December 20, 2019
What does it mean to be a Solid Gold Neighbor in the community? Holly Burchett, Baylor Director of Community Relations, explains on this Baylor Connections. Burchett shares about partnerships between Baylor and local businesses, non-profits, educational institutions, health organizations, boards and more throughout the Waco area to connect university and community and address meaningful issues.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guest today is Holly Burchett. Holly serves as Baylor's director of community relations in the office of external affairs. Whose mission is to lead, engage, support and celebrate the collective impact of Waco and Baylor. Solid Gold Neighbor, Baylor's community engagement initiative features five pillars, economic development, health, education, cultural wealth and city growth. A Baylor graduate Burchett served as president of the junior league of Waco prior to returning to her Alma mater. And she's with us today on the program. Holly, thanks so much for joining us. It's great to have you here.
Holly Burchett:Thank you for having me.
Derek Smith:We will over the next 20 minutes or so, get to dive into that partnership, that community involvement aspect in ways that Baylor, the university and community work together. And I know this Christmas season is a particularly busy time for everyone to celebrate. Where might we find you and your external affairs colleagues around town this time of year?
Holly Burchett:Well, it's one of my personal favorite seasons, but it does bring a lot of hustle with it. And to be honest, it's not felt all that different from other seasons in our work. I mean we daily meet with community partners and on-campus departments to collaborate on work that would benefit both Waco and Baylor. But that said, I'm looking forward to the week of Christmas and reconnecting with our family. My husband and I have three young children all under the age of eight. And so it's good just to stop every once in a while and reorient a bit in our home.
Derek Smith:When you talk about reorienting, I know it's been a busy year for you because you joined the external affairs team at Baylor in April, so not your first full year, but wrapping up the end of that first year. As you look back at these first, what, eight or nine months or so since joining in April, what aspects of that community involvement aspect at Baylor most meaningful to you?
Holly Burchett:Well, first and foremost, it's just wonderful to have a full team. We're fully hired. So we spent the summer and early fall interviewing, hiring and onboarding our team. So it feels incredible to work with such a talented group of people. We bring a variety of views, backgrounds and expertise to the table, which I see as a true positive. And I'm enjoying learning with and from them and seeing our work really began to take off.
Derek Smith:We are talking to Holly Burchett here on Baylor Connections and let's dive into what external affairs is for people who've maybe heard the term and don't know. What is external affairs and how does it work?
Holly Burchett:We're a team of five, Dr. Jeremy Vickers, he's our associate vice president of external affairs and he deeply engages with our city and community leadership. He also oversees Baylor's institutional events team and then together we oversee the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative, which is our intentional community engagement strategy. So like you said earlier, we have five pillars and those are economic development, education, health, cultural wealth and city growth. And Jeremy takes the lead on our economic development work. I largely engage on our education and health pillars. Krista Brinser is our associate assistant director of community relations for city growth. Cuevas Peacock is our assistant director of community relations for cultural wealth and Holly Webb is our office and project manager. And as a team we intentionally work in those five areas by serving on a variety of nonprofit boards, providing capacity building, strategic direction, grant making or fundraising for other organizations when that seems right. And then ultimately recognition for the work that people, programs and organizations across the city and right here at Baylor are doing.
Derek Smith:It's been a big a year of growth, as you said, for an external affairs and working in the community. What are some of the driving convictions that shaped the way you partner with the broader community?
Holly Burchett:So when we began to really think about how we will engage in this work here at Baylor in Waco, we started to think about this idea of symptom versus system level work. And at Baylor, there are many departments and organizations that are connecting in our city at what we like to refer to as the symptom level, which provides support to something right away. It is very necessary, but at the same time we saw a need for our office to connect in all of these spaces at the system level to help these areas grow and change strategically for the long haul.
Derek Smith:What's an example of, when you talk about that, symptom versus a systematic approach to that?
Holly Burchett:So really instead of working with one school in Waco ISD really working with all the schools in Waco ISD, engaging their board and their leadership to make sure that they're aware of some of the things that we're seeing here at Baylor or in Waco and how we could improve education for all in our city. A second thing that we really looked at was collaboration. I mean, we rarely work alone to tackle and truly create change in food insecurity or college or career pipeline or helping the growth of local small businesses. We won't move the needle if we work in silos. And so we've seen our city be most effective when we work together.
