Season 5 - Episode 541
What does it mean to mentor students? How can multiple disciplines come together to examine how churches address social challenges? For Stephanie Boddie, these are questions she lives out every day. Boddie serves as Assistant Professor of Church and Community Ministries—a joint position in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, School of Education, and George W. Truett Theological Seminary and, in 2020, she was named as an Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year. In this Baylor Connections, she shares how those threads come together to address food insecurity, social services, racial issues and more.
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 today we are talking with Stephanie Boddie. Dr. Boddie came to Baylor in 2017 as assistant professor of Church and Community Ministries, a joint position in Baylor's, Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, the School of Education, and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Her research examines faith-based social innovation and entrepreneurship along with related topics like race, social services, food insecurity, and more. A professor at leading institutions like Washington University in St. Louis, and a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life prior to coming to Baylor. She's built new classes and programs here and was recognized in 2020 as an undergraduate research mentor of the year. Dr. Boddie loves music, gardening and cooking. And she finds ways to incorporate these passions into her teaching, research and community service. A lot of different threads that we can look at how they tie together today. Dr. Boddie, thanks so much for joining us on the program today.
Stephanie Boddie:Well, thank you for having me here.
Derek Smith:It's great to have you here. And I know that a lot of your work is community based, so I'm curious if we were to spend some time with you and your students in the community this semester, where are some of the places we might find you working, learning and serving together?
Stephanie Boddie:Well, this semester if you spent time with me and my students, we would likely be at Bell's Hill Elementary School. This is a school where I've been working with my colleague, Dr. Ann Spence, Dr. Suzanne Nesmith and Professor Doug Nesmith to develop an aquaponics program. So the students this semester will be helping to get the aquaponics system up and running, get the water, the electronics, the fish in the system. And hopefully, we'll have a day that we can share with the students as well. Another project, you might find us out in the community at Toliver Chapel Baptist Church working on the garden that my students installed last semester.
Derek Smith:Well, I know gardens are a big part of what you do in a number of levels. And what we'll talk to you about that in just a moment. But as we do, I want to help people better understand your work 'cause I gave a short description of it at the top of the show. If someone asked you what's your research focus, or the threads that tie together, how would you describe that?
Stephanie Boddie:So, over the years, most of my work has focused on faith-based initiatives primarily through the Black church with an emphasis, as you mentioned, on social and entrepreneurial approaches. These institutions have addressed food insecurity, health, wealth, and educational disparities. And during my doctoral studies, I was introduced to W. E. B. Du Bois and his study of congregations in the 19th century where he found that among 55 congregations that he studied, their assets valued $9,000. I had the opportunity, during my time at University of Pennsylvania as a student, to study with Dr. Ron Cannon and we found that of the Black churches we studied, each church contributed $9,000 per congregation for their social and community services. So, this kind of knowledge really sparked my imagination about how can I learn more about the ways that congregations are innovating in their community, particularly given the fact that I saw that Black congregations tend to have fewer members, fewer resources. And tend to have high touch services. As my one colleague at the University of Pennsylvania often says, his name is Dr. Chaz Howard, that Black churches punch higher than their weight. So, I really was curious how are they able to do that? What kinds of innovative programs are they developing? And so, this really shifted a lot of my work to look at some of these promising practices in the Black faith community
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Stephanie Boddie. And Dr. Boddie, you mentioned punching above their weight. I mean, you probably have a lot of examples, but are there any that stand out to you in particular of ways that churches and Black churches in particular are having an impact in their community that sort of seems to go beyond the dollar amount put into it?
Stephanie Boddie:Yes, actually I have several examples that I could draw from. One is a church that I actually belong to this church in Pittsburgh, Bible Center. I went to Pittsburgh to work with the pastor of the church. He's actually a professor at University of Pittsburgh. The church has about 100, 125 members. And the philosophy of the church is to leave the building. So the church is very active in the community. They've purchased several of the abandoned buildings in the community. The administrative office was a crack house at one time that was renovated. The church building itself was a Rite Aid building that had been left abandoned for several years. And there's several lots that they've then purchased. So one of the ways that I was able to really get my hands dirty in the gardening work was through this church. I was one of the leads on their Oasis Farm and Fishery project at the church. And they have several other programs that engage youth and teenagers to address things like food insecurity and educational disparities. More recently, I have had the opportunity to do a case study of another church in my hometown Baltimore. And this is Pleasant Hope Baptist Church where a pastor recognizing that people were having a hard time getting food during the Baltimore uprising because schools were closed, streets were blocked off, he really became interested in how the church could be a resource for those that needed more food. And started using the vacant property at the church to start a garden. So, you now fast forward seven years, the same pastor has now developed a network of over 200 churches that are using their vacant properties to start these gardens, have farmer's markets after church on Sunday, and also network with Black farmers up and down the East Coast to really create an alternative resource for accessing food. So, those are two churches that I can think of that are definitely punching above their weight.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Stephanie Boddie. Great examples there. And you talk about gardens, and I want to ask you, obviously, gardens literally, physically feed people. But I've gathered they're even more meaningful to you in a number of ways. So I'm curious, when you see a garden, what does that communicate to you about education and scholarship, and what's kind of the significance of that in your own life and work?
