President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. and Jason Cook
February 7, 2020
Baylor University recently partnered with Texas Business Journals for a survey highlighting the insights of Texas business leaders into the state’s economy and attitudes towards industry-university research partnerships. In this Baylor Connections, President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., and Jason Cook, Vice President for Marketing and Communications and Chief Marketing officer, analyze the results and share how Baylor’s research focus drives innovation, uncovers solutions and prepares leaders for the future workforce.
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 guests today are Baylor University President Dr. Linda Livingstone, and Jason Cook, Baylor's vice president for marketing and communications and chief marketing officer. We'll be talking today about the results of a released recent survey Baylor released in partnership with Texas Business Journals. It provides insight from nearly 600 business leaders across the state of Texas on areas like the state's economic outlook and attitudes towards university research partnerships. Respondents demonstrated a strong belief that universities should be involved in research that addresses challenges across a variety of industries. And nearly three quarters believe it's important for Texas to have more research universities to remain competitive. The survey also uncovered optimism for the Texas economy, with 73% saying they're very or extremely confident in the state's economic outlook in 2020, more than twice as many who said the same thing about the US economy as a whole. We're going to break down these numbers a little bit and look into what we can glean from that at Baylor University. President Livingstone, Jason Cook, thanks so much for joining. It's great to have you here today.
Jason Cook:Thanks Derek.
President Livingstone:Glad to be here, Derek.
Derek Smith:President Livingstone, obviously great to talk to you about this anyway, but especially given your background at Hankamer School of Business, and then in your roles at Pepperdine and George Washington. I'm curious when you see that Baylor's excavated insights from nearly 600 business leaders about some of these topics, what are the questions that come to mind or what are the areas that you're most eager to look into first?
President Livingstone:I think for us, given that we're seeking to be a preeminent Christian research university, it's important for us to understand the climate in our state around research and innovation, and particularly the relationships that can be built between the business community and the university as it relates to those issues. So this survey's going to be really important to us to understanding that, and to really opening the door to conversation with the business community about how we can work together and partner to really do some interesting things that can advance what's happening in Texas and then certainly further around the country and around the world.
Derek Smith:Jason, what was the genesis of this survey and why was Texas Business Journals the right partner?
Jason Cook:We've had a major initiative for Baylor to become a tier one or research one university, to become one of these preeminent research universities around the country. That still remains true to our Christian mission and ideals. So we started looking at the landscape here in the state of Texas. What's the environment for another research university? If you look back over a decade ago, Texas had three R1 universities. You had Rice, you had the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M university. Now fast forward a decade as we're in the 2020s. The state has nine. You still have those same three, but you have UT Arlington, UT Dallas, you have U of H, Texas Tech, University of North Texas and UTEP as well. So we want to look at what's the environment here in the state of Texas to have another research university. And of course while we're talking to business leaders, we want to get a good idea of maybe what's different about the economy here in the state of Texas.
Derek Smith:What goes into putting that together? Before we really break down the results, what goes into making sure you get the right sample and finding the questions that you really want those answers to?
Jason Cook:One, you have to have a great partner and the Texas Business Journals are just wonderful. Dr. Livingstone had been very familiar with the Business Journals through he work in DC and then in California as well. So you look at their readership that they have. They really are business leaders, and it's a wide range from Fortune 500 CEOs to realtors to contractors to small business owners. And they just over index in so many areas from a demographic standpoint. So we thought that we could get a wide range of responses from a wide range of the industries to get some feedback and glean some insights as we start putting these next steps together for the university.
Derek Smith:President Livingstone, the stats that he mentioned there, the state of Texas has gone from three to nine research universities in a decade. And yet still encouraging to see your respondents, three fourths of them, say that the state actually needs more to remain competitive.
Derek Smith:How does Baylor in that environment separate itself from the pack, and if you envision some years down the road, want to achieve that status?
