Jeremy Vickers and Krista Brinser
Season 5 - Episode 535
Baylor’s Office of External Affairs leads, engages, supports and celebrates the collective impact of Waco and Baylor, engaging in initiatives and relationships for community benefit. Jeremy Vickers serves as associate vice president for external affairs and Krista Brinser serves as director of community relations. In this Baylor Connections, they discuss community growth, describe the strength of Baylor and Waco’s relationship, and share upcoming programs and outreach efforts.
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 and higher education research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking about Baylor University and the community. Baylor's Office of External Affairs leads, engages, supports and celebrates the collective impact of Waco and Baylor, engaging in initiatives and relationships that benefit our community. Our guests today are Jeremy Vickers, Associate Vice President for External Affairs, and Krista Brinser, Director of Community Relations. External Affairs offers a variety of programs and outreach efforts that we will discuss ahead here on the program. Jeremy and Krista, it's great to have you on here. I appreciate you coming on. Thanks for joining us.
Jeremy Vickers:Yeah, it's great to be here. Thanks, Derek.
Derek Smith:Krista, great to have you on here too in your new role.
Krista Brinser:Great to be here as well.
Derek Smith:Well, I want to ask you about that role in a minute. First, let's zoom out and talk about external affairs broadly. I just gave a very broad overview of what you do. How would you describe that, Jeremy?
Jeremy Vickers:Oh, that's great, and I think you did a great job and it's really great being back. I think it was about three years ago.
Derek Smith:It's good to have you back on, yes.
Jeremy Vickers:Yeah, we had kind of an introductory conversation as this office was coming together. We are the connection point between Baylor and Waco. And while that can mean many things, we look at it as a facilitator, as a resource navigator for lack of a better term. And so whether it be, how does Baylor as a Christian research University engage with its local community, whether it's classes, teaching, education, donations, sponsorships, working with nonprofits, how do we pull the university out into the community? And then likewise, how do we draw Baylor, its campus into the Waco community more where the local folks feel like they can engage? And so we do that in five key areas and we have specific goals under each one. The first is economic development. We see a research university as an engine for change, for job creation, but also as a partner in business growth in our community. We do it in health and education, which are important, crucial social issues that we want to be a major partner in. Cultural wealth and diversity is the fourth category. We care a lot about engaging deeply with our communities of color, honoring and celebrating the diversity in our broader community as well as on our campus. And then last, which Krista knows a whole lot about, is the area of city growth. How do we engage the talent, the creative culture, the urban development, and downtown districts? How do we play a major part in contributing to its growth and being a major involved party there?
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. A lot of diverse areas that we'll talk about, really dive into those as the show goes on. Well, Waco does have a lot of growth. We see the cranes and the lots being cleared and more businesses coming in. Krista, I'm curious, when you tell people what you do, maybe Jeremy, you as well, are there common questions that you receive? Are there things that when you tell people, I'm in external affairs and I do this, that they automatically ask?
Krista Brinser:I mean, absolutely. People get excited when we mention community relations. I'd say the most common question I receive from people both within the city and within the university is how do I get involved? Oftentimes, we have businesses looking to partner, and I know we'll talk about it later, but we have the Waco Perks program, which is a great entry point for them. We also have amazing talent on the Baylor side looking to plug into the community and support some of our local nonprofits. So the excitement's there, people are enthusiastic to engage, and there are so many different avenues that they can plug in, whether it's as a program partner or an event attendee or even beyond in terms of board and nonprofit service.
Derek Smith:There's a lot of great ways to get involved as we visit with Krista Brinser and Jeremy Vickers. And Jeremy, when I was a Baylor student, I remember there were a lot of jokes about the Baylor bubble, and I feel like in a lot of ways that bubble has burst. In recent years, and really even going back beyond recent years, there's been a lot of work gone into that, but seems like this important relationship's at a really strong place. How would you describe that maybe for people who aren't a part of it?
