Season 4 - Episode 417
As the Spring Semester winds down, Baylor University Provost Dr. Nancy Brickhouse reflects on how the Baylor Family came together to reach this point. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Brickhouse shares how faculty, staff and students served during February’s snow and ice storm, examines how the University is building research infrastructure as it pursues the goals of Illuminate, and shares the excitement of the hiring of two new Baylor University deans.
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 Baylor University provost, Dr. Nancy Brickhouse. It's been quite a semester here at Baylor and over the next 20 minutes or so we'll talk to Dr. Brickhouse about the spring semester, about Baylor's R1 push and some exciting moves as we move closer towards that new dean hirings and more. Certainly a very busy time here at Baylor and Dr. Brickhouse, an exciting time as well. We appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
Nancy Brickhouse:It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Well, we talk about this semester being quite a semester. We've had generational snowstorms. We've had national titles. We've seen a little bit of everything in-between, and now we are approaching the home stretch of this. From a standpoint of the uniqueness of this and the ways that students, faculty, and staff have all navigated it together, what stood out to you about the way everyone has interacted with this fun and strange time we call spring 2021 at Baylor?
Nancy Brickhouse:Well, I think it's been a very memorable entire academic year and I suspect everybody will remember the pandemic in very significant ways, very particular ways. It's kind of like, "Where were you on 9/11? Where were you during the pandemic?" Well, I spent it at Baylor. That was my junior year. But I think it's particularly wild that after all that we've been through together, we get to finish it with a national basketball championship. I think that is so, so fun, so cool. And I'm just so proud of our team and the coaches and staff that have worked with them through this pandemic. They are just amazing individuals and I think is a great finish to this academic year. I mean, I'll also say that I think the Baylor family really pull together during the pandemic, as well as during the ice storm really going above and beyond to make sure, particularly our students who lost power that they had food, that they had a place to go. People working around the clock. The library was open even when people couldn't get to campus. So I think people really pulled together in a way that you would probably expect in a way at Baylor. It's kind of who we are, but I also kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel. I got my second vaccine shot on Tuesday morning. And so I am counting the days. I am now 10 days away from freedom as I see it. I can actually go to Houston and see my daughter and the kids that she has been taking care of. And all kinds of things that I would ordinarily not be able to, that I haven't been able to do because of the pandemic. And then of course, I'm looking forward to a fall that's going to be, I hope very special as we get the campus vaccinated and plan for the kind of social interactions that really makes the Baylor educational experience so special.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Yeah, you can definitely feel it coming. It's getting closer. You mentioned this semester and we think back to the snowstorm a little bit. Faculty and students have really gone above and beyond in so many ways over the course of the last year. And that was another curveball, the kind of curveball that 2020 and '21 throws us. I know it's been a couple of months, but I'm just curious does anything really stand out to you about the way faculty? You mentioned people helping students, but even just in terms of navigating an already tight academic calendar and adjusting for students so that they could make the most of their time, their time in class or out of class, but the time that they had the focus on these important subjects.
Nancy Brickhouse:Well, I will say not only did the faculty go out of their way to accommodate students and the kinds of challenges that they knew that students were experiencing. There are a lot of stories about how they help one another out in the community. I mean, it's a lot harder for us to know exactly what's going on kind of across McLennan County writ large. But I just heard so many stories about how our own faculty were helping each other out when they had no electricity, when they had no heat. People doubling up in one another's houses in order to kind of get through this ice storm. By the way, this was not a snowstorm. It was an ice storm.
Derek Smith:You're right. Yes, a generational one at that.
Nancy Brickhouse:Yeah, yeah. But we certainly learned a lot from it. And I will also say our staff were just amazing making sure that our students had food. We had to find special places for students who were COVID positive. The hotel where we keep students in isolation lost power. And so our staff needed to find new places for them to be. And we also had to find transportation to get to the hotel to an alternative site under conditions that were let's just say less than ideal.
Derek Smith:For sure, for sure. All that on top of faculty. We talk about the great job they've done and staff of navigating these last 12 now, what? 13, 14 months together. And it seems like they've shown really incredible energy. And I know if we were talking, if you and I were talking, it sounds like about 14, 15 months ago, maybe only 10% or less of faculty had done classes online in that really remote setting. Now 100% of them have. And what stood out to you about maybe the energy they've applied to that? And you kind of have to be indefatigable in the midst of all this. And not only that, it seems like they've shown a lot of great creativity in the ways that they have ensured that the content stays at the highest of levels while adapting it in some fun ways to the realities of the medium that they're teaching in.