President Livingstone:I think there's a lot of reasons to think about why Texas needs additional research universities, even though we've seen significant growth there. And I think certainly Baylor has a unique place to play in that. But we are a growing economy in Texas. The state itself population wise is growing. We have a very, very diverse population here that I think will be very representative of what you see happening across the country as well. And so when you're in a place that's that dynamic, so much is going on, it's got a really great climate for the business environment to be successful. You need universities that are going to be doing interesting research, helping those companies solve problems, helping society solve problems. And I think Baylor adds a unique element to that as a faith based Christian research university. None of the other universities in Texas that are R1 universities are really in that faith-based arm of higher education. And so here at Baylor, we're doing really good science and really good research. But we also think about the implications of that from our faith tradition as a Baptist university, as a Christian university. And also think about, are we solving the right problems? Are we applying what we learned from that research to help the world be a better place for people to live in? And certainly other institutions think about that and care about those issues. But I do think because we come at this from a faith based perspective, we're going to look at these research questions in a little bit different way through a different lens. And it adds a different perspective to the innovation climate and the research climate in the state.
Jason Cook:Yeah, that's a really good point because if you look at it all out of those nine universities across the state, each one of them has a little bit different role. You take University of Texas at El Paso for example, it's a Hispanic serving institution. You take a school like Texas Tech or Texas A&M that are going to have a little bit more agriculture and engineering focus. You've got some urban serving schools. University of North Texas is heavy in health sciences, for example, in biotech. So you put all those together. Each one of these schools has a little bit different focus and a little bit different twist, but that hole that we have for Baylor is that faith based component.
President Livingstone:And then you look across the state as we have more R1 universities doing really significant research. It's really rounding out the research profile of the state. That in and of itself will help attract more businesses to the state. It'll bring folks to the state that care about learning and research. And innovation and so it just helps continue to build on the climate that we have in Texas that's attracting people to come here and live and work.
Derek Smith:You talk about that niche a little bit. This is something we've talked about with you on the program shortly after Illuminate was adopted. But when you think of some of those signature academics initiatives like health, data science, material science, leadership at ethics, human flourishing, and Baylor in Latin America, what were the thought processes again, and looking at those areas where Baylor's strength meet some of those workforce needs?
President Livingstone:As we looked at identifying those theme areas that we would focus on, we looked at areas we had strength already. So health is a perfect example of that. We have a great brand in health. We have a large set of programs that support students interested in going into health. We already have faculty doing research in the health space. And we also know that when you look out the walls of Baylor, besides the fact we have strength there, there's great need to have good research in the health area. That research might be around solutions to health issues. So we've got faculty doing cancer research. Wouldn't it be great if we come to identify some of the treatments that can really help us with cancer in the world? So real basic science. But then we also have people looking at, administratively, how do we actually operate our hospitals and healthcare systems more effectively. There's huge cost issues in healthcare. How do we help make healthcare more affordable? So there's also great need in healthcare for people to thoughtfully approach those questions and bring solutions to the world that will actually help solve some of these problems. And so as we looked at each of those areas, we were trying to say, where does our skillset meet need in the world that's out there? And where are there opportunities for really good research questions that we could hopefully bring some of our expertise to bear? And then also provide great educational learning opportunities for our students.
Derek Smith:We're visiting with President Livingstone and Jason Cook here on Baylor Connections. And a few numbers when you talk about industry university research partnerships, the numbers were overwhelmingly positive. More than eight in 10 respondents believe that universities should engage in discovering industry solutions. Nearly two thirds believe that universities actually have a moral responsibility to do so. And so as Baylor moves further towards R1 status, obviously business values these things. But what do those numbers say to you?
President Livingstone:It's very affirming when you're at a university that business a thinks so highly of the research that universities are doing, and recognizes the tremendous value in the research that universities are doing. I think sometimes when you read some of what's in the media, you wonder if people actually understand the value of education. And it's not just the learning that takes place with students, but it's actually the research that's being produced at these institutions that's helping solve problems. And so I thought that was very affirming and I think it shows tremendous opportunity. I don't know that we take full advantage of that affirmation of what we're doing in partnering on research opportunities that can be really valuable to an educational institution, but also valuable to the business community out there.
Derek Smith:Outside of the academic community, people have heard of industry university research partnerships, but maybe are a little vague on what they look like. Just from your experience, what does a good partnership look like with each organization or institution bringing its own strengths to bear?
