President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 6 - Episode 637
At the start of a new year, President Livingstone examines a variety of topics on this Baylor Connections. The Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, research momentum, Big 12 expansion, a new strategic plan and the addition of Indy and Belle to the Baylor campus are all on the agenda in this week’s conversation.
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 visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. It's been an exciting start to the 2023-2024 school year and a busy one as we launched the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, there's the start of football, a new class is in, and so much more. President Livingston, I know it's busy. Really appreciate you taking the time to join us and share with the Baylor family all that's going on.
President Livingstone:Well, it's an exciting time at Baylor and it's wonderful to be with you and to have a chance to talk about all that's going on at Baylor.
Derek Smith:We see on social media, we would see you at Move-In, we see you at Welcome Week, at football games, of course, as well. A lot of different ways to get involved. I'm curious, let's focus on something specific. As we welcome students to Baylor, what's special to you about the ways that Baylor welcomes new students and new families into the Baylor family that first time they really kind of set foot on campus to move in?
President Livingstone:Well, I think what we do to welcome our new students is really special at Baylor. I mean, obviously they've gone through orientation in the summer and many of them have done Line Camp, I think over 75%. So they've already had a really nice opportunity even before we get to Move-In to be welcomed, to be oriented, to get a sense of the campus. But when we bring them here for Move-In, it's a special experience at Baylor. I mean, I think we had 3000 or so volunteers this year helping move students in the Wednesday and Thursday before classes started and we just pounce on their cars, take their stuff up to their rooms, parents park the cars and come back and it just relieved so much stress from a family at a time that's pretty stressful. And of course it was very hot this year at Move-In, it can be all the time, but it was particularly hot this year. I think just reducing that stress, helping them know they're welcome, that they're loved, that we're here to help them settle well means so much. Families are deeply appreciative of the personal attention we give them during Move-In and the way we care for their students as they get started. And then of course we do a Welcome Week after that, which is great, and get students off to a good start that weekend before school starts.
Derek Smith:Well, how much water do you think was consumed on Move-In Day and during Welcome Week?
President Livingstone:Well, I actually have the actual data on that.
Derek Smith:Oh really?
President Livingstone:Yeah, we distributed over 21 cases of water, which ended up being over 5,000 bottles of water in about 10 hours in those two 4 hour periods of Move-In. So we gave away like 500 bottles of water an hour during Move-In.
Derek Smith:That's amazing.
President Livingstone:Crazy. But it was so hot and it was great that we provided that and oh my goodness, especially the students that were helping move in, it was quite a workout for them. So having all that water available was a really good thing for everybody involved.
Derek Smith:Yeah, they deserve that for sure. I know the parents moving in were very, very appreciative. You mentioned connecting them here early. What opportunities do those early days help students get that sense of belonging? I know that's something we've heard about for years, but it seems like that's become even more of a focus in higher education in general lately.
President Livingstone:Yeah, well, there's several things very intentionally that we do. Obviously I mentioned Welcome Week where they're in a Welcome Week group, they get to know each other, they have some peers that they can spend time with. But one of the things we do during Welcome Week is we have a church fair. We know that students who are engaged in a local church community retain at a higher level, they graduate at a higher rate, their grades are better, so we really want our students to become involved in a local church community. So we've broadened the diversity of churches that come to that church fair. So we have a huge variety there. Several thousand students come to that. It's fabulous. That's a really important part of helping them feel welcome and trying to engage them in something we know helps them to be successful, not just spiritually, but also as a student. And then one of the first things they do early in the semester is what they call light night, which is where all the student groups on campus, and we have over 400 active student groups on campus, can set up tables and promote their groups so that our freshmen, and really students from any class that want to, can wander around, learn about all of the student activities on campus, and find ways to get engaged. So that's really important. And then early in the semester is always Labor Day Weekend, which is a long weekend. And so we plan what we call Staycation Weekend where we have lots of activities on campus. There was a football game this year, obviously, and we always hope that that's the case, so it keeps students on campus. If they stay on campus those first few weeks of the semester and are engaged and active, again, it helps with their retention, especially first semester freshmen. Lots of intentionality in how we design that early part of the semester, particularly for freshmen, but really for all of our students to engage them, to connect them, to help them feel a part of things so that they will excel academically and in other ways as well.
