Fall 2021 Newsletter

Fall 2021 Newsletter

Message from the Dean

What a wonderful season of growth and celebration we are having at Baylor. Coming off of a week of celebrating all things Homecoming with our Robbins College students, alumni, faculty, staff, and board members, we say thank you for your participation and continued support of our programs. 

What we want you to know about Robbins College. Moving into our eighth year as a college, we continue to develop transformative leaders and scholars in disciplines that serve individuals, families, and communities, both regionally and globally. Our undergraduate and graduate program focus on health and well-being begins with our students and translates to every individual they serve and lead along their career path.  The Robbins College mission statement “to advance knowledge of health, human behavior, and quality of life...providing support for a collaborative environment for discovery, learning and engagement,” is paramount to each faculty member as they teach and invest in our students. 

We have incredible work being done across our college, so much that it is difficult to select only a few highlights. What a blessing that we have many reasons to celebrate! In this newsletter, we have selected one feature story from each of our six departments, our division of health professions, and our Army-Baylor programs, and are providing you links to read other highlights as well.

Our collaboration across disciplines within Robbins College is inspiring and meaningful. In a recent research seminar, Overcoming Barriers to Improve Screening and Treatment Outcomes for Cancer Patients, three research faculty from the departments of Public Health, Human Sciences and Design, and Health, Human Performance and Recreation, shared their work on cancer impacts from lifestyle management and preventative measures. This work is only a snapshot of the excellence of our Robbins faculty and their commitment to investing in our Baylor “Research 1” goal, while fulfilling the Robbins mission of transformative work to improve lives. 

As we continue to build on a strong Christian foundation of quality programs in Robbins College, our faculty and students continue to invest in “the good work that God has called us to...” within our communities. In August, we compiled a nearly thirty-page document on the service work, community outreach, and health improvement measures that our faculty and their students completed this past year. The message is clear…Robbins College is on a mission, and we are excited that you are a part of that mission…serving others, improving lives. There is a lot to be proud of, and even more work to be done.

We are thankful to lead with each of you.


Sheri Dragoo Signature
After Their Son’s Tragic Passing, a Baylor Family Extends His Legacy Through Health Research

As a former high-school wrestler, Brendon Mooney was passionate about health and fitness. His parents laugh that he often enjoyed the social aspects of Baylor as much as the academic, but he particularly loved his major of exercise physiology. Brendon was just a year away from graduation when a car crash claimed his life on May 11, 2009. Amidst profound grief, the Mooneys found support in the Baylor Family far beyond what they expected.

“The University stepped up from the time of his death,” says Brendon’s mom, Joan (BSED ’76). “Two University officials came to his funeral, and we didn’t even know they were coming. They continued to support us and really made his life significant.”

“It all made us want to give back,” adds Brendon’s dad, Richard, “to keep his name alive and to provide for students.”

The Mooneys first established the Brendon Chase Mooney Memorial Endowed Scholarship to support students in Health, Human Performance and Recreation (HHPR), but felt the call to continue to support the students that follow in their son’s footsteps. Now, another gift from his parents has transformed the northeast corner of Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium into a state-of the-art lab space for research faculty and students in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

The new Mooney Lab for Exercise, Nutrition & Biochemistry is already open for research, even as construction takes place in phases. The lab supports collaborative research by faculty in HHPR and Human Sciences and Design, both housed within Robbins College, in research that will address cancer, kidney disease, muscle loss, chronic disease prevention and more. The 4,100-square-foot lab features a cell culture lab, bench spaces for biochemistry work, and more, dramatically improving the ability of Robbins College faculty and students to conduct Tier 1 research.

Brendon’s time on campus sparked the gift, but the lab reflects the whole family’s interest in health. Joan is a registered nurse and high school teacher; their daughter, Ashleigh, earned her degree in psychology.

“We wanted to find something that was a combination of Brendon’s love of sports and my background in education and healthcare,” Joan says. “This is a perfect fit, to see all of the different disciplines come together and support future health care researchers and providers.”

Help Support Robbin College

Chair Created Through Baylor Academic Challenge Supports Communication Sciences and Disorders Faculty

Baylor University announced the creation of The Vance Masteller Endowed Research Chair in Communication Sciences and Disorders within the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences’ Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Since the start of the Give Light Campaign, the University’s comprehensive philanthropic campaign, the department has received significant programmatic support, with greater resources created to support the work and research surrounding Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The Vance Masteller Endowed Research Chair in Communication Sciences and Disorders was funded through an anonymous $1.5 million gift, which will be matched through the Baylor Academic Challenge initiative and will provide significant research and teaching support in ASD and to advance the Health initiative within Illuminate, the University’s strategic plan. The Vance Masteller Chair will help to attract and retain a leading scholar researcher who will serve as a leader for the department’s new Autism Clinic, which is part of the recently announced expansion of the Baylor Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. The donors of the gift are Baylor alumni.

