Season 4 - Episode 427
Baylor is thrilled to welcome incoming students and families back to campus this summer for Orientation and Line Camp. In this Baylor Connections, Sharra Hynes, vice president and dean of students in Baylor’s Division of Student Life, talks about the impact of student experiences on campus long before classes begin, and shares what makes these events so special for attendees.
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. Sharra Hynes. Dr. Hynes serves as Associate Vice President and Dean of Students in Baylor's Division of Student Life. In that role, she oversees student-facing departments within Student Life, including campus living and learning, new student programs, student activities, and student conduct. She came to Baylor last year from the University of Central Oklahoma and brings extensive executive experience in higher education to the role here at Baylor. She came to Baylor in January of last year, just in time to get settled in before the pandemic arrived. And it's been quite an eventful first year and a half for you, and it's great to have you here on the program. Dr. Sharra Hynes, our guest today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Sharra Hynes:Thanks, Derek, it's great to be with you.
Derek Smith:How's the summer going for you so far and your student life colleagues? It's a little bit different than certainly last year, really, any other summer that your colleagues have had before here, because you've never been coming out of a pandemic before.
Sharra Hynes:Yeah, it's been a great start to the summer. I say start. Usually when we hit July 4th, we feel like we're on the downward slope toward the fall, but it's been exciting. We have loved having students on campus for orientation and Line Camp, and it's been wonderful to see the Baylor family in action as we welcome those new students and their guests to campus. You know, only about 37 or 38% of our incoming class had had a chance to be on campus for a visit.
Sharra Hynes:And so these experiences of being able to be here, not only to learn and to connect to the institution but also to just really confirm that this is the place that they should be. And the great news is many, many students have made that confirmation. So I think the experiences have not only felt wonderful for us, but they have been wonderful for these new students and their families.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, how does it compare to this time last year, if we'd been talking to you on this program this point in the summer last year?
Sharra Hynes:Last year, I don't think I would have been nearly as happy or enthusiastic. It was really challenging. And our teams did a fantastic job of providing what we could in terms of those critical information pieces. But last summer just simply wasn't safe for us to be together in person. There were way too many unknown variables around the spread of the virus. There was no vaccine. I mean, you think of all that's happened over the past year. And thinking back to last summer, there were just not the same possibilities. And so a virtual orientation and virtual Line Camp was what we could offer. And I was really proud of our new student programs team for their creativity, but they felt like it was a challenge as well. That's not the modality or delivery that they were used to. But certainly it's good to be through that transition and to be thinking creatively about how we continue to supplement and encourage support of those rising sophomores who didn't have any of those traditional experiences across the summer.
Derek Smith:Talking with Dr. Sharra Hynes, Associate Vice President, Dean of Students in Baylor's Student Life. And Sharra, you came here to Baylor last year. Probably in a lot of cases there's a lot of people you've talked to over Zoom but haven't met in person. Hopefully that's coming even more so soon, but let's get to know you a little bit. What drew you to Baylor here in the first place? You've worked at a number of different institutions and bring experience from a number of areas.
Sharra Hynes:Yeah, it was really the central mission of Baylor as being a community that values faith formation, that thinks very intentionally about the student experience, and really equipping students for that worldwide impact. The scope of service that our students can have with the quality education that they take with them upon graduation, it's attractive to anyone. And so I feel really privileged to be here and feel like I've come home in many ways. This experience of being at Baylor brings together lots of pieces of my past in working in both faith-based higher education and large research institutions. And so I feel like I have the best of all worlds here at Baylor.
Derek Smith:What have you enjoyed most about working here and being part of the Baylor family?
Sharra Hynes:Even though it was a really unique year, I have to say it's the students. And probably I wouldn't be a great student life professional if I didn't really emphasize that they're the joy, they're the reason to get up and keep coming to work in the morning, even if you're only doing work over a screen that day. I have loved interacting with our students to see their resilience. To see them really shine in adversity was such a joy to watch and observe. And it was really confirming that I have been led to a great place. One of my favorite experiences was getting to travel on the bus 17 hours to watch our men's basketball team win that national championship. And so I did carve out some time to have in-person interactions with students, and it was just an immense, immense joy.
Derek Smith:That's great. That's quite an immersion with students when you're on a bus for 17 hours to Indianapolis.
Derek Smith:And of course the payoff was fantastic.
Sharra Hynes:It sure was. It sure was.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Sharra Hynes. And you talked about the fact that it's great to have students back on campus. And I think it's self-evident in a lot of ways that when you can do that safely, that that's the case. But from the standpoint of a student life professional and someone, you know, a part of welcoming students to the Baylor family, what is so important before they even attend their first class of having them here on campus for events like orientation, a Line Camp, and more?