President Livingstone:You obviously have to be focusing on an issue that's of interest to both the organization, the company or the business and the institution. And that can be different things. It might be the company that has a research question and they approach the university, because the university might have a skill set to do the research that that particular company doesn't have. And so marrying the question the company has with the expertise of the institution. The other thing you see is oftentimes faculty doing interesting research, but they need a business partner that has data or has a place to apply the research. But the university might not have that access. And so it can be different reasons that bring them together., But there has to be a common need around an important question that there's a good fit between the institution and the business.
Jason Cook:One thing that we did find out of the survey results is while the desire is great, the significant gap is that people just don't know how. From the businesses, how do you engage these large universities that have thousands of faculty members statewide doing incredible work in different areas, sometimes in very small niches of academia. And so that's one really significant learning that we have, is that people want to do it. They just don't know how. So we see that that's a great opportunity for school like Baylor to come in. And how do we make it a big message that, hey, we're open for business, if you will. We want to create these partnerships. So we've got to look at, we have this great opportunity. How do we make these opportunities more visible for us? How do we make it easy for the businesses instead of scrolling around on websites and trying to find people. But really start to make those connections in terms of making sure that we can be a valuable resource to the business community.
President Livingstone:One of the things I learned as a business school dean was this very thing that businesses want to do it, but they don't have any idea how to connect with the university, because we're structured different, we use different language. They know how to connect with another business to get things done. And so it's hard for the company to know what to do to initiate that contact with the university. And sometimes it actually works better in my experience that the university actually does the outreach to the company. But Jason's exactly right. We've got to do a better job of helping the business community understand how they can engage with us and make it easier for them to knock on our door and say, Hey, we've got this problem we'd love some help with. Or we'd love to have some students work with us on something. And so as universities, we have to be more open about our willingness to engage in how to do that in a way that businesses can understand in their language and in maybe models that are a little more familiar to them.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone and Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communications. And President Livingstone, another aspect of the survey is the fact that we talk about students and engaged learning, and the ways that it helps them be better students, to be better problem solvers, but very practically better workers someday. Nearly eight and 10 respondents believe that research better prepares students for the workforce. So obviously we're training future problem solvers and leaders, but to what extent as we look at Illuminate, do you and Baylor faculty think through that prism of the future workforce and preparing that?
President Livingstone:Certainly a big focus of Illuminate is growing our research profile and our research impact and so on. But a part of that is engaging students more fully in the research project, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Because we do believe that certainly students want to be engaged in research, but if students are engaged in research, it's helping them know how to ask important questions, how to study those questions and then how to hopefully find solutions and apply the solutions to problems. And who out there in the business community or the healthcare community, the education community doesn't want students that are good problem solvers? And so research helps you to do that. So we absolutely believe that really in almost any field that students could go into, having had some type of research experience is going to better prepare them for the workforce with almost no exception to what kind of job or industry they might go into.
Jason Cook:Yeah. As we look at our prospective student base, we're all dealing with Gen Z right now. If you look at what they tell us, that they want perspective students, they want a research experience as part of that. And if you look at this generation, they really learn by doing. And in the past we would sit in a lecture hall and learn by osmosis sometimes and impart the knowledge. Gen Z really wants to do as they seek to understand, as they seek to apply their knowledge to really discover, more or less. So as we're seeing a big generational shift, and I think this data that we learned from the Business Journal readers really aligns with what we're seeing with our students who are coming to our campus.
Derek Smith:Where do you think that comes from with Gen Z? Where's that recognition for them as 15, 16, 17 year olds of the importance of that?
Jason Cook:If you could figure it out, Derek, we'll hire you in admissions. They are a very elusive generation. But if you look at Gen Z as a generation, their parents were really impacted by the recession, the great recession that happened. And they saw a lot of the sacrifices that the parents made as a generation. And so they've come up, they don't want that to happen to them. So they are really inquisitive. They're very hard working. They want to learn, but they want to understand why. They just don't take what you tell them, they want to understand why. And I think that really aligns with what's going on at a research university today and the learning environment that we have at Baylor.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Jason Cook and President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections. And we talk about from the standpoint of problem solvers, but also another practical aspect of it is when research partnerships form, faculty, or not faculty, but rather industry partners, get a chance to view potential future employees up close. Are there some practical ways you've seen some of those relationships lead to some opportunities like that?