Derek Smith:Yeah, a lot of great stuff that Student Life did early on. Really a lot of divisions across campus coming together to make that all happen, as we visit with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. As we're visiting here, it's just about time for the ribbon cutting, a couple days away from the ribbon cutting for the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center. I hope by now a lot of members of the Baylor family have got to visit it, but for those who haven't still opportunities to do so. But I'm curious, I'm sure a lot of people are curious, what are some of your favorite aspects of the Welcome Center?
President Livingstone:Well, one of the things I love about the Welcome Center, which is sort of less about the actual construction of the building, but it is that it is a place that brings together people from across the Baylor family. We obviously recruit students there, so prospective students and their families are there. We bring alumni back to that space because we have the alumni center there now. With the coffee shop and the spirit shop, students wander in and out and there's lots of space for people to come over and just socialize and hang out. Faculty will wander through. Every time I've been over there, I've run into interesting people that I would not normally run into on campus. I love that it's a place that brings together our diverse community and connects people that might not normally be in the same building together. I love that. You have to love the four columns that are designed into the building. Obviously they're very visible from outside and from I-35 and they light up and we can use different colors to represent different things as the year goes on. But each of the pillars is important as well. One is the Reflect pillar that really reflects different scenes around campus that people can see, and you can go inside the pillars and see that. One is the Connect pillar and it really highlights what the life of a Baylor Bear is like. If you're a student on our campus, what is that like. A third pillar is the Aspire pillar, and it's really helps personalize a student's visit to campus and shows them what they can aspire to be given what some of the folks at Baylor have accomplished. And then the Amplify pillar is really about showing how our alumni are impacting the world in really significant and important ways. There's something specific and meaningful about almost every design element in the building. I really encourage people to understand what all the design elements mean and what they say about who we are at Baylor and what it means to be a Baylor Bear.
Derek Smith:Those are great descriptions you gave of the experiences inside the four columns. I would almost say you have to see it for yourself and you do, but those are great descriptions to give people a taste of what's going on and very intentional as you described. I'm curious, what do you think prospective students or visitors will feel when they're inside those, when they're experiencing those?
President Livingstone:Well, we hope that they will get a real tangible sense of the culture of Baylor, of the care and concern we provide to everybody on our campus, and that it will make them feel like they want to be a part of what we have. It's really an immersive experience, very different than what you would see in our traditional way of recruiting students. We will continue to have the wonderful tours and our student tour guides are fabulous, they do a wonderful job, but I think it will give people a more in-depth experiential opportunity to sense what Baylor's really like.
Derek Smith:Yeah. I was going to ask you why this building is a game changer. I think you've really described that in these last couple of minutes, but I'm curious, have you seen any ... I've certainly never seen anything like this building. You've been a lot more places, have you?
President Livingstone:Well, I've been on a lot of campuses and I've seen a number of Welcome Centers, probably a few more when Shelby was going to college, which has been several years ago, we visited a lot of universities and saw some Welcome Centers in that process. But I do think it is unique in the world of higher education because of the way we've integrated technology, the way we've integrated alumni and student recruitment into the same facility. And then frankly, our location right off of I-35 is such a prominent, visible location. Many universities would never have that kind of an opportunity. So we actually hope it attracts people who don't know anything about Baylor and they see it and they go, "Oh, that looks like a cool place. We should stop and stop in and see what they have to say." Just as a way to introduce people to the community. I think it's very unique and very appropriate for who we are at Baylor that it gives people kind of a personal experience and touch to our community.
Derek Smith:You mentioned, President Livingstone, the word community. In what ways is the broader community and not just the Baylor community, but the Waco and central Texas community get to take part in this building?
