, there does tend to be more funding available for service projects in education. For example, if the government wants there to be more science teachers, they might provide funding to help individuals with technical backgrounds re-career as science and math teachers.

BN: One area of the School that attracts outside funding is the health, human performance and recreation department. They seem to be involved with a lot of successful projects lately.

JE: They are doing great things. Because they are more in a science category, there are a number of research grants available from both government and industry. The School has received some great grants from Curves and the health and fitness industry. Health and wellness are increasingly becoming areas of concern, so there is increased funding focused on related research that will benefit all of us.

BN: Advances in technology, including the use of computers and the rise of the Internet, have dramatically changed the way many professions and businesses operate. Has new technology significantly changed the way teachers and school administrators do their jobs?

JE: I'd say the use of technology has dramatically increased from the days when "classroom technology" meant using an overhead projector. We have an aggressive technology effort in the School of Education, and we do a good job of preparing our undergraduates to use technology in the classroom. Often, our K-12 teacher graduates are the most technologically proficient educators in their schools.

BN: Twenty or thirty years ago you had some visionaries talking about computers in the classroom making real, live teachers irrelevant, because students would supposedly be able to just sit down at their computers and learn by themselves. Will it ever get to that point?

JE: No, it won't. The predictions you describe were made back in the early days of program instruction. People assumed you could sit down with a computer or with something that was mechanical and it would take the place of a teacher. We've all learned a lot since then. We're never going to do without the teacher. The most important factor in anyone's education is the teacher and the dynamic interaction teachers have with learners. I think the best perspective to have about a computer is that it is one of the many tools that well-educated professional teachers have and use to help others learn. In a sense, like the overhead projector of days gone by, it is something that you don't necessarily use unless it is going to help you make a point or help students see something that they literally couldn't see or experience otherwise. That's the way technology is today. If a teacher wants history students to be familiar with something John F. Kennedy said, he or she can pull up a video and stream it to show part of one of his speeches and, if relevant, listen to discussions about any associated controversy. It's very different when, instead of saying there was a controversy about something John F. Kennedy said, you can actually show students film and sound clips and let them hear then-contemporary interviews with people present at the time. So, that technology is really being used as one of many tools that teachers have to maintain interest and effectiveness as a teacher.

BN: Are there other ways that technology has changed education?

JE: The other side of the technology issue is that children are becoming far more technologically literate in classrooms today than they ever used to be. And it's impacting the way in which they learn. For example, it appears that today's students, including college students, are far more visual. They play a lot of video games, so they have developed a long pattern of interacting with visual symbols as a way to learn. The students of today usually don't want to read directions, they want to just go in, play it and learn by trial and error how to do things. Today's students don't want necessarily to sit and listen to a long set of instructions. They want to get in and do it, so there is far more emphasis on involvement and being active.

BN: I would think that another challenge any school of education in Texas would face is responding to our state's rapidly growing Hispanic population, a portion of which does not speak English. Is preparing teachers and administrators to meet the needs of students who speak only Spanish something that Baylor is concerning itself with?

JE: It certainly is, and it will be a further consideration as things develop. There is major concern about teachers being able to work with all children, including those that don't speak English or don't speak English as a first language. That's why we're working so closely with the Waco Independent School District, so that our students will both understand intellectually and get practical experience working with children that come from more challenging environments, including challenging non-English language environments.

BN: Are there any areas of either instruction, research or expertise that the School of Education needs to improve in or concentrate more on in the future?

JE: Let me share a philosophy: never work from your areas of weakness. Rather, identify your strengths and build upon those toward any weaknesses. I think that's where I see us moving. For example, let me tell you about what I see as one of our strengths. We're in a unique situation where worldwide we are the largest, and I'd say the best, school of education in a university preparing Christian-principled educators. I think that puts us in a fairly unique position to become a resource for, say, schools and teachers in Italy, in the Middle East, in Europe and South America, to address the question, "How do you translate your Christian faith into developing good teaching practices?" And that kind of help doesn't have to be restricted just to teaching practices. How about questions regarding the uses of recreation, health and wellness in other international environments? We can be seen as the place people come to, maybe not for all the answers, but for helping them find answers to the questions they have that would make them more effective. It seems to me that is an undeveloped strength that's all around us. We've just not quite had the right circumstance or catalyst to pull us together to address this.