Jeremy Vickers:Oh, that's great and it's a great question to ask because the reality is there has been a bubble, and the bubble is not an inherently bad thing. It's when it's exclusive that it's a problem. And so what we want to do is create a wonderful, positive, inclusive campus culture, but also draw our students out into the community. And there are a number of ways that we've done that over the years. One of the most visible ways, I think, is the I-35 project. As it's growing, we're raising the height. Well, you can visually see through the highway, and I know it sounds odd, but when you can feel like you see Waco every day, Waco becomes your city. The Pavilion Project, to me, is one of the most iconic examples of that in our current generation where we chose as an institution to invest in partnership with the city and with others in the community to anchor yet another one of our amazing assets in the city, in downtown. And so campus is growing into downtown and we're essentially trying to rip apart this idea that we are fully separate. You can be separate, but we want to be in and around the community each and every day.
Derek Smith:Well, you are in and around the community each and every day. Where are some places, I know every week's different, but there's some places if we were to look at your schedule over a given week or a couple weeks that we might find you all and your teammates?
Jeremy Vickers:Well, some of those are, I think, some of our favorite restaurants. Certain days of the week, I can't get to all of them, but I would be at Guest Family Barbecue on a regular basis for lunch. Unfortunately, maybe a little too often. And then I think from a coffee and meeting standpoint, I am notorious for showing up at Dichotomy, having a meeting, working for two or more hours on my computer and having another meeting there. And so it's like home. It's such a great place. It's so open and friendly and the food is great.
Derek Smith:What about you, Krista?
Krista Brinser:Dichotomy is also a personal favorite. I do love Pinewood, pretty much any coffee shop in town. I make my way through a rotation throughout the week, so I pop up at different places, have meetings, do a little bit of work and go from there.
Derek Smith:When you're having meetings, I mean, I know there's a lot of different people. Are there some categories that these meetings roughly fall into?
Krista Brinser:Absolutely. There are the general relationship building meetings where it might be a one off with somebody within the community looking to engage with Baylor or a Baylor student faculty or staff member looking to plug into the city. There are the broader nonprofit meetings that I consider more facilitated dialogues. You've got a working group or maybe you're just there to explore a broader issue. Then there's the meetings that are transactional that plug people into programs like Waco Perks.
Jeremy Vickers:That's a great question, and the reality is we have the honor of working with a lot of community leaders here in Waco. It's an important role that we get to steward, whether it be city council members or our mayor, the presidents of our Chambers of Commerce, business leaders, business owners, or other nonprofit executives. One of the really fun things that we get to do is be a part of their collective impact work on our community. As they're desiring to improve Waco, we get to be at the seat, have a seat at that table, and so those meetings often will balance between working through a really difficult need in their organization, how we might support it, or our future hopes for the city and what we hope can happen and how Baylor can play a role in that.
Derek Smith:Krista, you just started your role. We mentioned your title, Director of Community Relations. What all does that entail?
Krista Brinser:I've had the honor and privilege to be a part of the External Affairs team for slightly over three years now, but I'm so excited to go deeper as Director of Community Relations. That work involves wearing many hats throughout the community. A lot of it is program stewardship and program building. Jeremy mentioned earlier on that I go deep in the area of city growth, so my work typically focuses on supporting small businesses, encouraging and developing a culture of shopping local and celebrating local stories. We do that one way through Made in Waco, which is an event series and partnership with Baylor alumni that highlights our local alumni and the work that they're doing here. I also now have the privilege to facilitate and steward and shepherd the Solid Gold Neighbor team. We've got several folks working in different areas of focus with Solid Gold Neighbor.
Derek Smith:Jeremy, I mentioned Krista's role. Who else is a part of your team?
Jeremy Vickers:Yeah, that's great. Krista of course vacated a position, so we do currently have her role or a version of her role that's being opened up and is going to be filled shortly. That role will focus on both health and education, working deeply with organizations, people, and programs in our community looking to improve those families' lives who are most negatively impacted through poverty. In addition, we have an amazing teammate that we both love, Cuevas Peacock, who runs our cultural wealth initiatives. And then we have a relatively new team member, Kayleigh Terrazas, who runs the Leadership Plenty Institute, which is a leadership development program that we now steward in partnership with the Waco Foundation.
Derek Smith:Let's talk about some of those different parts of your office resources, initiatives that are important part of what you do. First off, let's talk about Solid Gold Neighbor. How would you describe what that is?
Krista Brinser:In a few words, I would describe it as intentional and purposeful. It was developed at a time where the university really took a step back, paused and looked around Waco and looked at community needs, then turned inward, focusing on how we could leverage assets that are unique to Baylor.