President Livingstone:Well, we hope that the broader community, certainly here in central Texas and beyond, we'll take advantage of it. It's open to the public during the day, so we do hope people will stop by visit, enjoy the columns, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or something at the Varsity and check out some Baylor swag in the bookstore. But it also has kind of some meeting facilities, both large and they can be made into smaller facilities. So we certainly will use that for a lot of events and activities on campus. But I think there will be times it will be available to community groups as well. I think there's a lot of ways that people in the community will be able to take advantage of the Hurd Center and be able to enjoy the amenities that it has.
Derek Smith:Yeah, you mentioned the Varsity, the coffee shop, they utilize Peet's Coffee in there, which is not something you could find everyone. I was talking to someone from California the other day and they were talking about the Hurd Center, and I said they had Peet's Coffee and they got really excited. So for people who haven't had it, that's something that people who know know, I guess.
President Livingstone:Well, we did spend some time in Southern California, so I was kind of glad to see Peet's come in. I'm not a coffee drinker, I'm a tea drinker. They have some really good iced tea, so I love their iced tea. And they've got some interesting special drinks and other things that I think they're creating for Baylor. So we're really pleased with the way that's worked out so far.
Derek Smith:Lots of options, not just one drink, but many options, as we visit with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone, you'll be visiting with the Baylor family at the ribbon cutting ceremony. And certainly you think about Mark and Paula Hurd, the McLean family, the Fudge family, people who sowed into this, but the Baylor family as a whole have played a big role in this. And as we think about sort of the symbolic end of Give Light, from this side of things, how would you describe what the Baylor family has meant to this project and really just the last few years of getting here?
President Livingstone:Well, we would've never gotten to this point in our strategic plan Illuminate or the Give Light campaign without a broad base of the Baylor family coming alongside us. I think we've had over 95,000 people, individuals, give to the Give light campaign. Certainly some at really significant levels like Paul and Alejandra Foster, Mark and Paula Hurd, you mentioned the Fudge family, the McLean family. You could go on and on, people who gave it very significant levels. But we had many, many people that might've given us $10 or $100 or $50 or $1000. And all of those matter equally to get us to this point. That broad base support has allowed us to be unbelievably successful and to support athletics, to support academics, to support endowed chairs, to support student activities, to support student scholarships in a way that we really have never had a campaign in the past that had that broad base of support campus wide. We're deeply grateful for that. It sets us up really well as we go into work on a new strategic plan over this year, and just deeply grateful for everyone that's walked alongside us in this campaign and as we've accomplished the work of Illuminate, our strategic plan.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with the Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. President Livingstone, certainly we look at the facilities and you talk about the Baylor families impact, but that's far from the only area, it's been faculty, students, research. Now, I'll ask you specifically about the research. We've seen a number of major grants as of late. It seems like that tide has really rose in recent years. And I'm curious on this side of the R1 line right now, what do some of these, they're great headlines, but they're really impactful projects that are growing from this.
President Livingstone:Yeah, because of the support we've received through the campaign and really our focus on becoming an R1 university and then accomplishing that in really record time. We've had such great success hiring not just endowed chairs, they've certainly been important to this process, but just faculty in general. Our class of faculty this year is our largest class ever and our most diverse class of faculty ever. And I think last year's class was maybe the second largest and the second most diverse. What it shows is there's a great interest in Baylor and for people that want to do really significant research, care deeply about students and want to be at a university where their faith matters and where they can live out their Christian faith, that's fabulous. We have people doing really, really cool research. One of the ones we promoted recently is a faculty member that is the project lead for NASA's Roman telescope launch. That's just cool stuff, right?
Derek Smith:It is, yeah.
President Livingstone:Like, that's really neat. I can remember as a kid watching the moon landing and things like that and thinking that's like this, the coolest stuff ever. Now we've got faculty working on research in that space. We have a social work professor that has a grant that's working on mental health of students in Waco ISD. We know mental health is a huge issue, not just on our campus, but across the country, particularly even in secondary and primary schools, so to have faculty who are really trying to help find solutions to the mental health crisis in this country is heartening and it's deeply consistent with our Christian mission as a university. We have a chemistry professor who's leading a research team that's looking at how we do research and what are the standards we should use as we evaluate research to make sure that the research that we're doing is really answering the questions and helping find the truth behind some of these issues, and that matters a lot so that people actually know that there's integrity and trust to the research. And then there was a recent study that looked at faculty and how prolific they are from a research perspective, but we had a number of faculty across the university that are kind of the most prolific researchers in their fields across the country. I'm just so proud of our faculty, proud of our deans and department chairs for the hiring they're doing. It's going to matter to our students in the classroom, in the laboratories, and we'll produce better prepared students because our faculty are doing really interesting research. And then that research will help solve some really important problems in the world.