Derek Smith:When you think about Baylor and the community, the community has so many people doing great things business wise, service wise, nonprofit wise. I know at junior league you saw a lot of that in that role and then certainly Baylor as an academic institution you've got people with so many different areas of of expertise. What's that vision of being able to bring so many different people together like that? Just so many different areas of expertise?
Holly Burchett:Right. Absolutely. Well I think there's just something about when you create seats at the table, you really want to think about having diversity of thought right there and experience and so you can't solve some of these issues. You can't really tackle some of the problems in our city without having bringing everyone to the table, having a lot of different views, a lot of different ideas and really designing and thinking creatively about solutions that really would be impactful.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Holly Burchett and Holly, you were Baylor student and when I was a Baylor student, I remember people joking a lot about the Baylor bubble. That was a phrase that I did. Do you remember hearing that when you were a student?
Holly Burchett:Absolutely yes.
Derek Smith:Well, I don't know that you hear that as much any more because I think a lot of intentional work has been made to break that. What ways have you seen the relationship between the city and the community grow, if you maybe think back over the years from just your own experiences?
Holly Burchett:Well, like you said, I had the benefit of attending Baylor as an undergrad and I mean that was 20 plus years ago. But I can remember even then, the term Baylor bubble used to describe our place in the city and today while that term still exist, I don't feel that holds the weight that it once did. And it was however one of the driving forces behind our go gold discount and go gold giveaway programs that we've delivered out into the city and across our campus this fall. So really in both of those programs, we want Baylor faculty and staff and students to engage in the best of what Waco has to offer. And that does mean getting off campus and exploring our city. So, we know when Baylor faculty staff and students live, work and play in our city, we all improve including our local businesses. And so if you go on our website, if you go on the external affairs website, then you will find about 60 local retailers that are providing a discount to Baylor faculty and staff with just a flash of your Baylor ID. And that is an opportunity to really build a bridge between the university and our city. And just really encourage you to explore and go local.
Derek Smith:What does it look like as you and your colleagues talk to businesses? Just what sense do you get about the momentum? And we talked a lot about the momentum at Baylor, but there's a lot of momentum in the community as well.
Holly Burchett:Absolutely. So, as we have gone out and worked with the, especially our local small businesses, they want student engagement, they want faculty and staff engagement. And so, but a lot of times that's hard to break a barrier to be able to get the engagement that they need for their business to flourish. And so really, this is an opportunity for, to encourage that. We also want to be a listening ear and really determine ways that we can engage with them at a deeper level. How can we help them?
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Holly Burchett here on Baylor Connections and Holly, what does that vision of being a Solid Gold Neighbor for Baylor in the community look like?
Holly Burchett:Yes. So we work in these five pillars. We work and collaborate with others, delivering this work to the city to provide capacity, strategic direction, funding and recognition. And we carry out this work externally and internally. Again, that idea that we don't do things alone. So we have two different councils. We have a Solid Gold Neighbor ambassador council. That's really our external group with about 25 community members that work in those five pillars in the city. And then we have an internal group as well called the external affairs council and that is made up of different representatives from across our campus. And so we've initially this fall tasks, those groups to give us feedback and help us deliver our work and most recently have been asking them to identify people, programs and organizations that are doing Solid Gold Neighbor work or impactful work in our city. And then our office, through our office and project manager and each of us writes and curate stories about their work. And you can find those on our Solid Gold Neighbors social media channels, our Instagram, our Facebook and then also on our external affairs website.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Holly Burchett, Baylor's director of community relations in the office of external affairs. And Holly, we mentioned that you're a Baylor graduate and prior to coming back to work at Baylor you worked at the junior league. In what ways did your work in the junior league and other past roles prepare you for a community development role at Baylor?
Holly Burchett:Well, as of this year, I've been an active member in the junior league for 14 years and most recently served as president of the nonprofit organization and chairman of our board of directors. The junior league focuses on equipping and training women to be leaders, especially in the nonprofit sector. So the trainings that you receive help you to understand healthy board structure and practices, the need for strategic planning, healthy financial infrastructure within a nonprofit. And then specifically with the generally of Waco, there's a large headquarters to oversee and maintain an administrative staff to guide. And I've been able to transfer that experience to help me in this role to connect with our local nonprofits and really understand the daily struggle of keeping your doors open and making sure that you're going to really exist next year. So the junior leagues work has always been focused around women and children and most recently around early childhood education. So that really helped me to understand Waco's need and around education and connect with local leaders in our community.