Jeremy Vickers:Absolutely. I couldn't agree more, Krista. So there's this theory in higher education world that actually translates a lot into city and urban planning that organizations whose lives, whose existence typically stay in a city for a long time are considered anchor institutions. They're anchored there. They're not going anywhere. And often they're fairly large. You think of your school districts or hospitals, and universities are a key example of that. And so there's an anchor institution strategy here that Solid Gold Neighbor is a representation of. What it does is it says that we have an inherent responsibility not only as a Christian institution, which is ultimately the main driver for us, but also as a major employer, as a major contributor to economic progress to be involved in and be a part of the overall positive change of our community. And so those five areas that we've highlighted, economic development, health, education, cultural wealth, and city growth are all informed by the goals of our city. So organizations that are data driven, that have done studies that continue to look for ways to improve created goals. Prosper Waco is one of those. They are an amazing organization. The City of Waco, our chambers, and many others set forth goals that they wanted to see our city grow in. And through our research and partnership, we took those goals and translated them into areas in which Baylor could participate and so that we can be a part of and contribute to the goals of the collective community.
Derek Smith:As you work together with the community, a question that just came into my mind that I've thought about sometimes is, you have some universities, say Oklahoma State, Stillwater, the university almost is the city there in a lot of ways. Or you have the University of Texas in Austin, a major part of Austin, but a huge metropolitan area, and it always seemed to be Baylor kind of blends the two a little bit. What does the size of Baylor and the size of Waco and the way both are growing, how does that shape the relationship we have?
Jeremy Vickers:It's a really beautiful picture, and in some ways we look at all of these as a function of time. We're in a certain window where both Baylor and Waco are in upward trajectory. That's not always been the case for each of us. We've each had seasons of either stagnation or limited growth. And so I think with a collective set of economic progress and overall success on the city of Waco side with Magnolia, with the downtown development and even I-35's significant expansion, which continues to provide a lot of traffic through our city, we in Baylor have also experienced a lot of growth. I think we all know about our R1 success, our Give Light Campaign success, our enrollment success, our graduate programs, all of these things. And so what we're able to do is manage distinct identities that are complimentary, and I think that's extremely important. We will always have our own identity, but the city of Waco has said we want to be a part of Baylor's success, and they're finding unique ways to contribute as we are doing the same with them.
Derek Smith:You mentioned that city growth. I know that's your area, Krista. I know people in Waco recognize that we're growing, but as you've talked to people or maybe looked at other communities, how does Waco's growth compare to what's taking place maybe in other areas you've looked at?
Krista Brinser:It's an exciting time to be in Waco, particularly focused on city growth, and I'd say that our rate of growth compared to those other cities is happening a little bit faster. You look at some of the major metropolitan areas and you think that surely that can't happen here, but it is. We have incredible talent coming to town and we have incredible talent that's growing, that's coming out of Baylor University, so it's an exciting time to be on that forefront of city growth, working to plug people in and encourage people to stay here and invest in Waco. Waco may be growing, but that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of opportunities for everybody to get involved. There is a place for everybody here in Waco.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Jeremy Vickers, Associate Vice President for External Affairs and Krista Brinser, Director of Community Relations in Baylor's Office of External Affairs. And Jeremy at the top of the show, you mentioned those areas that are key to what you do, economic development, health, education, cultural wealth, city growth. Those terms, in some ways, shape your work, but what are some examples? What are some meaningful ways that you all enjoy getting to practically play that out?
Jeremy Vickers:That's a great question and because we aren't the organization, in many cases, that actually carries out the day to day, right? There are nonprofits, businesses, civic and city organizations that do a lot of it, it can really vary. I'll give an example in economic development. One of my passions is entrepreneurship and spent much of my career working with entrepreneurs. We were an early partner in the creation with the city, county, chambers, and other business leaders to create an organization called Startup Waco. That organization is now five years old, has a spot in downtown Waco and provides resources, training, physical facilities, et cetera, to up and coming entrepreneurs. So not only are we a founding partner of that, we're also a day to day supporter. We partner through our Baylor entrepreneurship program and its community entrepreneurship initiative, as well as we now have a recent partnership with the athletics department to support name, image and likeness deals for student athletes, but also provide them entrepreneurship education along the way.
