Shanna Hagan-Burke

Season 3 - Episode 339

October 2, 2020

Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke
Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke

Get to know Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke, the new Dean of Baylor’s School of Education. She came to Baylor this summer after serving at Texas A&M University, the University of Oregon and University of Georgia, and taught children with behavioral challenges for many years prior in her native Florida. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Hagan-Burke tells about a unique parental introduction to Baylor that helped draw her to the University, shares experiences that shape her approach to higher education leadership, examines the School of Education’s contributions to Tier 1 research and more.

Transcript

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 Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke. Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke is in her first year as dean of the Baylor University School of Education. She was appointed to the role this summer after a national search by the university. Dr. Hagan-Burke comes to Baylor after 15 years at Texas A&M. An award-winning professor, she served there as professor of special education and the head of the Department of Educational Psychology. Prior to her time in College Station, she served on the faculties of the University of Georgia and the University of Oregon. She's a native of Florida, where she taught children with behavioral disorders before moving into higher education. She's in her first few weeks, first couple of months on the job. Know it's busy, but appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke, thanks so much for joining us here on Baylor Connections.

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's great to have you here and to get to know you a little bit better and let's start out by just hearing from you: How have your first few weeks, first couple of months as dean been here at Baylor? How would you describe them so far?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

It's been quite exciting for me to learn more about what the faculty are doing in the various initiatives that the university supports. You think you do your homework as you prepare to apply for a job at a place, but as I've gotten here, I just see that there are just an infinite number of ways that Baylor is striving to make an impact, so that's been fun.

Derek Smith:

Obviously, you've come in and a little bit of a different time, in the middle of a pandemic, what stood out to you? Interacting with people or moving into the area, getting to know the Baylor culture a little bit better? What have been the most fun parts for you thus far?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Well, the pandemic certainly has changed my transition, for sure. I think one of the greatest challenges has been that my connections have had to be mostly virtual. There are people that I've not met face to face yet, for example. What I've been so grateful for is just how welcoming and gracious everyone has been, to go out of their way, recognizing that it's a challenging transition when you're doing so remotely and just the grace and the support that I've received from faculty and students alike has just been amazing.

Derek Smith:

Well, that's great. Talking to you, you knew a little bit about the Baylor culture because of a background you have here with Baylor, and I would have to say, you have one of the more interesting stories a new dean can have in coming to your university, not just because of the unique time in which you came here. Could you tell us a little about your experience with Baylor prior to actually coming here as dean?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Oh, I'd love to. There are no accidents. It's amazing as I look back and see my journey over the past four or five years, getting to know Baylor. When my son was a freshman in high school, he decided he needed to begin his college visit quest and Baylor was first on his list, and so my husband and I obliged and brought him to Baylor, we went on tours, and after that first visit, he began to come regularly, and we would always come, and so I was able to learn about Baylor from a parent perspective as I thought about where I wanted my son to have his undergraduate experience and I fell in love. As I think back to how accommodating everyone was, I've walked through the lab of engineering faculty who invited us in to spend time with a 14-year-old kid showing them how their research lab worked. I've been in law lectures from the law school when they would invite students in. I knew that this was a special place and it was definitely my first choice for where I wanted my child to attend undergraduate, largely because of the faculty dedication to students, the student focus.

Derek Smith:

Now, how much of a voice did he give his mom and dad in that decision?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Yeah, this story doesn't end well. I thought it was in the bag all the way up until even the Christmas holidays of his senior year. Baylor was one of his favorites. He'd applied to many universities and he was excited, he'd been admitted to those, and spring break of senior year, he and his dad decided to take a little road trip and visit another school where he'd applied, and much to my dismay, he came back, his mind was made up, he declared that he was going to this other school, and so my dreams of having an undergraduate at Baylor were squelched.

Derek Smith:

Well, I guess they got to make the decisions they feel are right and we hope the best for him because we're all partial to Baylor.

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Me, too.

Derek Smith:

But I know and we hope [crosstalk] an opportunity for him as well. You told us a little bit about what attracted you to Baylor from that experience, but you have an interesting perspective looking at it through the lens of a parent who serves in higher education. How did your own experiences in higher ed, at A&M, Georgia, and Oregon shape the way that you saw Baylor through the eyes of a parent?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

My prior experiences shaped what I was looking for in terms of a university that was focused on outreach and serving the community and using its resources to help others, so I think that my prior work experience probably shaped that lens. It was having my son, however, visit that really opened my eyes to the importance of having faculty who are not only student-centered, but centered on undergraduates as well. I think sometimes faculty may spend more time, or perhaps receive mixed messages the graduate programming is somehow more important, and so that wasn't the case at Baylor, and so it was definitely from the parent perspective that it opened my eyes to recognize that you need to keep in the forefront and make sure your faculty don't receive mixed messages about the importance of serving our students.

