By Alyssa Gonzalez, graduate student
“Dr. Stone's eyes sparkle and dance when you talk with her,” said Tracey Whelan, a Baylor graduate and former student of Dr. Sara Stone, “She has a gift of making you feel like you are the most important person in the world in that moment.” This is exceptionally rare, Whelan added, “It's truly a gift.”
After 36 years of teaching at Baylor University, Dr. Stone plans to retire in May. In the midst of teaching her final semester, Stone says she adores the students she has this semester. “They are bright, they are engaged, and we have great class discussions.”
Regarding her retirement, Stone said, “I’m looking forward to it, everything is sort of bittersweet.” Stone shared her mixed feelings, “I’m sad this is going to be the last class I ever teach, but it’s been such a rewarding experience.”
Stone’s interest in journalism began in fifth grade when she had the opportunity to be the editor for her class’s monthly newspaper. “I absolutely fell in love with it and I’ve known since the fifth grade that’s what I want to do with my life,” she said.
Her first job out of college was at the Amarillo Globe-News, where she started as a reporter and later moved to the news desk. After five years, Stone “fell into a teaching job.”
“Teaching wasn’t anything I ever intended to do,” she said. Before accepting her first teaching position, Stone thought to herself, “Ok, I’ll do it for a year” and instead fell in love with her new job and has been teaching ever since.
In the Fall of 1982, Stone began her career at Baylor. When asked about her first impression of Baylor, Stone said, “There were good students and it’s a beautiful place to come to work to every day.”
Stone, 71, has taught many students, some of who are now her colleagues. Currently, at least three faculty members in the Journalism, Public Relations and New Media department are Dr. Stone’s former students. Stone said seeing students become faculty members is “the most rewarding thing you can do.”
One of her colleagues and former students, Macarena Hernandez, said that though she met Stone as a student in the early ’90s, “I feel like I’ve known her most of my life. I feel so lucky that life brought me back to Baylor and I was able to work with her during her last five years at the university.”
Hernandez recalls that Stone was one of the people that kept her motivated and focused on her goal of becoming a journalist. What Hernandez says she remembers the most about her relationship with Stone as a student is that “She always made time for me… she listened to what I was saying… and made me feel I belonged.” Hernandez added, “Dr. Stone has always been extremely kind, patient and encouraging.”
As a professor and colleague, Hernandez says she always encourages students to find Dr. Stone and connect with her. “I think college is a challenging time and she always make students feel like there’s a place for them at Baylor and more importantly in our department.”
Over the last 36 years, Stone has served as a professor in the department teaching classes such as reporting, editing, advanced reporting, and media law and ethics. She became the undergraduate program director for the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media in 2005 and has served as the chair of the department since 2012.
Stone described working in the department as “a warm, friendly and happy place, where you are nurtured, but you’re also challenged to do the very best work that you can possibly do.”
Regarding the people she works with, Stone said, “I have enormous respect for my colleagues and I love our students.”
Kevin Tankersley, another faculty member and former student, says Stone is “very caring, compassionate and wants to see students succeed.” Additionally, he said, “I’m going to miss her, not only as a boss, but as a friend.” Tankersley added, “I hope she has a wonderful retirement. She has worked hard for Baylor and our department.”
Stone’s former student, Elvia Aguilar, a 2005 graduate, said Stone truly values the freedom of the press in America. “She has watched the journalism industry rapidly change over the years and has made sure that the journalism department at Baylor adapted to those changes so that students are prepared for the workforce,” Aguilar said.
Stone was the first professor Aguilar met in the department and she said, “Dr. Stone instantly made me feel like I belonged at Baylor.” Aguilar recalls that Stone was nurturing and had a mentorship approach that truly impacted her life. “Her role has evolved from this administrator into almost a counselor or mentor for generations of students,” Aguilar said. The friendship they built has continued over the years and Aguilar said, “I will forever credit my love of writing and success at Baylor to her.”
During her time at Baylor, Stone has received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding chapter faculty adviser. She also has received several Mortar Board circle of achievement awards and has twice been the recipient of the Rachel Moore outstanding professor award. However, Stone says her greatest accomplishment while at Baylor has been “being in a position to teach and mentor some really fantastic students and in turn see them become successful.”
Over the years, “Baylor became home,” Stone said. She said she believes being at Baylor has had a positive impact on her life. She cherishes her relationships with former students that have turned into friendships and adds that it’s also been “fun to watch romances bloom.”
One of the romances she recalls is Charlie and Tracey Whelan’s. Now married with children, the couple met in the journalism department at Baylor. “I like to think we’re her favorites; I think everyone feels that way,” Tracey Whelan said, “and that says something about her ability to love completely.”
Stone said she considers the Whelan’s, “dear friends as well as former students.” Stone attended the couple’s wedding and Tracey Whelan said, “She is family to us…we love her dearly.” Through the years, Stone has met the Whelan’s children and kept in touch through email and visits.
Regarding their relationship with Stone, Charlie Whelan said, “She was not only a great teacher but a good friend and someone you wanted to emulate and make proud.” Charlie Whelan also shared that they use their relationship with Stone as an example for their children. “I think it’s valuable for us to teach our kids that your teachers and professors always play an important role in your life…they have an impact.”
Tracey Whelan shared about Stone’s impact on her own life, “Dr. Stone helped shape me academically, but also she helped me to grow as a person.”
Charlie Whelan agreed recalling that Dr. Stone applied for a scholarship on his behalf and took time out of her personal schedule for him, “I always remember that…just to show that level of commitment and go above and beyond for a student, I was just blown away.”
“She was my favorite professor from my time at Baylor. It’s been a gift that we had her as our professor, mentor and now friend,” said Tracey Whelan, “It’s a testament to how much she cares about her students that we still hear from her two decades later.”
After retiring in May, Stone is “looking forward to getting out of Texas.” Her travel aspirations include visiting New England in the fall and taking a road trip in California along the Pacific Coast Highway. She also would like to explore more of the Pacific Northwest, as well as take a trip to Alaska and revisit Ireland and Scotland.
Stone also plans to spend more time with her family. She has been married to Bob Barkley for 23 years and has three children and five grandchildren, who range in age from 2 to 14 years old. She is looking forward to attending her grandchildren’s volleyball and soccer games and cheering them on. Stone thoroughly enjoys being a grandmother and says the best part about it is that her grandchildren are “so funny…they’re all very smart,” she said, “They are a delight to be around…we’re very blessed.”
When asked what she will miss the most, Stone said, “It will be the people…I will miss the students, the faculty and the camaraderie that we have.”
Stone said there is a sense of family throughout the department. “We all get along so well [and] enjoy each other.” Stone said her philosophy is, “If you’re in education, your goal should be to teach…and turn out a student who can be their very best.” Stone’s approach to teaching is “If you do it well, you educate and inspire.”