Derek Smith:Who would have ever imagined getting involved in that kind of air. Of course, we couldn't even hardly have imagined an IL even a couple years ago when you and I were talking about the program the last time.
Jeremy Vickers:No, not on the radar at all.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Visiting with Jeremy Vickers and Krista Brinser, and let's keep going down the list of some things in your office. Talent opportunities in the community, how would you define those first?
Krista Brinser:Broad. Again, I said there is a place for everybody here in Waco. What comes to mind in particular, is an initiative that we in our office of external affairs have collaborated across the community with, called Match Waco. Match Waco is a group of folks who recognized that we needed more diversity in boards in town, and that we have talent across, not just Baylor, but the entire community, that might not know how to get there. So Baylor serves in that area. One is a key partner on that team, but we also facilitate those opportunities for other people within the Baylor community and outside the Baylor community. We just wrapped our spring cohort. We're doing some ad hoc placements right now, and Baylor folks and community folks alike can look forward to a fall cohort coming soon.
Derek Smith:That's great.
Jeremy Vickers:That's a great perspective, Krista, and as we look at what I call a micro level, we're putting a lot of effort into connecting and equipping and building leaders in our community. On a macro level, we still have some room to grow. Baylor is a talent engine. We graduate more than 3000 students each and every year. But one of the areas that we've not been able to grasp and we're building out some new initiatives in this coming year, is how do we retain those students? On average, we retain maybe 5%. Maybe a good year, 7 to 8% of our graduates in this market. And so what we want to do is find strategic ways to line up good paying jobs, lifestyle, quality of life things that these students will want to stay here in Waco instead of going to the natural larger metropolitan areas across the state or across the country, as we have seen over the years. And as our student body has comprised of nearly 50% students from out of state, it's a really unique way for us to engage students here locally to stay and experience Waco as a city, perhaps they didn't have on their radar when they came.
Derek Smith:Definitely feels like that number's grown since I was a recent graduate, but still more work that you can do to keep more of them here.
Jeremy Vickers:That's right. Absolutely.
Derek Smith:Let's talk about, go over the different spots on the map here in your office here, other opportunities for engagement. What is the Leadership Plenty Institute?
Jeremy Vickers:Leadership Plenty Institute is about a 12 year old program that runs in a cohort in the fall and spring. Historically, it was run by and is still currently funded by the Waco Foundation, a wonderful partner of ours where facilitators train 30 to 40 up and coming leaders on leadership fundamentals. So this is very much about practical tools, equipping, learning, educating and networking future leaders in our community. And if you look across the city today, the leaders of our community, a good two thirds or more are alumni of this important program. And so just this year, as we mentioned earlier, our teammate Kayleigh, we contracted with the Waco Foundation to take over this program. In fact, we just closed the round last week and we do a training of 20 new facilitators this week. It's a busy week. And in just about a month, I think it's October the 4th, they'll start their cohort of about 40 to 45 new leadership program partners. That's exciting.
Derek Smith:What about, there's some arts and culture areas as well, whether you talk about Dia de los Muertos, Waco Cultural Arts Festival. Can you take us inside some of those efforts to build the creative side of Waco?
Krista Brinser:Absolutely. Fall is such a wonderful time in Waco. There is always something to do on the weekends, so I just encourage people to keep an eye out. First of all, Hispanic Heritage Month is just about to kick off following that, within that, Dia de los Muertos, there's a huge festival in activation, including a parade through downtown Waco. It is can't miss. And of course, Waco Cultural Arts Fest, one of my personal favorites, just expresses and allows artists and the citizens of Waco to come together and just enjoy some of the best Waco has to offer.
Jeremy Vickers:And I would be remiss if I did not add the Waco Art Center, which is a new facility. It's almost one year old. I'm the chair of the board this year, so this is a selfish plug.
Derek Smith:Fair enough.
Jeremy Vickers:And we have a current exhibit that opened just last week, Jack Bowers Perspectivism. It's a wonderful and exciting exhibit that I hope our listeners will enjoy. And then look out in, I think November, for a really unique special launch of the Cameron Family Collection, a peek into a beautiful historical collection from the founders of our community.
Derek Smith:That's great. Yeah, that's a great facility too. My wife and I enjoyed the Kermit Oliver exhibit a few months ago.