“Endowment support for Baylor’s faculty provides transformational, long-term impact within our academic programs and departments, and I am grateful for the generous gift these Baylor alumni have made to position the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders for future success and growth,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “At the heart of this gift is a genuine desire to advance Baylor’s mission and ensure that this nationally recognized program has the resources and endowment needed to conduct research and educate future practitioners at the highest levels of excellence.”

The Vance Masteller Chair will provide support as Robbins College begins a $2.5 million expansion of the Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic to create an Autism Clinic, with facilities and research space dedicated to the study of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The expansion, which was announced in March, will create nearly 12,500 square feet of new and remodeled space, doubling the capacity for providing services to individuals with ASD.

These most recent gifts to the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders punctuate a season of significant growth that began in 2015 with a $10 million commitment to the department, which created an endowed chair to lead CSD and provided a blueprint for strategic growth moving forward. The gift also allowed the department to relocate to the Hankamer Cashion Academic Complex in 2016, funding the renovation of classroom space, technology and creating a new home for the Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic, the professional clinical division of the department, which provides community service hours each year to speech-language and hearing-impaired children and adults of all ages.

Building upon this success in 2018, the Waco Scottish Rite Charitable Foundation provided a $1.6 million gift, endowing Baylor’s Camp Success and building off a 15-year partnership between the department and members of the Waco Scottish Rite Bodies, who had provided annual underwriting for the language and literacy intervention program. The endowment ensured the continued impact of the camp, as well as raising awareness of the value of the community outreach and its availability to Central Texas children.

“The past six years have been a time of tremendous growth and advancement for the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders,” said Baylor Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D. “I am grateful for the many alumni, community partners and friends who have given generously to grow the resources of this incredible department, providing faculty with the research spaces and laboratories necessary not only to further academic discovery, but to prepare students to become practitioners who can provide elite care and support for the adults and children diagnosed with ASD and other speech, hearing and language challenges. I am grateful for our Baylor Family who have truly chosen to create an enduring legacy of support, of transformation in higher education through their generous gifts to Baylor CSD.”

Help Support CSD

Building Design with Health in Mind

Building design can have an impact on employee health, and the healthy building movement has spurred more attention to evidence-based factors that benefit the health of individuals at their workplace. This includes the strategic location of food options, elevators and windows, lighting, nutritional food options, standing desks and more. An interdisciplinary Baylor team is applying research to make it easier for more businesses to factor health in facility construction.

Debra Harris, Ph.D., associate professor, and LesLee Funderburk, Ph.D., assistant professor, in Baylor’s Department of Human Sciences and Design, are co-principal investigators on a project to create a software program that aggregates evidence-based design research and interacts with software programs used by the design and construction industry. Erich Baker, Ph.D., chair of Baylor’s Department of Computer Science and professor of bioinformatics, provides the computer insights. Baker and Funderburk analyze and score decades of research to collect evidence-based practices that are interventional for the individuals who work in the buildings.

The project drew more than $1 million in funding through a Small Business Innovation Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The grant was earned by Harris and Jane Rohde, principal of Maryland-based JSR Associates, a healthcare and senior living design consultant.

“When it comes to healthier buildings, designers don’t have the time and resources allocated to do what we’re doing to collect research that makes a difference,” Harris said. “That’s what we’re doing. We are giving them the information and creating a pathway of accomplishing health goals for their clients, making it as easy as possible to see the information and then make decisions based off it and their client’s goals.”

Help Support HSD

Baylor Pre-Med Student Delivers Baby During Summer EMT Internship

Summer means internships for most Baylor students. For sophomore Corinna Kent, that internship meant delivering a baby.

Over the summer, Kent has been working toward her EMT certification at MassBay Community College back home in Needham, Mass. As part of the pre-med track at Baylor, Kent felt the added course and experience would help her both academically and professionally. The course requires 16 hours of ride-alongs, which led to her to an internship with Patriot Ambulance.

During her first ride-along (accompanying two paramedics), Tropical Storm Elsa was bearing down on Massachusetts. A call came in for a woman in labor, and once she was picked up, the team quickly realized they wouldn’t make it to the hospital before the child was born.

“About five minutes into the ride, I noticed the baby’s head appearing — meaning birth was imminent,” says Kent. “We began prepping for the baby, heating up the truck and collecting all the blankets and towels we could find. The mom was amazing the whole time, very calm through the process. She only pushed about five times and the baby was out. The mom was able to hold her healthy baby boy right away. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.”