Nancy Brickhouse:There are a lot of great stories about very creative approaches that faculty have taken in terms of creating new virtual spaces, if you will, for students to experiment in. But I think the thing that I have learned that was most important in this transition to online teaching is that a lot of the characteristics of our faculty's teaching under normal times translates well to the online environment. We have a very high touch approach. We get to know our students as whole human beings. That very personal approach to education turns out to be extremely important online. And so the more that our faculty were able to take this new medium and find ways of really connecting to students a lot of the times the more successful those students were. And so I have a lot of stories of faculty, for example, who scheduled one-on-one time with their students in the online environment to assure that they were getting the kind of support that they needed. The faculty's commitment to the students is just really inspiring. And they really figured out how to make it work regardless of the conditions.
Derek Smith:No, that's fantastic. Some great creativity and fun approaches and adapting together as we visit with Dr. Nancy Brickhouse Baylor University provost. And Dr. Brickhouse, I want to shift gears a little bit and ask you about some exciting things that have been taking place as Baylor moves deeper into the strategic plan of Illuminate and towards R1 recognition. And in so doing that, we'll talk a lot about R1 research and output, but there's a lot of infrastructure that goes into building that. And infrastructure can mean any number of things. And certainly a faculty and you think about creating new faculty positions that can play into that. What are some of the ways that you work with faculty and deans to enhance the way that Baylor supports those faculty research efforts and gives them all the services that they need to grow together?
Nancy Brickhouse:Well, we were making a lot of investments in the office of the vice president for research in order to provide the kind of infrastructure that you're talking about in terms of grantsmanship. We're putting some new systems in place for pre-award, what we call pre-award work, which is actually the preparation of submitting a grant. We're training a lot of new university research assistants who provide the financial support for faculty that have grants. And so we're in the process actually of hiring another 10 URAs is what we call them, focusing on business development as well that will help to financially support what we're doing in terms of research. We also have the postdoc program, which I think has been a really important effort in terms of providing additional support for faculty to be able to keep their labs running at a very high level. Incorporate undergraduates into those labs and keep them rolling even between grants at times. So there's a lot that we're doing on that front. But as you mentioned, the issue of supporting faculty and attracting great faculty are really key to this effort. Baylor's blessed with very good facilities.
Derek Smith:Great resources for the faculty, great facilities and also growing the faculty. Dr. Brickhouse, we saw the news recently, Baylor currently searching to fill five endowed faculty chair positions. I don't know if people saw in Illuminate or Give Light and maybe the Baylor Academic Challenge, a lot of donors throughout the Baylor family have supported the academic and research endeavors in that way to help Baylor find and attract or grow and attract academic chair positions. Can you help us better understand what these chair positions are and what role they play in a university that's growing in their research enterprise?
Nancy Brickhouse:So what's really special about these chairs is that it allows us to hire more faculty at the senior level. Baylor has typically hired a lot of younger faculty who come to Baylor, many who do extraordinarily well here and really complete their entire careers here. And that's wonderful, but in some of these areas where we really want to grow and to really ramp it up relatively quickly, we needed some senior level hires. And that's what these endowed chairs are going to allow us to do. I actually sat in on some of the interviews for the finalists in a couple of these chair hires. Because I wanted to also kind of get to know these people coming into these incredibly important roles and I was just so impressed. In fact, one of the individuals who we interviewed said that he had interviewed at Baylor 11 years ago and would have really liked to come here, but he went elsewhere because he didn't think Baylor was there yet when it came to research.
Derek Smith:Mm-hmm (affirmative). But now things are.
Nancy Brickhouse:Yeah. So I'm just so excited that now he's back because he realizes that we're ready now. And he's a man of great faith, but a lot of people come to Baylor for our faith mission, but they also need to be able to do their work. And now I feel like we're at a position where we can say, "Yeah, you can do your work here as well and be very, very successful here." These hires will also provide a magnet for other faculty if that makes sense. Particularly in a lot of the sciences and engineering disciplines, the research programs are highly collaborative. And so who else is at the institution makes a big difference in terms of your ability to recruit additional people. Because they want to go someplace that will have people that will compliment their strengths so that they can collaborate with them and take on some of the big challenges out in the world that require interdisciplinary solutions.
Derek Smith:As you talk about hiring some of these senior level faculty who have that great background, he or she has a missional alignment with Baylor and they're attracted to come here. What is it in higher education about an endowed chair position that is particularly attractive to someone making an important decision like that?