Derek Smith:As you described that, we've talked about, through Illuminate, pursuing research marked by quality, visibility, and impact. And from that impact side of things, there's a leadership aspect. You talked about a professor examining standards in his or her own field. We have a number of faculty named to major boards in their discipline. Faculty members, as you mentioned, among the world's most cited researchers. Recently found out we're again among the top 100 universities granted US utility patents. I'm just curious, when you talk about the proverbial seat at the table impact, is that what we're seeing kind of grow here before our eyes?
President Livingstone:Oh, absolutely. And that takes time to build that reputation and that understanding in the broader community about what we're doing at Baylor and the quality of the work that we're doing. But I think absolutely some of the people that we hire into endowed chairs bring some of that seat at the table with them, but then they're helping develop PhD students and they're working with other faculty that are already on our campus. And then we already have some faculty here that are really doing amazing work. And the more of that we do, the more the name of Baylor is out there in the academic community in other realms. And when people see what we're doing and they see the quality of the work our faculty and staff are doing, it gives people opportunities to move into leadership, whether that's in academic organizations or all of the administrative units on our campus have national organizations and people are involved in those as well. It gives us a chance, as you say, to have a voice at the table, to speak into issues that matter, not just to higher education, but to the world more broadly. It's a privilege to get to do that. And I'm really proud to see so many of our faculty and staff having those opportunities.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections. President Livingstone, there's so many exciting things going on at the university. We have to make some sharp pivots. So let's pivot from research to bear cubs.
President Livingstone:Oh, well of course. We can't forget the bear cubs.
Derek Smith:Tell us about Indy and Belle. What's it been like for you to, I'll use the phrase, get to know them a little bit?
President Livingstone:Gosh, they are just the best. I'm telling you. bear cubs who knew how much fun they were going to be. Of course, we had not had Bear cubs on our campus for over 20 years. We've loved having joy and Lady on campus for so many years, and I think prior to them coming, we typically only had bears for a couple of years, two or three years at the most as we would then transition. We kind of got into that mode and we've come to love our older bears and they're lovely and we love them, but they weren't particularly active because they were older and kind of later in their life cycle. So then you bring two cubs in, Indy and Belle, and they're active, they're curious. Their personalities are very different. If you are around them much or watch them much, you will find out that they have very different personalities and styles. Indy loves the water and loves to play and is very curious. Belle is just kind of rambunctious and climbs and is kind of that child that you're never quite sure where they are and you better watch out or they might sneak up behind you. But honestly have brought so much joy to the community, the day that we had to meet the cubs, long lines of people who were so patient to get to see them, and loved watching all the videos and pictures people posted online. But they're tons of fun. We're thrilled to have them. I can't say enough about Dakota and the work he's done supporting them, our students who are our bear trainers and the work that they're doing. It's a lot more work taking care of two cubs than it was our two older bears in some ways. Just different ways of caring for them and different needs that they have, but I think everybody's going to love them. You really need to stop by and see the cubs. They post online at the Bear Habitat website and in their social media when the cubs are going to be out, so to come by and visit when they're out.
Derek Smith:Yeah, that's good advice. Check out the social media and you can know for sure if they're going to be out when you get there. Got to check it out for sure, as we visit with President Livingstone. President Livingstone is also the start of a new athletics season now. I know McLean Stadium, I know there's soccer, volleyball going on. Where are some places we might find you and the First Gent these days cheering on the Bears?