Stephanie Boddie:Well, in my own life, gardens have been very significant to me. One, as a metaphor for how we bloom and grow. Thinking about the Latin root flore because my brother is actually a student who struggled. He has been labeled with learning disabilities. But I always like to remind him that you have abilities. Even people that might have some kind of disability, they always have abilities. So, when I think about the garden, I think about the fact that every seed is contributing something to the ecosystem. Whether it's a seed that can germinate within a week, or two weeks, or a seed that might take 45 days to germinate, or longer each one can contribute some beauty to that garden. And so, when I think about gardens, I like to not only bring that metaphor to my classroom, but also bring opportunities for students to take a seed home and see how it grows, see how they can take care of it, see how they can attend to it, and see what lessons they learn from attending to the growth of these new seeds, and see what lessons they learn from building up the soil through composting and really understanding the life that's in the soil.
Derek Smith:And you are actually teaching a class with this whole very idea, is that correct?
Stephanie Boddie:Exactly. I teach a course called Education from a Gardener's Perspective in the spring.
Derek Smith:What would we find, if we were to sit in on some classes, what are some of the things we might find you talking about?
Stephanie Boddie:So one of the things that I really enjoy talking about is being attentive because one of the principles of permaculture, I teach the four permaculture ethics and the 12 permaculture principles. One is interact and observe. So in the first five classes, all we do in that first hour is to walk one of the gardens in the Baylor campus. And just give students an opportunity to spend time in nature and to observe things that they've quickly been walking by as they rush from class to class. And see what new insights that they can draw from. And we also have our arborists at Baylor come and take us around the campus and point out some things to us, like some of the oldest trees on campus, the ways that trees naturally grow. We go to The Mayborn. We have my colleague there to talk about the village behind The Mayborn and give us some insights about things that were growing during the earlier times in Waco. So it's really a time also, for students to learn some other principles like no waste. And so, I've had colleagues come in to share about how the things in our lives that might be difficult, we're tempted to think about them as missteps or tragedies or traumas, and they might be all of those things, but how can they be repurposed? How does God use those things in our lives so that nothing gets wasted? And so, in the class, students are not only learning about physically how to manage a garden, but also how to use these principles to cultivate their vocational lives as well as their spiritual and personal lives.
Derek Smith:Yeah, really honing their eyes in a number of ways.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Stephanie Boddie here on Baylor Connections. Dr. Boddie serves as assistant professor of Church and Community Ministries. And Dr. Boddie I have mentioned, that's a joint position, School of Social Work, School of Education, and in George W. Truett Theological Seminary. How does all of that work in tandem for you with your research interests?
Stephanie Boddie:So being in several schools is actually a great benefit to me. As you can hear, my work sort of sits on the edges of different disciplines. So while my training was actually in social welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, where I got to take classes in religion, and at the Wharton Business School, in addition to social work and sociology. So coming here, it's given me another opportunity to sit on the edge of these different disciplines. And to integrate my work from social work into other disciplines like education, the seminary. I've also had opportunities to work with my colleagues at the library with the digital humanities program that has been launched to develop visualizations for some of the data that I've collected with my colleague at University of Pennsylvania, or visualizations for the courses that I teach to show students where we could find some of these vacant lots the churches have. So, it's really been a wonderful opportunity to ask different questions because I have the resources of these various disciplines.
Derek Smith:We mentioned you've been at University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis, the Pew Research Center. For you, personally, why Baylor? What was it that brought you here in 2017?
Stephanie Boddie:So Baylor was very attractive to me, particularly because of its Christian commitment to excellence and leadership, and also the opportunity to have this interdisciplinary position.
Derek Smith:Mentioned recognized in 2020 as an undergraduate research mentor of the year here at Baylor. And I want to ask you about mentorship. It's a hallmark of your interaction with students. What does that mean to you, when we talk about mentorship and applying it, what does that mean to you?
Stephanie Boddie:So I believe that mentoring forms the heart of a meaningful educational and professional life. Kramer uses the Latin phrase, [Latin] care for the entire person to demonstrate the depth and scope of the mentoring relationship. So, for me, I'm really interested in how this relationship focuses on the whole person development of the student, but also of myself. So, I see it as a reciprocal relationship. It's not only about the things that I can help the student learn, but also being open to the things that the student can teach me and the ways that we can work together. So, I'm really most excited about the ways that I've been able to help students grow professionally and personally. And one of the ways that this has happened is through engaging in research with me. I've had several students to be co-authors of journal articles as well as book chapters.
