Such relationships continue to direct our students' paths long after they've completed their education here, when faculty and staff begin working with the graduates no longer as students, but as well educated, professional colleagues.
Just how important is such a relationship? What is its worth? For graduate Lacy Lynch (Theater Performance, '06), it's absolutely priceless.
Throughout her school-age years, Lacy Lynch struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a medical condition that affects the portion of the brain that controls activity and attention.
"There's such a stigma on mental health disorders in our society, that my parents suggested I not tell anyone about my condition," Lynch recalls. "Mental disorders are the number one disorder in the United States and Canada, but no one wants to talk about them."
As a freshman at Baylor in the fall of 2002, Lynch ignored the well-intended advice to withdraw from Baylor and instead attend the community college in her hometown of Colleyville, Tex. A theater major in the Honors Program, she knew she had great potential, but she couldn't direct her energy effectively.
Fortunately, Dr. Susan Colón (Honors Program assistant professor) and Mr. Dustin Stewart (former Honors Program assistant director) realized that with encouragement and one-on-one mentoring, Lynch truly could defy the odds and make something of herself and, in turn, become the first theater major to graduate from the Honors Program.
"I was overcommitted to so many things," Lynch explains. "Dr. Colón and Mr. Stewart noticed this and provided direction on how to focus all my interests, never failing to encourage my strengths. What others saw as my weakness, they helped cultivate into productivity."
"Lacy was remarkably driven to succeed in the Honors Program," recalls Dustin Stewart, former assistant director of the Honors Program. "She developed a strong friendship with Dr. Susan Colón frequently stopped in and talked with me about short-term practicalities and long-term vocational dreams. Those exchanges also had the effect of tightening her connection to the program."
"Society should realize intelligence doesn't come packaged the same way in every person," Lynch says. "Those in history who've enriched our lives the most showed professionally confirmed signs of mental illness™Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway, Robert Schumann, Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Beethoven, Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and the list goes on and on."
Lynch's thoughts on this were roused during a colloquium session her senior year, led by Dr. Stephen Prickett, director of the Armstrong Browning Library and Margaret Root Brown Professor for Browning Studies and Victorian Poetry. The selected text was Elizabeth's Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.
"During the discussion, 99 percent of the students thought the character Cynthia was a villain," Lynch remembers. "I didn't think it was a morality issue, I thought it was more of a medical one. I was the only student who pitied her because I understood her distress and where she was coming from."
And, it was this discussion that sparked Lynch's idea for her senior thesis. However, Lynch was the first theater major to graduate from the Honors Program, so there was no precedent on how to pen a thesis for such a major. Nevertheless, under Colón's direction - and constant encouragement - Lynch tied research about mental health disorders, scholarship, and the novel into a modern-day play entitled, Reason for Referral.
The play follows three young, university acting students who have mental disorders and who are in different stages of coping and coming to terms with the stigmas attached to them by the various medical, social, and psychological entities they encounter. The play uses excerpts of the 19th-century novel - Wives and Daughters - humor, and Lynch's personal experience to explore three troubled minds trying to express themselves through art. In doing so, it subtly explores the cultural myth of the "tragic artist" and tries to draw ties between the creative act and various mood and personality disorders.
"In writing my thesis, I was able to combine my passion for psychology, English literature, and theater into one realized vision," Lynch explains. "Once I started thinking of my thesis in terms of the things I was passionate about, it became achievable," Lynch says.
Just last month, a revised version of Lynch's thesis was presented as a staged reading at the Dallas Hub Theater, where it will be produced as a full-scale production this spring. And, this wasn't the first time Lynch's work made it to the stage. Just two months after graduating from Baylor, the thesis was read at the Ensemble Studio Theater in New York.
"Sticking with it and graduating from the Honors Program, with Dr. Colón and Mr. Stewart's direction and encouragement, prepared me for graduate work and the real world because of the skill sets I learned as an Honors student," Lynch explains.
And just where has Lynch found herself in the "real world?" She currently works at Dupree/Miller & Associates, the number one nonfiction literary agency in the world, based on New York Times Bestseller lists. The company represents a number of people, including Dr. Phil, Maria Shriver, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Nicole Ricci, Fantasia (from American Idol), President Vicente Fox, and more.
"I was hired as the editorial assistant for the upcoming Dr. Phil book, and I will become full-time this month now that I've finished my master's degree in Theater at TX A&M University-Commerce," Lynch says. "At that time, I will be trained to be a literary agent.
"But, I still keep in touch with many of my mentors in the program, and Dr. Colón recently volunteered her time to co-write an article with me that was published in the Gaskell Society Journal entitled, "A Weakness, a Sin, or a Mind Diseased: A New Assessment of Cynthia Kirkpatrick," Lynch says.
The article expands one of the primary ideas asserted in Lynch's thesis.
"Lacy's view of Cynthia, a central character in Wives and Daughters, is sophisticated and entirely original," Colón says. "It was exciting for me to collaborate with her to get her ideas out to the wider community of scholars."
"Ultimately, I just want to encourage people to do what they're passionate about, and the Honors College provided a door for me to do that."