Sharra Hynes:Yeah, for me, it's about relationship, that students feel a sense of connection to this place, that they have familiar faces. When they arrive on campus for move-in that they feel, "I have some people that I can go to. I've connected with an advisor. So if I'm having a challenge with a course that I'm taking, or if I'm not sure if maybe I'm even in the right major that I have people that I can go to for counsel and direction. If my transition is challenging, that I know we have a care team that I can reach out to and receive support and services. If I've had some sort of traumatic experience in my past, I know about the counseling center, and I know that they will provide me with care and support." So it's really about students feeling a sense of comfort, a sense of belonging, that no matter where they're from, no matter what their background is, no matter who they are, that they can come to our institution and find the caring Christian community in action, and that we build that expectation with them through experiences like orientation and Line Camp. We help prepare them not just to be an average college student but to be a scholar and someone who takes very seriously their academic pursuit, because it's about stewarding the experience. And so I think orientation and Line Camp and welcome week, all of those pre-arrival experiences, really give students the ability to build an appropriate set of expectations. And then it's our job to deliver on those things when they arrive.
Derek Smith:So as you paint that picture, you think about where incoming students will be four or five years from now, hopefully walking across the stage having had a great experience. How much of the seeds for that moment can be planted in a one-week Line Camp, or a couple of days here for orientation?
Sharra Hynes:Yeah. I think extensively, especially at a school like Baylor that really thinks about the big arc of a student's experience, not just that the little moments. But we think about the big picture and their whole journey across, you know, from when they're a prospective student and our admission counselors are connecting with them all the way through to when they're an alumni. We want there to be an intentionality of their whole experience so that they continue to identify as a member of the Baylor family and they see themselves as part of that line. While they're not all legacy students, not all of them have parents who came to Baylor, many of them are the first in their family to come to Baylor. Many of them are the first in their family to come to college. But for them to feel like they are joining something that has this enduring legacy, I think, is something special. You know, I got to go to Independence last week for the first time and hear that full history of Baylor and how we began. And it was just marvelous to think about this class now bringing their own special perspective to being a part of the line. And they'll make contributions that will be enduring, that a hundred years from now, people will look back on this class coming out of the pandemic, paving the way of how we reemerge back into some measure of normalcy. This is going to be a history-making class. So it's exciting.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Sharra Hynes, Vice President and Dean of Students in Baylor's Division of Student Life. And Sharra, I mentioned orientation and Line Camp, and you referenced them. For people who maybe aren't familiar with what they are and the rolls those play in welcoming students to Baylor, how would you describe that?
Sharra Hynes:Yeah. Orientation really is probably common across a lot of institutions. When you go to college, you go to orientation. And that could be at a community college or at any institution. Typically you go to orientation as an incoming college student. Even as a new employee, you typically go to some kind of orientation. You want people to know the ropes. You teach them some of the technical elements of here's what it means to be a college student. At Baylor, we infuse some extra things, I think some things that make our orientation experience a little bit unique. We talk a lot about academic thriving. We, again, want students to know that when they come here, they're coming, hopefully, with some curiosity, and they'll be supported in asking lots of questions, seeking for greater understanding, for greater wholeness as they integrate their faith and their faith journey. And so I feel like our orientation has some unique elements, but it does have some traditional elements, too, where we want students to know about safety. We want them to see a model residence hall room. We want them to eat in the dining hall so their first meal on campus doesn't feel so strange or so scary. You know, "Where will I sit?" or "Where do I put my trash?" All of those things that might be a little foreboding if they hadn't had some boots-on-the-ground experience. And so orientation gives a lot of that. I think Line Camp here at Baylor gives that small group relationship experience. They're connecting with an upper-division student who has been trained in how to build out a small group that is dynamic, that helps them build ties and community. And you talk with graduates, and many graduates are still connected to students that they met during Line Camp. And so our emphasis in Line Camp is really around relationship building. And that of course sets them up for greater success when they arrive to campus because we know those peer connections help them to feel supported, to feel like they are known and seen. And Baylor's not as big as some institutions, but it's still big. And so students can sometimes feel like they get lost. And so those relationships that they've built across the summer before their freshmen enrollment are really important in terms of setting them up for success
Derek Smith:In your time in Student Life, have you seen anything like it? How does Line Camp... Is it unique in the higher-education landscape, or do you see other things like it at other universities?
Sharra Hynes:There are other extended orientation models, some of which I've had the privilege of being part of in the past at other schools. I think that the unique thing about Baylor is number one, that trip to Independence, being able to see our history in real time, watching and hearing from folks like Dr. Kim Scott and Dr. Alan Lefever. I mean, just so neat to be able to have those interactions. And then probably the other unique element is we infuse a lot of traditions into Line Camp and not just telling students about the traditions. But they get to have a little mini version of some of the traditions. So they do a mini seeing and they have that experience. And a lot of the extended orientation programs that I've seen at other institutions don't necessarily have that experiential element that's built in. And so I think that's kind of a hallmark of how Baylor has approached our Baylor Line Camp experience.