Derek Smith:It's always interesting to hear how people's path took them from maybe where they were in college to where they are now. And talking to you, I learned that your background, your path to this maybe isn't one that people might guess. If you were going back and saying, well what was your major in college? I know you're a speech pathologist by training. So do you rely on that training in any way in this role now? Is it applicable?
Holly Burchett:Absolutely. So I've been a speech pathologist in the medical setting for 16 years. And so I greatly, not only, I greatly understand not only the education arena, but healthcare as well. And so when you look at those education and health pillars that I specifically work deeply in you can see where being credentialed really helps. And while most of my time as a speech pathologist been serving in the medical setting, that background helps me understand language development and milestones that one has to meet to acquire language and achieve literacy. And so you can see how that would be helpful when we're not passing third grade reading standards, understanding how we get there, how do we achieve literacy is certainly helpful. And it helps when you're working with Waco ISD or variety of healthcare entities to be credentialed and have that level of knowledge to understand how to truly advance the work.
Derek Smith:We talked about the five pillars at the top of the show, economic development, health, education, cultural wealth and city growth. So really kind of seems as you're talking about working in healthcare at an educational settings. And you could see where that touches on a number of those pillars right off the bat with your experience. You mentioned you used the example of students not passing the third grade reading test and trying to help them do that. What are some of the ways, what are some of those factors that may be go under the radar to many people that you've seen help, have that longterm impact that might impact a student in third grade? And what are some of the ways that you can approach that to help students in the community?
Holly Burchett:Sure. So within our five pillars of work, we have certain goals that align with city goals. So for example, in education we're working specifically on children being kindergarten ready, meeting third grade reading standards and increasing college to career pipelines. So we don't work on these goals alone. Again, you're seeing a theme there, but we collaborate with Waco ISD Prosper Waco, United Way and then other various nonprofits. And then in that health space we recently hosted and convened a group of departments at Baylor that work in health related fields to hear from our new director of the Waco McLennan County public health district, Dr. Brenda Gray. And she presented their vision and strategic plan and explained what our greatest needs are from a public health standpoint. So one of the things specifically, she highlighted a need for greater support for those with mental health difficulty in our city. And so we're now in the very early stages of beginning to work on hosting a mental health symposium for the spring along with our school of social work. But we wouldn't have known that was a right fit or a right move, had we not first heard strategically what the need was in our city. And so hosting and convening conversations like that for Waco and at Baylor and for Baylor really helps us align and do our work best.
Derek Smith:Are there areas of strength at Baylor that you recognize as we talk about working with the community and you've got these organizations that serve in these different spaces, you've got our educators at Waco ISD that we can partner with. Are there areas, whether you, I mean even just being able to host something, not every place in the community has the capacity to welcome thousands of people for something. Are there some areas of strength that you kind of inherently recognize, whether you hear an opportunity that you think, well this is a way Baylor can provide something that maybe not everyone in the community can?
Holly Burchett:Absolutely. So a great example of that is because of the work I'd done in the community. I came into the role knowing that we needed a higher quality professional development for our educators, especially in the early childhood arena. And so in August we worked at the Waco ISD, we found out that they were bringing in a guest speaker for conscious discipline. And the reason this was such a right fit for us was because conscious discipline is taught in our school of education here at Baylor to our students that are training and being educated to be the next generation of educators. But also at our lab school here at Piper, the Piper center for child and family studies. That is what they practice. And so Waco ISD that is the discipline program that they utilize as well, the behavioral program. And so when I found out that they were bringing a keynote from conscious discipline into the city, that can be expensive to bring a keynote like that. So I didn't walk but I ran to the opportunity to connect with Waco ISD. I was able to get our school of education Robbins college, our school of social work to collaborate along with Baylor external affairs. And we put on a two day program right here on our campus. And so it was an opportunity to not only connect with our educators from pre K through second grade, but all 250 educators, including the aides that daily work with the students. And so it was a great example of being a neighbor. They brought a resource that we needed. We have a resource that they needed. We worked together, we spent two days learning next to each other and you just have to believe that connections will be made that will be built for the long haul. So that was a really fun event. We're looking forward to planning that again with them.