President Livingstone:Well, we love watching our bears no matter what sport or what activity they're participating in. We've already been to soccer and we've watched volleyball. We had to go watch our Baylor Bears play our daughter's alma mater, the Rice Owls, last week. Of course, we were at the football game on Saturday. We'll be there for the Utah game as well. We are always so proud to watch our student athletes participate, represent the university well, and we know how much work and time and effort they have put into what they do in representing the university, so really encourage people to come out, really encourage people to come out to all of our student performances and activities. Our theater department has some amazing plays that they're going to be producing this year. Our music school has wonderfully talented students and faculty. There's never a lack of things to do on our campus for people in the community to come and be a part of and enjoy the talents of our students.
Derek Smith:Those are going to be heating up. You mentioned theater and music. I think if people just Google Baylor Theater Productions or Baylor Music concerts, it's going to take you right where you need to go.
President Livingstone:Absolutely. And there's probably more of them out there than you realize across a really diverse set of types of plays, types of musical production. So you can find something that you will enjoy, I'm sure.
Derek Smith:A lot of great opportunities for sure, as we visit with President Livingstone. President Livingstone, since last we spoke to you, we've added four new schools to the Big 12, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah, who as we're visiting, Baylor is about to play this weekend. What does their arrival mean for the Big 12 and for its member institutions like Baylor?
President Livingstone:Well, that's been quite a ride over this last couple of summers really. But we were really thrilled to finalize bringing those four schools into the conference. I have some sadness at seeing what's happened to the Pac-12. It's an iconic, really legacy conference in this country that is one of the oldest conferences and one of the most storied conferences. So you really hate to see something like this happen to that conference. And yet you also have to say what's going to be the best interest for our conference going forward that gives us stability, that sets us up well for the next media rights negotiation, which will be several years from now, and that makes us as competitive as possible in a broad set of sports, and then frankly expands our reach nationally. These four schools are all AAU schools, so they're very strong academically and in terms of research, so that helps the conference. They spread us west some, probably help with scheduling since we had added BYU recently. We have tons of students that come to us from California and Arizona and Colorado, so it really ties into a recruiting base that's important to us for our student population. I can't say enough about the presidents of those institutions. They're going to be great colleagues in the conference, and we're really looking forward to them joining us next year. And we're thrilled with the four that joined this year. They're already an important part of what we're doing, and we're excited to be playing some of them soon.
Derek Smith:Yeah, some exciting new rivalries, and they bring a lot to the conference. It's going to be fun. A lot of newness for fans to enjoy in the next few years.
Derek Smith:Well, President Livingstone, as we wind down, so next week we're going to visit with Dr. Brickhouse and Tiffany Hogue, your chief of staff. You alluded earlier to Baylor beginning the process of coming together on a new strategic plan. And I'm just curious as we do this, what are some of the things on your mind that you're looking forward to about this process and where it can take Baylor?
President Livingstone:Well, I'm really excited about the creation of this next strategic plan. We've had such great success with Illuminate, as we talked about earlier, and had so many people walk alongside us to help us to be successful. And this now gives us an opportunity to build on that strategic plan and to really think about what's the next level of work that we can do at Baylor that continues to increase our impact and influence as a Christian research university. It's a very engaged and participatory process. So I'm really excited about that, that really anybody that wants to have a voice in the process will be able to do that. I'm really looking forward to what's going to come out of it and how we build on the success we've already had and how we think about new things we might do that will allow us to have influence in the world to have an impact as a Christian university. It's going to be great to see what happens as we move into the spring semester where we'll do more of the nuts and bolts of writing the plan after we do a lot of listening in the fall. And then of course, the goal is to have a plan to our board for affirmation at the May 2024 meeting.
Derek Smith:Be ready for summer of next year. Well, that's great. We'll look forward to that. And I know a lot of people will be participating in that, as you said, it can be a lot of fun. Well, president Livingstone, thanks so much for your time. I know we covered a lot of ground here in the last 20 minutes or so, but really appreciate it and I look forward to what's ahead.
President Livingstone:Well, it's always a pleasure to be with you, Derek, and excited for the year ahead.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. A lot going on. I know we'll have plenty to talk about when we visit with you next time here on the program. Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone, our guest today 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 on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.