Nancy Brickhouse:Well, it's, there are two things that attract them. One is frankly it's prestigious. It's really considered kind of a step up from full professor. And it also speaks to resources that come with the position that will allow you to provide support for your students as well as instrumentation you might need, et cetera. So it's really a combination of those things.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Nancy Brickhouse. And Dr. Brickhouse, we have recently seen the news that Baylor has hired two new deans at Hankamer School of Business and the Louise Harrington School of Nursing. And I want to ask you about our new hires, but I also want to ask you a first what it means for a university when you are looking for new deans, what goes into that and what are some of the most important things to think about in terms of making the most of the moment as you look for the right people and thinking about the university vision going forward?
Nancy Brickhouse:Well, at the level of dean it tends to be really about fit. You're looking for someone who is a good missional fit, but one who also aligns with our strategic plan. And so you want to know whether or not this person is going to be able to lead that particular unit in the direction that the university as a whole is moving. And so someone who's going to pay attention, to example, what's going on not only at the undergraduate level, but also at the graduate level. Somebody who understands the research in that enterprise. Someone who can recruit well. And of course the most important thing is you want somebody with a solid record of having done a lot of those things. They're incredibly important hires. Let me just put it that way. The deans really run the academic enterprise. They just meet with me occasionally. The deans are really where the action is.
Derek Smith:Well, as you described who it is, the kind of people that you're looking for in these roles. I know you've probably just described the two names that we saw hired recently, Dr. Sandeep Mazumdar at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. He comes here from Wake Forest. And then at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Dr. Linda Plank. She began serving as interim dean last summer after a long career in teaching and scholarship there. I know we'll get to know them as a Baylor family better, but what stands out to you about them as they prepare to assume further leadership here at Baylor?
Nancy Brickhouse:So I'll speak to Sandeep first. One of the things that really impressed me about him was what he had done at Wake Forest in terms of really ramping up the quality of the work that was going on, both within his department as well as within the college. And he is a person who really understands the importance of attracting the right faculty and making sure that they are successful. And so he really understands that talent dimension of what universities are all about. He has a very interesting faith story as well. Grew up Hindu and converted later in life because of learning about the personal nature of our God and that notion that that God could walk with you in a way that's deeply personal. He has stellar academic credentials, incredibly well-published, Cambridge undergraduate, Johns Hopkins, PhD economist. So he's got the academic cred. And he has, I think, a very, very collegial spirit that will enable him to work with other deans and other colleges as well. And then Linda has been leading the School of Nursing as you mentioned for over a year now and has just done such an excellent job of managing that college. She's just extremely talented in terms of her ability to lead the School of Nursing, especially through some tremendous growth that they've had over the last year at the graduate level. And the faculty there have really rallied around her and she's won me over as well. And so I am really looking forward to continuing that relationship with her. The nursing school's an important part of Baylor University and having someone with that kind of experience and also just a huge commitment to Baylor. That was the thing about these two candidates as well is both of them really love Baylor. And I think that matters too.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, we look forward to seeing them and getting to know certainly Dr. Mazumdar as he comes here to the Baylor family better and getting to know Dr. Plank better as well, even after her many years of service here at the university as we visit with Dr. Nancy Brickhouse. And Dr. Brickhouse as we wind down, you mentioned we're looking forward to a fall in which we can look for more normalcy. The light's at the end of the tunnel. As we head into the summer and into the fall, this is a very broad question. Are there any aspects that are you're most excited about are at the forefront of your mind as work with deans and faculty to continue the work we've been doing and move back hopefully towards that normalcy?
Nancy Brickhouse:So I think one of the things I'm most excited about is just having a livelier campus. Just having more going on. I think we'll also be doing a lot of hiring this year because we haven't for the last year and a half. I mean, we basically shut everything down. I mean, I know we just talked about two deans that we hired, but for the most part we've done very little hiring. And frankly, in this particular climate when a lot of universities are financially stressed is actually a good time for Baylor to be hiring.
Derek Smith:That's good.
Nancy Brickhouse:We can hire very well.
Derek Smith:That's good. Yeah. Very, very blessed.
Nancy Brickhouse:Yes. So I'm very excited about that as well. But no, I'm really looking forward to the fall. I do want to encourage all of our students and faculty and staff to get vaccinated, the extent to which we're able to have a normal fall will largely depend on our ability to get the community vaccinated.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, my wife and I just got our first shots, our second are forthcoming. And I know you just got your second, so we're excited with you as you get to go see family, spend some time once everything is squared away, see family again.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, Dr. Brickhouse, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate having you on.
Nancy Brickhouse:Thank you.
Derek Smith:Dr. Nancy Brickhouse, Baylor University, provost, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other Baylor Connections programs online at baylor.edu/connections. And you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.