St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Only a few months following the creation of a new student exchange agreement with Xavier University of Louisiana, junior biology major, Megan Washington, applied to be the program's first participant.
In October 2016, Baylor established its first-ever domestic student exchange program with Xavier University of Louisiana as a means of introducing students of both schools to new educational opportunities and creating an awareness of different institutional and cultural perspectives.
"I found out about the program at a Baylor Association of Black Students' meeting," said the program's inaugural participant, Megan Washington. "I decided to join the program, because I wanted to gain new experiences and to know what it was like to attend an Historically Black College or University (HBCU)."
Xavier University of Louisiana was established as a four-year college in 1925 under the leadership of St. Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Like Baylor, Xavier upholds a familiar faith-based mission – one that emphasizes academic research, leadership and service.
Though Washington had never participated in a study-abroad program, she suspected that spending the spring 2017 semester studying in a city as vibrant and storied as New Orleans would offer a very similar experience.
"I learned about different cultures that I had never encountered before. I met so many people from around the world – Senegal, Morocco, Venezuela, Canada, France, as well as Louisiana, New York, California and South Carolina – and it struck me how much we all had in common," Washington said. "And the city is so rich with visual arts and music. When we visited the French Quarter and walked down the street, we could hear the jazz musicians playing their horns, we saw artists painting their creations live and in-person. I don't listen to much jazz, but after studying in New Orleans, I do have a greater appreciation for it."
But, aside from the cultural diversity, a live jazz scene of international renown or even fresh beignets from the famed Café du Monde, Washington was keenly interested in the astonishing rate at which Xavier graduates are accepted to medical school.
A 2015 New York Times article titled, "A Prescription for More Black Doctors," noted that Xavier University "consistently produces more black students who apply to and then graduate from medical school than any other institution in the country. More than big state schools like Michigan or Florida. More than elite Ivies like Harvard and Yale. Xavier is also first in the nation in graduating black students with bachelor's degrees in biology and physics."
"I could see the hard work and dedication Xavier University professors put in, working hands-on with their students to make sure they are ready to take on their careers," Washington said. "Many of the class sizes are small enough to where professors are able to work closely with each student individually. I took organic chemistry and genetics and in both of these classes, I witnessed my professors' dedication to my success."
Having visited New Orleans only once before, Washington now harbors a great fondness for the city and says she will be visiting again the first chance she gets. In addition to a cache of memories and formative experiences, Washington came away from her Xavier semester with greater confidence in her path and her place at Baylor.
"During my first three semesters at Baylor, I didn't really understand where I fit in, and I was a little overwhelmed by all of the opportunities Baylor had to offer. So, I focused solely on my coursework," she said. "Upon learning about the Exchange Program, I decided to try something new and interesting. I feel like the program helped me to step out of my comfort zone and into new situations, and I'm more adaptable to change now. I would definitely recommend this program to any Baylor student looking to gain new educational and cultural experiences in a wonderful city."