United in Our Calling to Improve Lives

October 10, 2017
A Q&A with Rodney Bowden, Dean of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

From chairing the College’s original implementation team to serving as dean, Rodney Bowden has been instrumental in the formation and advancement of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences. Now, three years after its establishment, Bowden reflects on how the departments within the College – Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD); Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS); Health, Human Performance and Recreation (HHPR); and, soon, Army-Baylor – are coming together to improve the quality of human lives.

Before coming to the Robbins College, you served in the School of Education as associate dean for graduate studies and research. How did that experience help to prepare you for leadership in the Robbins College?

My efforts in the School of Education were to oversee graduate programs and research initiatives, and many of the graduate programs were either teacher preparation programs, teacher certification programs or programs that were related on the health side to some degree that did not have a teacher preparation component. Those were different programs with differing goals and approaches, so you had to balance the needs of all of the programs while still building community.

Now in the Robbins College, if you talk to some of our program directors and leaders, they will say they are human sciences. You talk to other program director and leaders, and they will say they are health sciences. Everyone in the college feels like they fit within a health or a human sciences discipline, so in that sense we are well connected. We are also going to have a fourth unit eventually that will be created around Army-Baylor, and those are all health-related programs.

The work we accomplished in the School of Education prior to the formation of the Robbins College helped prepare me to work with different disciplines where we wished to be collaborative and find connections. Every program in the Robbins College, whether we say we are human sciences or health, would tell you that we are all connected in the area of trying to advance improvements in quality of life. We have a lot of things in common, more so than differences. And I think that has been very helpful for us to come together as an academic unit.

What would you say has been one of the most significant keys to bringing the different departments of the Robbins College together?

What has been very important for us is getting the right people in place. We have Peter Grandjean, our associate dean for research collaborations and graduate programs, who has been able to help build community within graduate programs and research initiatives and bring people together to create some collaborative partnerships. We also have Mikie Ritter who has joined us this semester as our associate dean for undergraduate and international studies. Her leadership is important for us to bring our undergraduate program directors and international work together.

We have a supporting group of Will Driskell and Andrea Baker who have been with us since the formation of Robbins and have served in a number of capacities while we increased the number of staff in our dean’s suite. Corey Johnson has really helped us by telling our stories and establishing a brand identity for our college, which helps Tyler Cornwell find resources through development work. These are people who have been singularly and collectively important for us to be successful in coming together as a newly formed college and to connect our programs and faculty together. That has been mission critical for us. They are doing, and will continue to do, a great job.

You mention bringing people together. What are some examples of collaboration between Robbins College departments?

I could give a lot of examples of collaborative efforts! HHPR was teaching a nutrition course and FCS has a nutrition program, so we began to look to see how our students in HHPR could benefit from our faculty in nutrition being able to teach them the latest nutritional information. We were able to create new courses and more sections in FCS that were nutrition-related. It helped us to overcome some of the duplication in terms of resources. We were able to partner together. That’s one example.

We have also seen where some of our apparel folks have been able to connect with our sports foundation faculty – Andy Meyer and Lorynn Divita – on a research project that before you never would have dreamed the two might be able to connect around. They bring their own particular areas of emphases, but they were able to cross over and do some great work and collaborate. There are other significant research collaborations occurring and we anticipate more as we work with our Army-Baylor faculty.

We are at a nexus right now where we believe we can start to gain some momentum, simply because early on in the creation of Robbins we didn’t yet have the people in place to facilitate robust collaborative work together. Now with Pete and with Mikie, we will see more of the fruit of that labor very soon.

What does Baylor’s Christian mission look like within the Robbins College?

What I like to tell prospective students and their parents is that we are preparing students professionally and at the highest levels. We have chosen to pursue accreditation that requires that we meet or exceed very high standards. We also are engaged in research that from the outside may look similar to secular institutions. The Robbins College difference is the added value that Christian faculty who are teaching those courses and engaging in that research bring to that work.

The reason many faculty are engaged in their research specialty is that they have a sense of calling to their work. We talk about students having a sense of calling to go and to work to serve the Lord in some capacity in their discipline; faculty are called many times to teach, to teach certain courses, to teach and mentor certain students and to interact in meaningful ways with our students. Research also is a calling, and many times faculty are called to do that work because it is important work that improves the lives of others.

Every day that we teach and build relationships with students or reveal a new discovery that will impact human lives is advancing the faith mission of Baylor. We have Christian faculty who are doing great work in the classroom, who are doing great work in the community and in research labs, who are really answering their sense of calling. And we enable that in every way possible.
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