Derek Smith:And you've had students what apply for and win grants. You've helped them go through that process as well, correct?
Stephanie Boddie:Yes. I've worked with a student that won the Hatfield Prize that was sponsored by the Center for Public Justice in Washington DC. That was a great project on teen food insecurity.
Derek Smith:That's great. You really incorporate them into what you're doing to kind of paint even that picture of that reciprocal relationship that you talk about. I'm visiting with Dr. Stephanie Boddie. And we mentioned the students are with you in the community. You mentioned Bell's Hill this semester. They're out there at other schools as well, building gardens. Where might we find some examples? You mentioned Toliver and Bell's Hill, but I know there's a couple other places as well, correct, here in Waco that we might find you and your students' fingerprints.
Stephanie Boddie:Yes. So, the first year that I taught Education from a Gardener's Perspective, we had the opportunity to work at Conley Elementary School where the students for their midterm assignment, they wrote a grant, a whole kids' grant for $2,000 to build a greenhouse at the elementary school. Out of 900 applications, our grant was funded. And so our students were able to work with Dr. Ann Spence and her engineering students to build a greenhouse at Conley Elementary School. And then, the next year we had a Baylor day at Conley Elementary School where the students got to hear lectures by Baylor professors, work with Baylor students, have a virtual lecture with my colleague from The Mayborn, as well as develop science posters that were then featured at The Mayborn. So, that has been a real wonderful relationship that we've had with Conley Elementary School.
Derek Smith:So schools throughout the Waco area and other organizations. And I wanted to ask you, I know we're heading in the final couple of minutes here, but I want to make sure we talked a little bit about something else that you've been able to be involved. In. September Waco is actually selected as one of nine communities across the nation for projects funded by the Funders Network Partners for Places, a mini grant. So, tell us a little bit about that. What is that and why is that significant for Waco?
Stephanie Boddie:So this particular project, Partners for Places, is significant for Waco, I think for three reasons. One, it brings to together a collaboration mission. Waco being the lead organization along with a partnership with Baylor, Waco Family Medicine, the City of Waco, Sustainability Office, Baylor University, Global Arrive, the World Hunger Relief Farm. The Funder's Network is the sponsor for this particular grant. So, we're looking at four different areas. Food recovery and food re-use to limit food in landfills. Food insecurity, so that we help people have access to more food and better food. Health so that we also look at the health outcomes that are related to having healthier foods and greater access to food. And then finally, education and community, how we can work across the different communities in Waco to make sure that all communities have access to healthier food, and better ways to use the foods that are available. So we're really hoping that each of these groups that are partners will help us to reach deeper into Waco. And hear from our community leaders and community residents about ways that they want to improve the food system in Waco. So, we are really excited about this new project and hope that over the next few months we'll be out into the community and hearing more from community residents.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Important project and a lot of great partners working together on that. As we visit with Dr. Stephanie Boddie. And final question for you, Dr. Boddie, as you look ahead, whether it's with your students, or in the community, or obviously in a lot of cases both are there any projects, or opportunities that you're particularly excited about?
Stephanie Boddie:Yeah, so there are two projects that I'm particularly excited about. One is a book project that I'm hoping to complete in the next 12 to 18 months. And this book project builds on my work on Black churches in Philadelphia. During the pandemic, I really began thinking about what are the lessons that we can glean from churches during the pandemic? And it took me back to some historical research where I looked at Mother Bethel and the ways that Richard Allen and Absalom Jones addressed the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. And also the way that Tindley Temple and their pastor Charles Albert Tindley addressed the Great Depression and the economic needs that people had in the 1930s. And then, finally, looking at Leon Sullivan and Zion Baptist Church and the way that they addressed civil strife during the 1960s with innovative projects. And connecting this history with current day and identifying contemporary churches and the ways that they are dressing the health, economic and civil strife that we now have during this era. So, that's one project. Another project is an immersion project with Dr. Karen Melton. I'm excited to work with her and what I can learn in our partnership about the ways that storytelling impacts people. I've been developing a film called Unfinished Business. And will be using the technology that she has to see how the stories in this Unfinished Business film are connecting with people. And how it might increase their empathy as they hear distressing stories about people's life experience around race in the United States. So, those are two projects that I'm really excited about moving forward in the future.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great to have multimedia, film, book and more. We appreciate that. Well, Dr. Boddie, thanks so much for taking the time to come on the program and share with us today.
Stephanie Boddie:Okay, thank you. Thank you.
Derek Smith:Dr. Stephanie, Boddie assistant professor of Church and Community Ministries, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. And you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.