Derek Smith:Talking with Dr. Sharra Hynes. And, Sharra, from a practical standpoint, how has combining sessions for orientation in Line Camp hopefully enhanced the experience for a lot of new students and families this year?
Sharra Hynes:Yeah, we are doing more combination sessions than ever before. I think in the past we maybe had three, and this year we have 10 combination sessions. And it not only has, I think, fed and helped from a convenience standpoint, you know, it's one trip to campus, it's more economical for those families to not have to arrange for two sets of either flights or travel arrangements. So it's very much with the student and family in mind. But I think it also keeps students in the Baylor mindset. They're not having to reconnect twice. They get here for orientation, and then the majority of them streamline straight into Line Camp. We do have a few students at each orientation session who are only here for orientation. And that may be for a number of reasons. It might be because of their work schedule back at home. I talked with one young man this summer who was, he's like, "I'm bummed that I can't do Line Camp, but I need to work." And so he was traveling right back home after orientation to get right back into his summer job. So anyway, all of that to say that I'm really pleased that we have been able to navigate the schedule and the summer calendar in such a way that we do offer more of these combination sessions. And we'll be evaluating that to determine if that should be our ongoing approach, getting feedback from students and their guests to determine was that helpful. Some guests, I think, have used it as a time to hang out in Waco and learn Waco a little bit better, scope out the town while their student is enjoying Line Camp. We've probably given some great infusion to the local economy. And so everyone, I think, has benefited from having that combination session approach.
Derek Smith:You know, as things move back more towards normalcy, as more people get vaccinated, we do... I know we're in a bit of a transition period for a lot of people, moving out of some of the heavier restrictions, but being careful. Have there been some flexible options for families who are maybe at different points in that journey?
Sharra Hynes:Yeah. And that's a great question. And I like how you talk about it as a journey. I think we're all learning together and all making individual choices about how we want to approach this re-emergence from the pandemic. We have certainly encouraged vaccination based on all of the not only local guidance but national guidance. The vaccine appears to be a great strategy for preventing the spread of the virus. But we recognize that there are individuals who do not feel comfortable being vaccinated and Baylor's, I feel, done a great job of allowing that choice. So for those that are not vaccinated, we've asked them to test upon arrival. We've provided that testing in partnership with MyLabs Direct. And so upon arrival, students who are not vaccinated or fully vaccinated have tested, and then by that afternoon, we have their test results. And gratefully, we've had very minimal positives. In fact, so far across eight sessions, we've only had a handful of students who have tested positive, which is fantastic. And we're trending in a good direction in terms of the number of students who do come to orientation and Line Camp fully vaccinated. So we've, again, tried to be very mindful, intentional, and thoughtful about the way in which we've kept students and their guests safe and at the same time provide options and choices.
Derek Smith:That's great. As we look ahead here, you'll have welcome week, welcome weekend, coming as we move more into August, which I know will be here before we know it.
Sharra Hynes:Right, right.
Derek Smith:What are some of the things that you're most looking forward to as we continue that transition out of things like Line Camp and orientation towards the school year.
Sharra Hynes:Yeah. I love Move2BU. So that's the next big thing on the horizon. Just watching the look on a family's face when they pull up to the residence hall and a swarm of folks come around and help them actually carry things up to the residence hall rooms, I think that will be really exciting to be a part of. Last year we did it across six different time slots. And this year we're going back to a more traditional Move2BU approach just two mornings. And so I'm really looking forward to that. And welcome week is just a fantastic way to bring everyone together. You know, they've been here on campus in pockets when we have over 300 students here for orientation. But they're not here with everyone. And so welcome week, they get to come feel the campus with the whole, the total new class. And so all of those experiences will allow them to see it anew and see it with maybe their roommate who's there with them or people from their floor, or people that maybe they do connect with or did connect with from Line Camp or orientation. But yeah, that en masse gathering, when they all arrive on campus, sometimes feels like a swarm of locusts, but it's fantastic. It's the best feeling. And this year, I think it will be extra sweet just to be able to be together and to feel safe in doing so. We're going to have a couple of picnics on the evenings of our move-in days for students and their guests and really just looking forward to being together.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. It's going to hit a little bit different this year-
Derek Smith:...probably for everyone and hopefully even more chance for you after that first year here at Baylor to really get to know people and allow people to get to know you as well in the Baylor family.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, it's been great to have you here on the program today. Really appreciate it. It'll be nice to meet you in person here one of these days and see what's ahead as we welcome students back.
Derek Smith:But thank you so much for joining us.
Sharra Hynes:Thanks Derek. I enjoyed being with you.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Dr. Sharra Hynes, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students in Baylor's Division of Student Life, 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. And you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.