By Randy Fiedler
The recent announcement of a partnership between Baylor and other local educational institutions and governmental entities to advance modern research opportunities is only the latest example of the historic bond between Baylor and the Central Texas community.
Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative announced
On Oct. 23, 2009, an announcement was made concerning the creation of the Central Texas Technology and Research Park and the park's first project, the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), to be housed in the former General Tire facility in Waco. BRIC will turn the long-shuttered manufacturing plant into a modern 300,000-square-foot technology research center.
The renovated plant will provide facilities and support to allow private companies and other educational institutions to collaborate with Baylor on cutting-edge scientific research into aviation, alternative fuels and the manufacture of advanced materials such as bulletproof and security components. It also will allow Baylor to expand the engineering component in the School of Engineering and Computer Science by adding a doctorate in engineering degree and providing facilities for graduate students in mechanical and electrical engineering to do research.
The Texas Legislature has appropriated $10 million to Texas State Technical College for "capital expenditures and renovations for collaborative research projects" in partnership with Baylor, while Baylor Regents have committed an initial investment of $10 million to support the first phase of renovation.
The facility is expected to provide new jobs and a significant economic boost to Central Texas, much as similar research parks have done in Austin and other cities across the country.
In 1926, four decades after Baylor relocated to Waco from Independence in 1886, Dr. C.D. Johnson of Baylor's business school conducted a survey to determine just what impact the university had on the Waco economy. He found that Baylor's annual worth to Waco was $1.43 million, about $17.4 million in today's dollars. A similar survey done in 1956 found that Baylor's local economic impact had grown to more than $25 million, about $198 million in today's dollars.
More recently, studies by Baylor's Center for Business and Economic Research have continued to track the university's growing economic impact on the Waco Metropolitan Area. By 2000, Baylor's estimated economic impact on the local economy had grown to $787 million, and that figure rose to $1.3 billion of economic impact in 2009.
Enhancing the local economy is just one way that Baylor has traditionally contributed to Central Texas. Throughout the years, the university has provided resources and assistance in a number of ways:
*Baylor faculty, staff and students are long-time supporters of charities and volunteer efforts in the Waco area. Over the years, Baylor faculty and staff have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United Way and have offered sponsorship and support for numerous charitable fundraising events such as the American Heart Association's Heart Walk and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure. In addition, Baylor students, faculty and staff annually volunteer more than 150,000 hours of local community service. About 3,000 students typically take part in Steppin' Out, Baylor's biannual day of community service.
*According to the Baylor School of Education, each year the University sends more than 500 student teachers into public kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools in Central Texas. Baylor students act as tutors in math and literacy instruction and other subjects and provide free support for full-time teachers. In all, Baylor education students play a part in helping educate more than 3,000 public school students each semester.
*Baylor also supports local educational efforts through the GEAR UP Waco partnership, in which the university joins with other local educational institutions and Making Connections with Youth Count to become a community catalyst for educational change and increase the number of low-income students who will go on to college success. In 2008, Baylor also was a significant sponsor for and participant in the Greater Waco Community Education Summit.
*For 12 years, Baylor has played a large role in making sure that public television and radio survives and thrives in Central Texas. In 1999, Baylor assumed control of the Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation, and in partnership with local businesses and viewers, the University has worked to expand the offerings and facilities of both KWBU-TV and KWBU-FM, including the introduction of National Public Radio programming in 2000.
*For many years, the Baylor University Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic has offered speech, hearing and language services to the community at greatly reduced rates, including providing free or low cost hearing screening and hearing aids to low-income clients.
*More than 60 young musicians take part in the Baylor School of Music's Baylor String Project. This program matches local 3rd-6th graders with Baylor music education students who help them learn to play string instruments such as the violin, viola, cello and bass. One goal of the program is to offer instruction at a low cost so that a wide variety of young students gain the skills needed to enjoy playing the instruments.
*Originally discovered in 1978, the Waco Mammoth Site is on the brink of a National Park System designation that would reward a strong Baylor-Waco partnership. The new Mammoth Site Visitor Center operated by the City of Waco had its official opening on Dec. 5, 2009.
*Numerous cultural activities and resources on the Baylor campus are offered free of charge to the public each year, including musical concerts, art gallery exhibitions, libraries, poetry readings, public lectures and free admission to Armstrong Browning Library, the Martin Museum of Art, the W.R. Poage Legislative Library and other facilities.
The partnership between Baylor and Waco is a two-way relationship. During its 124 years as Baylor's home, Waco has contributed significantly to Baylor's success.
Since the first classes began in Waco in 1886, the city and McLennan County have contributed many students to Baylor's enrollment. In fall 2008, McLennan County sent more than 500 students to Baylor, about 5 percent of the University's undergraduate enrollment.
Waco area residents have been fervent supporters of Baylor with both their hearts and their pocketbooks. That support proved crucial in 1928 when strong financial commitments from local businesses and residents helped convince a Baptist General Convention of Texas committee to reverse their previous recommendation to move Baylor to Dallas. Soon afterward, Waco residents provided the bulk of the financial support that resulted in the construction of the large campus auditorium named Waco Hall in their honor.
Local financial support for Baylor has been enhanced for more than 50 years due to the prodigious efforts of the Baylor/Waco Foundation. Formed by a group of downtown Waco professionals in 1959, the foundation works to support projects that improve the quality of life in Central Texas, including Little League Baseball's Southwestern Regional Headquarters in Waco, high-quality exhibits at Waco museums and educational opportunities, ranging from autism services to the Waco Mammoth Site. The foundation also has contributed to numerous improvements to Baylor's campus and facilities.
In the past few years, Baylor has sought to strengthen its ties with the Waco community. To increase the strategic focus of the University's community relations efforts, the Department of Community Relations was launched in 2008 within the Division of Marketing and Communications.
"Baylor's commitment to our community is longstanding and we have a history of engagement with the city of Waco." John Barry, vice president for marketing and communications, said. "We want to build upon that strength to become more focused, more strategic and more effective in the ways we interact with and impact our community. We think this new department will help us to do just that."
As part of the new initiative, Baylor sponsored the Heart of Texas Community Tailgate Party on April 25, 2009, at Baylor Ballpark and drew thousands of people from throughout Waco and Central Texas who enjoyed a free Baylor baseball game and complimentary food and beverages.
"Baylor values its partnership with Central Texans and appreciates their support throughout the year," Jana L. Hixson, director of community relations, said. "The community tailgate is just one way we can welcome friends and neighbors to Baylor, expose them to some of the resources of our campus and show them our appreciation."
It appears that Baylor has a strong base of goodwill to build its community relations efforts upon. A recent survey of McLennan County residents
commissioned by Baylor to find out how the University is regarded in the local community produced some very positive responses. The survey, which was conducted by the Baylor Center of Community Research and Development and included 1,137 county residents chosen at random, found that 89 percent of county residents view Baylor either "very favorably" or "somewhat favorably."
A majority of respondents valued Baylor's contributions to the community, with 84 percent citing the University's role in providing arts and cultural opportunities for citizens and in economic development for the region. Eighty-three percent cited the University as a provider of educational opportunities for top student from the area; 82 percent noted the community pride generated through athletic excellence; and 81 percent cited access to facilities and programs.