BN: So the idea is to find things we already can do well and market those things a bit more?

JE: Marketing is important. To let the light spread and develop, it's important not to hide our light under a bushel. We need to let people know about our strengths, even the nascent ones. It's also about making the right connections. Since I've been here we've made a major contact with a lower-division Christian institution where we believe it's possible to develop a way for them to transition their lower-division students to Baylor to become teachers. They're all Spanish-speaking students who are now interested in mission work worldwide. While in this case we're helping students pursue their mission by coming to Baylor, in other circumstances we could have addressed this in a different way, by helping the institution develop the infrastructure to do that work themselves.

BN: The traditional wisdom is that teachers often pass up higher-paying careers because impacting the lives of young people in a classroom is something they have a passion for. Is this a true picture of teaching today?

JE: When you look particularly at our students here at Baylor, many are here on a mission, a mission to educate children. In any random group in the population you are going to find a rather small number of natural teachers -- that is, people who are knowledgeable and wired to be teachers because of the way they communicate and interact with other people. These natural teachers have no problem seeing things from other people's perspectives. They can make contact with others and help them learn. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is another group of people that is absolutely hopeless when it comes to teaching. There is something about the way they operate in the world so that they can't see things from other's perspectives, have little empathy for others, don't understand subject matter very well, and can't put information together in ways that other people can understand it. There's also a rather large third middle group of persons who have lots of the skills and potential to be really good teachers, but they need someone to help them put it all together. These are the people we focus on helping in the Baylor School of Education, people who have great potential and the zeal to make a difference in the lives of others as a teacher. Unfortunately, too many of these middle group people don't pursue a teaching career since they can do lots of things well, not just teach. For example, they may be influenced to become a mathematician as opposed to a math teacher, or a physicist as opposed to a physics teacher. With such people, we try to connect with the base value that draws them toward teaching -- that being the education of others and passing something on to another generation.

BN: So to be effective, a teacher needs to believe he or she is following a calling of sorts, instead of just doing a job.

JE: Yes. While most people are initially excited about doing something new, it's the sense of mission that truly motivates them. As we work with our students here, we try to help them connect with that sense of mission and make sure they continue to think about that. When I talk with new teacher education students, most of them tell me they had a teacher somewhere in their schooling that truly made a difference in their lives. I always ask them to focus on that memory and never forget it, because when it gets difficult or disappointing, it's the memory of that teacher who really inspired them and the hope associated with that memory that will keep them going and refresh their zeal for teaching. Teachers are not in it for the paperwork or the hassles that a parent or a child can bring. They're in it for the big picture, the positive impact that teachers can make on the lives of others.

BN: What advice do you give teachers in training?

JE: When I talk to new teacher education students, most of them tell me they had a teacher somewhere in their schooling that truly made a difference in their lives. I always ask them to focus on that memory and never forget it. When things get difficult or disappointments come as they do in all jobs, this memory will inspire them and refresh their zeal for teaching.

BN: Are we seeing more people turn to teaching as a second career later in life?

JE: Yes. This is my fourth institution that's had a special program for people who have had a career in some other field and later decide they want to become teachers. That's what the Strickland Scholars Program here at Baylor is about, to help people re-career as teachers. I've seen some of the most amazing individuals enrolled in these kinds of programs, including former doctors and lawyers. Some say teaching is a calling and I think these people would agree they feel a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment in the positive impact teachers can make on the lives of others.

BN: Is there anything about Baylor that has surprised you?

JE: I knew Baylor was a Christian university. In fact that is one of the things that drew me here, but I was unprepared for the warmth and openness with which relative strangers are greeted. When people say, "Welcome to the Baylor family," they honestly mean that. It's not just words. People here are thoughtful, and they try to take the basis of their faith and translate that into how they interact with each other and with students. Sometimes it comes across very explicitly in discussions, sometimes it's obvious in people's behavior, but it's everywhere.

BN: Is there something about the School of Education I haven't asked that you want to mention?

JE: In some ways, I think Baylor's School of Education has been a well-kept secret. I think one of the challenges will be letting the world know what a really great school and what great programs we have in the school. While every place has its things it needs to work on, there are so many strengths here. We just need to build on those and get the word out.
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