Derek Smith:It's fantastic. We're visiting with Holly Burchett here on Baylor Connections. And Holly mentioned the five pillars earlier and how do those pillars, are those like guideposts, just in terms of when you look at challenges and opportunities in the community, how do those pillars shape the areas that we choose so into or the ways you address them?
Holly Burchett:So as a large employer in the city and an anchor institution and Baylor frequently gets asked for support and we are glad to be on the forefront of people's minds. That said, it creates a strong need for strategy. So the Solid Gold Neighbor pillars and goals keep us laser focused on our yeses so that we do not get distracted amongst all the requests. And it makes you stop and evaluate how our office can do, can not just do good but do the most good. And so that's just a way when we work in those five pillars that we're able to bring that strategy effectively.
Derek Smith:That framework, a little bit of a roadmap as well as you address those. Talking to Holly Burchett and Holly on your first few months on the job, what aspects of the community's response to the work you do has most stood out to you?
Holly Burchett:It's been overwhelmingly positive and I think they too, like that we have a strategy for engagement overall and it seems as if people are becoming familiar with it. We've put a vision document together and been able to largely connect with the city at several tables to explain this is the way that we want to work. We really want to be a good neighbor.
Derek Smith:Talking to Holly Burchett and Holly, we referenced earlier you were a student here at Baylor. I was as well and I think we both know things have changed in the community and at Baylor. Baylor has grown quite a bit whether you talk about becoming an R1 university now. When you look at athletic successes, a lot of buildings are on campus that were not when I was a student here. And the same thing's happening in the community as well. Waco is growing, there's a real sense of momentum, what ways does the growth of the city, the growth of Baylor, do you sense some kind of feeding off of one another in that sense that both are spraying on the other at even better things.
Holly Burchett:Absolutely. There's just a lot of momentum here with a lot of people moving into the city and we have a lot of people staying and I believe as Waco grows there will be more job opportunities that develop, giving us an opportunity to attract and retain even greater talent into our city. And our pride in Waco and Baylor will grow and hopefully create an even greater affection for one another.
Derek Smith:Holly, as you look ahead to 2020 now, a couple of weeks away, actually less than two weeks away from the start of 2020 now. When you look ahead to the new year, the new decade, what opportunities are most exciting to you?
Holly Burchett:Well, our office already has many things that are already underway. So we'll be hosting a men's and women's empowerment summit on our campus in March. And that's bringing about 400 junior high and high school students on our campus to strengthen the college to career pipeline. And our city will be doing that March 20th and March 27th, we'll have a conference in the morning with a luncheon and a keynote all about really the conference is going to address some hard topics that you need to address with young people. And then the keynote and lunch and we'll really be more of an inspirational opportunity. But it's more than that. You could host this conference and this empowerment summit anywhere in this city, but there's something really meaningful about putting it on a college campus. And so last year it was hosted at MCC, the women's was this year, both the men's and women's, we've made space and way for them to be here at Baylor and that builds that college to career pipeline. And then we're beginning, like I said before about putting together a mental health symposium in May. And then, but I'm mainly excited about continuing to build trust in our city through our office, a place where they can easily engage with Baylor. We largely want to be that external face that when a local nonprofit or a business or an organization or even a person has a request that they would come to us and see us as, that we could take the request in, we could filter that and then we could find the right resources. And so our office right now is really trying to determine how to create an inventory of the resources that Baylor has so they're readily assessable. And then also, just building the bridge between Waco and Baylor when there was a need in Waco or a need at Baylor. If there's an opportunity in Waco to connect that Baylor request into the city, if there's a need in the city, being able to request that, make that known here at Baylor. And really we just believe the city will grow the more we collaborate.
Derek Smith:Well, Holly Burchett pulled up on my phone while you were talking, you mentioned Solid Gold Neighbor. You can go to Instagram and look up Solid Gold Neighbor, just Solid Gold Neighbor on Instagram. You can Google it as well. That might be the easiest way for people to find it so they can learn more. Actually, baylor.edu/externalaffairs/sgn. Yes, that where people can find out more. So thanks so much for taking the time to share with us. I really appreciate it. Merry Christmas and a best wishes in the new year as you begin to see some of those visions take even further shape.
Holly Burchett:Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Holly Burchett, Baylor's director of community relations, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Thanks so much for joining us and Merry Christmas. A reminder you can hear this and other programs online. Baylor.edu/connections.