Derek Smith:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, you liked what you saw visiting here, so when you saw that the dean's position was open here at Baylor, was that an easy decision for you to proceed and go forward with applying?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

You think it would have been, but I wasn't looking for opportunities and I was pretty happy where I was, so in the beginning, I hesitated, but the more I kept coming back to the experience that I'd had visiting campus with my son and I was also quite drawn to Illuminate. I think that the university's strategic plan was compelling to me and particularly the R1 focus, the interest in elevating Baylor's recognition for the great research going on here, so no, I wouldn't say that it was instant, my desire to apply, but as I reflected on my time visiting as a parent, and then what Illuminate was poising Baylor to do, that prompted me to apply.

Derek Smith:

We are visiting with Shanna Hagan-Burke, dean of the Baylor School of Education, and Dr. Hagan-Burke, let's rewind just a little bit. I gave a brief overview of your educational background at the top of the show, but can you take us a little further inside those experiences starting with kind of that foundational training as a teacher serving children?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Absolutely. My undergraduate major was special education and I became a special education teacher. At that point, in time, you typically served particular disability categories, and my area of certification was working with children with emotional and behavioral disorders, and so my first five years of work out of college was working in inner-city schools, and then my last year, a youth day treatment center working for children with severe behavioral challenges, some of the most rewarding work that I've ever done for sure, but I did leave and pursue a PhD at University of Oregon and was very pleased to learn that I could continue working to improve circumstances for this population of kids, I would just have a different role, so instead of being their teacher, I would prepare other teachers to work with them.

Derek Smith:

When you took that next step, obviously, there were possibilities you found meaningful to even take it, but what were some of the experiences before you even ascended into a faculty position or leadership that maybe validated that decision for you and shaped your desire to move forward?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

I found myself wanting to do more. It's like I knew that I could impact the lives of the... I worked in a self-contained unit, which means that someone thought it was a good idea to take 14 children with the most severe behavioral challenges and lock them in a room with me all day, but I began feeling like it wasn't enough, that I could impact the lives of the 14 children that I was with, but I knew that there were countless others, and moreover, we have so many children in our education system that aren't necessarily labeled and served formerly in special education due to challenging behaviors, but just at-risk kids who come from a variety of families that may not have the resources that other families do and I just didn't feel like that I could make the impact I wanted to have if I continue to only work with 14 at a time.

Derek Smith:

What you described there, I think we can all appreciate just the hard work that you and other teachers in that space and, really, across the spectrum do, but obviously, that was foundational in the understanding that you took with you to college. What were some of the big takeaways from that experience that you saw up close, really kind of front lines that have shaped, really, maybe, I'd say everything about your steps in higher education, whether it's teaching, whether it's leadership, research, or otherwise?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

I think one of the things I noticed right away is that so many times, the families that I worked with would shy away from schools and would avoid teachers because they were accustomed to feeling like they themselves were being reprimanded or scolded due to the behavior of their children and I think that one of the things I so quickly learned is that so many of us have never walked a mile in the shoes of someone who is a single parent working two or three jobs, or perhaps someone who has older children with substance abuse in the home, I mean, it really opened my eyes to how much grace and support that we need to be able to offer these families. It also made me realize just how incredibly fortunate I was, and so I think that it gave me a desire to want to make sure that the future teachers understood that you've got to have a bigger bag of tricks than just trying to punish problem behavior, that behaviors happen for a reason, and that these children have families and circumstances that we may not be aware of that influence their behaviors and if you really want to make a meaningful difference, then you've got to have more in your bag of tricks than just trying to punish problem behavior.

Derek Smith:

This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke, dean of the Baylor University's School of Education, and I know research has been a big part of what you've done at the higher-ed level. Could you tell us a little bit about areas of focus for research or projects that have been meaningful to you throughout your career?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Oh, sure. Yeah, so I went to grad school at University of Oregon, and it was a very research-intensive program, and so I wasn't sure in the beginning how I felt, because initially, I thought I would be transitioning from my focus of teaching students and helping students to one, I guess I thought I'd be sitting in a lab in a white lab coat, I'm not sure really what I thought at the time, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the social sciences, that research looks a lot like helping people because it's applied, so the interventions that we were coming up with allowed me to continue to help families, and in the beginning, I was working still with children with severe challenging behaviors, it's just that I learned more about the different types of dependent measures I needed to collect and the resource design so that I can answer questions about what worked. I think in the beginning, one of my favorite research projects was some work that we did learning more about the function of problem behaviors, or actually the why kids engage in challenging behaviors, and so we use that work to go into schools to teach teachers it's not only just respond to a problem behavior, but to be able to analyze and identify why the behavior was happening, because once you do that, then you can come up with an intervention that's more likely to be effective. In the beginning, I stayed pretty close to my roots in terms of working with children with challenging behaviors and then branched out and I developed an interest in early literacy. There's so many times challenging behaviors are comorbid with academic problems and so I spent some time and some of my first research grants that I implemented as a new faculty member involved coming up with better ways to identify kids who were at risk for reading and behavioral challenges. That was fun work.