By chance, Kent and her classmates had trained on the school’s pregnancy simulation mannequin the day before the delivery, so she felt very prepared for the situation. “I knew the ride-along was going to be more exposure, but I didn’t expect anything crazy like a baby,” she adds.

One of the paramedics noted that Kent was her “right-hand man” during the process. “Some people you just look at and you know they were born for the field,” she told a local media outlet. “This young woman is definitely in the field she belongs. She has a real knack for EMT.”

“After engaging with all the incredible professors and healthcare workers last year from presentations in my health science classes and BMSA [the Baylor Medical Student Assocation], I have been encouraged to step up and take as many opportunities as possible to further both my education and working experience in the field of medicine, as well as connect with my community and share a little bit of the Baylor spirit with everyone I meet!” says Kent. “I’ve always dreamed of working in the medical field, but after delivering this baby, the experience has solidified my career path and goals. I’m looking forward to landing an EMT job back in Waco this fall while I finish my studies at Baylor!”

Help Support HHPR

Army Expands Medical Partnership with Baylor, Related Jobs Expected to Grow

A partnership that was already providing some of the best medical training in the country just got better.

A contract naming Baylor University as the sponsor of the Army’s new Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program became official. Baylor is already the sponsor of the Army’s similar programs for creating commissioned physical therapists and nutritionists.

The physical therapy program is ranked among the top college programs in the country. Nutrition programs don’t garner the same attention from the well-known ranking systems, but if they did, Maj. Lori Maggioni said she has “no doubt the Army program would be right there on top.”

Maggioni became a registered dietitian when she finished the Army-Baylor University Graduate Program in Nutrition in 2011. She is now the recruiting program director for the Army Medical Specialist Corps, the collective name given to the officers who serve as occupational therapists, physical therapists, registered dietitians, and physician assistants.

Often referred to as the “cornerstone” of the Army’s medical and performance readiness, the Army is looking to reinforce that foundation. The expansion of the Baylor partnership, Maggioni said, is a direct result of H2F, the Army moniker for its recently adopted Holistic Health and Fitness System.

A key part of H2F is a new focus on integrating SP Corps providers into Soldiers’ daily lives. The H2F environment has them embedded into brigades and battalions, working side-by-side with the Soldiers they are responsible for.

“It’s really an awesome time to be an SP Corps officer because the Army is placing so much emphasis on this, and our Corps is really on the forefront of it,” Maggioni said.

Army doctrine describes H2F as a “cultural shift” that will continue to evolve over the next 20 to 30 years. As the need for SP Corps officers grows with it, Maggioni said the school slots for growing those officers are also expected to increase.

“Now more than ever,” she said, “these (SP Corps) programs are in high demand.”

Interest in the Corps and its graduate programs comes from both in and outside the Army. The program for physician assistants, who Maggioni said are currently in “super-high demand,” is the only one that requires that applicants currently be Soldiers. Applications for the other three schools typically come from civilians, though current Soldiers are welcome to apply as well.

Maggioni grew up in an Army household as the daughter of a career Army officer. Still, she didn’t know the Army had options for people like her until she was an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia.

“It just seemed like such an incredible opportunity to combine my interest and passion for nutrition and health with serving in the military and caring for service members,” she said.

2nd Lt. Eva Queen discovered the Baylor partnership when she was an Army staff sergeant with a specialty in repairing small arms and artillery. She was training for the infantry, something that had just become a possibility for women, when an injury required surgery and thwarted her plans.

Queen was in rehabilitation when she “fell in love with the idea” of becoming a physical therapist. “One door closes and another opens,” she said. “It ended up really working out for me.”

Now, Queen is a student within the Army-Baylor program at the Army Medical Center of Excellence on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. All SP Corps graduate program students complete their didactic work at the Center.

Queen earned the bachelor’s degree she needed to be eligible for the Army-Baylor program while she balanced full-time Army hours and her education. At Fort Sam Houston, the Army pays for her education and active-duty income while she is a full-time student. Not having to balance work and school “makes all the difference in the world,” the Denver, Colorado, native said.

Queen’s undergraduate degree is in biology, but a science degree is not required for admission to the Army-Baylor PT and OT programs. Maggioni recently spoke to someone who had a business degree and was interested in the nutrition program she graduated from. That program is also slated to drop its specific degree requirements at the end of this year.

“There’s a lot of people out there who change career paths and find their way to these medical specialties,” Maggioni said. “They bring a lot of experiences…we find these people to be very valuable.”