President Livingstone:It is really a great way for a company, a business, any kind of organization to get to know students. Both our students broadly, what kind of students is Baylor putting out, what kind of education are they providing, but also to meet individual students that might be a good fit with that organization. It's certainly why we do internships and why that's so important. But on the research side of things, we've certainly had companies and organizations that have been involved in research projects with our faculty and then that students are involved in. And they meet that student and they get to know them, and they think this person's going to be great to maybe continue this project after they graduate, or to step into some other kind of role. So it is a great way for a company to test out talent, and certainly to get to know the kinds of students that we're producing here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:As you visit with leaders around the state, one word that popped up in the survey a lot was innovate. Innovation. And Texas is known as an innovative state. And I know you both have traveled around the state, very officially and Baylor Conversation Series. A lot of your role as president, President Livingstone, introduces you to a lot of business leaders, Baylor alums and otherwise. What sense do you get about the way... You talked about some of the strengths of Texas at the top of the show, but as an innovative state, what sense do you get from just the way people view Texas' role in that? And how does that in turn trickle down to the university?
President Livingstone:Texas I think has a very inviting climate for business. And they've really worked hard to create, whether it's the regulatory environment, the physical environment too, that's inviting to business. And I think that kind of environment then is encouraging for companies that do want to innovate. And I think also we have a very diverse population here. And you tend to see more innovation coming out of organizations that are more diverse and have people who think differently about things. And then, I don't know, I think there's a little bit of that Texas culture that we're bigger and better than everybody else. And so we can innovate and come up with new ideas, and we can be the best at that. So there's a little bit of that too, I think just the culture of Texas and Texans, that makes it a good place to think about how we do things new and different and better.
Jason Cook:One of the interesting things about the survey too is that it looked at Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. And while overall the state is very innovative, each one of these markets has their own little take to it, how they approach problem solving. This is a little bit of the culture that Dallas and Houston are not alike. And so looking at the environment and the structure and the leaders and the different types of corporations, the different environments, even within those cities, allows to focus and look at things a little bit differently. But as a whole, wow, the state of Texas is very strong from an economic standpoint. I think that our survey results bear that out.
Derek Smith:Were there any findings in that that surprised you, Jason, or caused you to take a maybe more of a second look than others?
Jason Cook:There's a lot of talk around the country about the strength of the economy overall for the United States. But what surprised me was that the confidence in the Texas economy is so much stronger than business leaders in the state have for the country as a whole. And this is a time of great economic prosperity for the entire country. So if you look at our state, I guess it goes to that pride and can-do environment that Texas leaders have. If the country is doing it this way, we're going to be even better, related to that. So a whole bunch of optimism and excitement about what's going on here in the state. And that just proves a great environment for us too.
Derek Smith:As we head into the final couple of moments on the program, coming up this Tuesday in Dallas, there's going to be a great event in partnership with Dallas Business Journals where we get together with a number of business leaders, some Baylor alums to talk about the findings from the survey, to extrapolate what they mean a little bit further. Give us a little preview of what that's going to look like.
Jason Cook:One, we're going to have a great moderator in President Livingstone over here. But what we've done is we've pulled in three Baylor alums from different sectors of the economy, but also different locations as well. So we'll have Lauren Dreyer from SpaceX out in McGregor here locally there with us. We'll have Manny Fernandez, who's one of the managing partners at KPMG in Dallas, who really could talk about the economic environment that's happening. And then we'll have Rick Seaney, who's one of our alums who does a lot of big data work for the travel industry, specifically for airlines. So each one of them are going to look at the economy from a different lens, but also how they engage with and work with the universities from their own perspectives as well.
Derek Smith:It's an all star crew there and that'll be this Tuesday in Dallas. And the info on that is available on the Dallas Business Journal website and tickets are still available there. President Livingstone, Jason Cook, thanks so much. Look forward to seeing you up in Dallas and appreciate your time on the program.
President Livingstone:Thanks so much, Derek.
Derek Smith:Jason Cook and President Linda Livingstone, our guests today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.