Derek Smith:

Dr. Hagan-Burke, you've conducted research and now you're in a leadership position and I know School of Education has a lot of fantastic R1 research coming out of it in areas similar to what you just described and others. From those experiences, what did you learn about research and promoting research that maybe you take into this role as dean? Were there ways that administrators supported you that maybe you can take into this role now?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Absolutely. I think that while I felt that I was extraordinarily fortunate to be a faculty member and I enjoyed that role, I also think sometimes we underestimate how challenging it can be for faculty to maintain their commitment to good teaching and to healthy student relationships while also engaging in a program of research, particularly our faculty who are new to that role, and so a lot of times, just leaders who acknowledge the extra hours, the weekends, all the extra time that it takes in the beginning to be able to secure the grants and the funding that you need to do the work. I found that just a little bit of acknowledgement goes a long way because the reality is is that teaching, your classes are scheduled and you know what you're assigned to teach, but with respect to research, there are many more degrees of freedom that faculty have in terms of how much they do and where they choose to focus those efforts, and so I found that acknowledging those efforts and making sure that they were aware that I viewed my role as someone who was supposed to lobby for resources for them so that they could be successful.

Derek Smith:

Talking to Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke here on Baylor Connections and I know we've talked to a number of people in the School of Education, John Eckert, Stephanie Gerow, Tonya Davis. I know if I start mentioning names, I'll leave people out who are doing great research. What have you been able to get a sense of just in the, I know you've only been here a few weeks, but of the research that has been taking place and is continuing to take place inside the School of Ed?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

That's actually where I've been focusing a lot of my efforts because since COVID has us communicating remotely, for the most part, I've had to really reach out and get to know my faculty and what they're doing and I'm so excited about the work. You mentioned John Eckert. The work that he's doing affiliated with the Center for Christian Education and the way that they are impacting private school leaders and teachers across the country is just phenomenal. I observed them over the summer preparing hundreds of private school administrators and teachers so that they would be better equipped to open this fall in response to COVID and be prepared for the likelihood that they may need to do some of their remotely, so I'm excited about that work. It's obviously not a focus that I was privy to at my other universities because they were public, and so there wasn't a Christian focus. I'm also very excited about the work going on in terms of telepractice, so long before COVID hit, Stephanie Gerow and others began recognizing the potential for harnessing technology and virtual meetings to serve people at a distance, particularly rural schools where geography might prevent them from having access to all the resources that they needed to work with the range of learners, and so I'm super excited about the telepractice work that Stephanie Gerow was doing to support parents and teach them better strategies for managing their child with autism, for helping teachers and other service providers, I think that's an area I'm super excited about, but the reality is that every week that I'm here, I meet with the next faculty member and then the next to learn more about all the great work going on.

Derek Smith:

Talking with Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke. Dr. Hagan-Burke, as we head into the final couple of minutes here, a couple more questions for you. One I wanted to ask was we talk about research, and I know Baylor School of Education has a fantastic reputation for mentorship, from the professor at Baylor down to the student and great classroom experience. How does research go hand-in-hand with that and enhance that and really play into, I think, what we'd call some of those "long-term strengths" of the School of Ed now in its hundred-plus year?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

I feel like that they go... Well, actually, I more than feel like, I know that a strong research and outreach agenda can enhance your teaching and vice versa, and so I think that one of the pivotal roles that a leader should play is helping faculty make that connection and so Baylor, as part of the job announcement in the search for their new dean, they talked about their quest for R1 status and achieving that greater recognition, and so in terms of from a professional experience perspective, that was right up my alley because all of the universities where I've worked have been research-intensive. It also resonated because I reflected back on what I observed when I brought my son to Baylor all those years, and so I was excited because I wanted for Baylor to have a leader who have leaders who would be able to show faculty that it's not an either/or, and that your quest for greater research recognition and greater emphasis on research doesn't need to detract from your teaching mission and all the incredible things that Baylor has going on in that area, so I was excited about that aspect.

Derek Smith:

That is very exciting. I know a lot of great things have happened in the first hundred years of the School of Education and now on the cusp of more in this second century that we'll look forward to seeing and sharing and learning about. Well, we're just about out of time, Dr. Hagan-Burke, so I'll close with one more question for you of just have a more personal nature with you and your family moving to the Waco community and becoming part of the Baylor family. Obviously, a little bit of a different time right now, but what have you enjoyed most about being part of Waco and Baylor in your first months here?

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

Oh, my goodness. This is going to sound so cliche, but to be honest, everything. My family has fallen in love with Waco so fast, from the terrain and the areas surrounding the lake to the downtown area to just the diversity in individuals and neighborhoods and areas. I almost just want to say, "What's not to love?" I'm surprised. All those former visits were to Baylor campus, but I never really explored Waco, and so I laughed at myself that I had to accept a job and literally move here before I explored the town at all, and so yeah, I love Waco.

Derek Smith:

Well, that's great. Well, we're glad you did and wish the best for you and your families. You continue to get settled in more, and I want to really thank you for taking the time to let us get us know you a little bit better and to hear more about the School of Education. We really appreciate you coming on the show today, so thank you.

Shanna Hagan-Burke:

You're welcome. It was my pleasure. Thank you.

Derek Smith:

Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke, dean of the Baylor University School of Education. Our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.