The Army also values the many who already have acquired skills before joining the SP Corps. Capt. Jacqueline Tamayo received her Army commission after seven years of civilian practice in occupational therapy. In the big picture, the Army offered Tamayou personal growth and leadership opportunities she hadn’t found in the civilian sector, she said.

But Tamayo was careful to research the more specific benefits, too. She really liked that she could escape the pressure from insurance companies on civilian therapists. Because the Army is the military branch with the largest medical corps, she also learned, it has more job and educational opportunities.

“The help with my (student) loan repayment was a big incentive as well,” Tamayo cheerfully emphasized.

Help Support Occupational Therapy

Meet Baylor’s Nationally Honored Expert on Physical Activity & Healthy Aging

We’re used to doctors prescribing medicine when patients need it — but what about prescriptions for exercise, or fresh vegetables?

That’s just one of the areas being studied by Dr. Kelly Ylitalo (BS ’04) — a Baylor alumna, associate professor in BU’s Department of Public Health, and a rising star as a researcher and epidemiologist. Her work blends health, data science, sociology and more to help communities (and the organizations that serve them) better promote the health of the people who live there.

“My research is an opportunity to think globally and act locally,” says Ylitalo, who returned to her alma mater in 2013 after earning her doctorate in epidemiological science at Michigan. Given such an approach, it’s not surprising to find aspects of her research taking place at Waco Family Medicine, the World Hunger Relief farm, and other such Central Texas locations.

In 2019, Ylitalo was awarded a highly coveted National Institutes of Health (NIH) career development award to invest in her studies of the link between physical activity and healthy aging. The $626,000 award was a meaningful investment by the NIH, given only to the most promising early-career researchers; it supports her research partnership with Waco Family Medicine, a health center serving one of every five McLennan County residents. Her data-driven work analyzes the effectiveness of innovative programs like exercise and vegetable prescriptions. Waco Family Medicine doctors actually prescribe workouts at their wellness center, or vegetables from World Hunger Relief’s Veggie Van, and it’s important for them to be able to know if such experimental approaches work.

Tides of quantitative and qualitative data — from individual health records, exercise and vegetable referrals, and more — are synthesized through a custom app by Ylitalo and her team to measure effectiveness and improve health outcomes.

“Kelly’s work is so important in helping us track extraneous data that we’re running on patients, and merging with electronic health records data,” says Wendy Cox, Waco Family Medicine’s community health engagement manager. “It’s striking that she knows the value of every part of this project, even the small parts, and always keeps the patient at the forefront.”

A Baylor graduate who developed an interest in public health on a Mission Waco trip to Haiti as a Baylor student, Ylitalo keeps service-minded scholarship in the forefront, partnering with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty and Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion.

“Jesus cared for the most vulnerable people,” Ylitalo explains. “I think public health has a similar mission of making sure that every person in every population is valued and has the opportunity to be healthy. Public health research and a Christian research university go hand in hand.”

Help Support Public Health

Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Residency Now Offered at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center

A new residency program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest will provide physical therapists the education and experience to become specialists in orthopedic physical therapy. A first in Central Texas, the orthopedic physical therapy residency program is a new collaboration between Baylor Scott & White Health and the Department of Physical Therapy at Baylor University.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to experience early specialization in the field of orthopedics,” said Trevor Carlson, PT, DPT, director of the residency program. “This residency represents an opportunity to elevate orthopedic physical therapy practice within our community.”

During the 12-month program, residents will build orthopedic expertise by working with a diverse patient population and receiving clinical mentorship in multiple care settings at Baylor Scott & White – Hillcrest. Through Baylor University, residents also will complete coursework and participate in teaching and research opportunities with faculty in the Department of Physical Therapy. Upon successful completion of the residency, residents will be eligible to take the national board examination for specialist certification.

The orthopedic physical therapy residency is undergoing accreditation by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency & Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE) and will be the only orthopedic residency between the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metro areas. 

“The Baylor University Physical Therapy Department is thrilled to work alongside Baylor Scott & White – Hillcrest with a shared goal of advancing orthopedic physical therapist practice,” notes Dr. Sheri Dragoo, Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences interim dean. 

“This innovative program will allow our faculty to share their advanced orthopedic expertise with residents while providing residents the opportunity to teach into our entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy program,” said Kendra Gagnon, PT, PhD, chair of the Physical Therapy Department at Baylor University. “It is truly a win-win for our faculty, students, the Waco community, and the physical therapy profession.” 

Licensed U.S. physical therapists may apply by Nov. 15. The first residents will begin in March 2022.

Help Support Physical Therapy



We hope you enjoyed this Fall 2021 update and look forward to sharing more information with you in our Spring ‘22 Newsletter. Thank you for your time and continued support.


Sic ‘em Bears!