Jeremy Vickers:It was wonderful.
Derek Smith:Very nice. So speaking of Baylor, like we have been at times here, I want to ask you, so I'm a Baylor employee and one area that I've been able to enjoy, to take part in is Waco Perks. Tell us what that is, Krista, and what does it mean to put something together like that, that benefits really both your Baylor colleagues and the community?
Krista Brinser:Derek, I'm glad you asked. We've mentioned it several times throughout this, but Waco Perks is a personal favorite of mine when it comes to programs I've been able to facilitate and put together through that city growth lens. At its core, it's a discount program. I like to call it a love local program, a bi-local program. It leverages the collective buying power of faculty, staff, and students alike, anybody with that Baylor ID, incentivizing them to shop local. So program partners across the community, anybody who owns a business that's operating within the Waco area is eligible to enroll. There is no minimum discount required. Our goal is that this program be helpful to our business partners and provide something for our Baylor family as well. So it's really been special to see that program come to life and to see the excitement from new students, from faculty and staff alike. It's been incredible.
Derek Smith:Yeah, there's definitely been times that I've looked at that list and thought, Oh, I haven't been there. I'll go give that a try because we've got that. That's great. Another aspect of that community and university tie in that comes during this time of year when we're talking football and sports, this show airs on a Friday, and so that means I'm wearing green and gold as are you. So almost, we've been doing this so long now, really, it's become a habit. I almost forget that there's a reason behind it, but what is that reason?
Jeremy Vickers:We call it Spirit Fridays. The reality is when you work at Baylor, every day is an opportunity to fleeing your green and gold. We don't have to do it quite so far when we're here in Waco, but we really do encourage the broader community to involve themselves in this. And I think over the last four or five years, and Krista's led this effort on our team, we've seen a lot more community organizations embrace this as well. So we'll see partners at Chambers, businesses, nonprofits wearing their green and gold on Fridays, and instead of embracing just a traditional business casual, what we're saying is make it a Spirit Friday.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Jeremy Vickers and Krista Brinser, and as we're heading into the final couple of minutes on the program, really a final question for each of you. And Krista, I'll start with you. What is it you enjoy most about this role working in the community, and what are you looking forward to as you look at the months ahead?
Krista Brinser:Oh, what I enjoy most about this role, Waco's really special to me. I think that it's a place that people can come together and build things that they never would've thought that they could do on their own. So to be able to do that in this role and with community partners has been really special, especially since Waco meant so much to me going to undergrad here. And what am I looking forward to most coming ahead? I'd say it's some of those cultural events and opportunities this fall. Again, check out Waco Cultural Arts Fest. It'll be on my calendar and I hope to see you there.
Derek Smith:What about you, Jeremy?
Jeremy Vickers:Well, that's a great question. I enjoy and appreciate the collaborative spirit. We have a group of individuals in our community and it's not singular to a few leaders. It's very much a spirit within most of the people that we work with, that desire to see Waco better. Not better because it wasn't great, right? Not better because it's broken, but better because they genuinely love their community. They want to be a part of its progress. And of course, that starts at the top, but we see it across so many individuals. And I think even the leadership, Plenty Institute, is a good example of folks who embrace that idea so much they're willing to commit a fair amount of time to define creative ways to grow as leaders. In terms of things I'm looking forward to, I think Krista hit it well, the fall is such a great season between football, basketball, and just campus coming back to life a couple of weeks ago. It really is wonderful. And I'm going to take a different approach and I'm going to say that I'm excited about the economic opportunities of our community. There is something special happening here and it's incremental. It's snowballing. It's really unique to see in the pace at which our overall growth is happening doesn't appear to be too stagnated, frankly, by maybe this current season, economically speaking. And so I'm excited and encouraged about new businesses, new talent, new partnerships and opportunities to see Waco and Baylor continue to grow.
Derek Smith:That's great and if people would like to learn more, baylor.edu/waco.
Jeremy Vickers:That's right.
Derek Smith:Baylor.edu/waco. You can check it out. Well, Krista, Jeremy, appreciate the work you're doing. I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us today. Thanks for jumping on.
Jeremy Vickers:Thank you.
Derek Smith:Jeremy Vickers and Krista Brinser from Baylor's Office of External Affairs, our guests today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this on other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.