Providing Bear Care: Baylor Faculty and Staff Volunteers Connect with Students, Provide Care and Resources
Baylor launches Bear Care program to ensure students have what they need to succeed
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By Kaitlyn Rieper, marketing specialist, Baylor Marketing and Brand Strategy
WACO, Texas (April 16, 2020) – More than 330 Baylor University faculty and staff, who have volunteered as “Bear Care Coaches,” are reaching out to assigned groups of students each week to help them navigate the stresses of remote online education, being away from their peers and trying to adapt to a college experience disrupted by COVID-19.
The Bear Care program was launched April 6 in response to a Student Life and Academic Affairs survey that found an initial 7,000 students who self-identified as needing support. Following an email from Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., that highlighted Bear Care, the number of students grew to more than 9,000. To meet the needs of the students, each Bear Care Coach has been equipped with relevant training and an engagement plan to ensure outreach to students is handled with the utmost care and consideration.
“It’s humbling that so many faculty and staff volunteered their time as Bear Care Coaches for our students. They are embodying the caring community that is the heart and soul of Baylor University,” said Sinda K. Vanderpool, Ph.D., associate vice provost for academic enrollment management who also serves as a Bear Care Coach.
“This is an incredibly challenging time for the entire Baylor community with spring courses moving online, but we recognized that many of our students likely needed an additional layer of care and support. Bear Care Coaches have stepped up to stand in that gap,” Vanderpool said. “Sometimes, they simply empathize with the student’s challenges; sometimes, they are able to work collaboratively with University partners to directly assist students with timely needs that are critical to their success.”
Collaboration between the Bear Care program and various campus partners has allowed Bear Care Coaches to connect students with vital Baylor resources and experts in areas of academic, emotional, financial, physical and spiritual support.
For example, Bear Care Coaches have been able to help address immediate concerns from students in mental health by engaging Care Team services in Student Health and Welfare and for physical needs, such as food insecurity, through The Store and other food resources in Waco and beyond. The program also has gathered available resources specific to international students.
Bear Care Coach Michael Muehlenbein, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of anthropology, said he chose to volunteer because of his own experience as a first-generation student who had financial difficulties from one semester to the next.
“I just want all students who are capable to get the support they need,” Muehlenbein said.
Marion Palomino, office manager for accounting and business law in the Hankamer School of Business, also stepped forward as a Bear Care Coach to continue the department’s family dynamic.
“Our department is such a family and these students are our kids,” Palomino said. “I felt that this program would be a way to get that feeling back and hopefully be that person who could be there for the students. I am thankful in some way I can give back by doing this.”
The faculty and staff volunteers are passionate about connecting positively with students, said Sally Firmin, director of Baylor Academic Support Programs. Bear Care Coaches are able to contact students in a variety of ways including emails, calls and texts, as well as keep track of resources needed and alert any other University offices of concerns and needs.
“I have been impressed by the personal detail a student would tell the coach—an indicator of the student’s trust in the sincere intent of the coach—neither of whom knew the other before now,” Firmin said. “I have spent two full days over the last several responding directly to these referrals, tailoring each to the specific concerns the student expressed to the coach. Students have stated their appreciation for the outreach and support.”
While providing resources is a key part of the program, Bear Care also provides coaches with the opportunity to check in and connect with students. The core of the program is based around relationships and intentionality with students regardless of where they are.
“I got involved in the program because, without students on campus, I was limited in the ways I could directly serve them,” said Bear Care Coach Ryan Erck, program director for the Impact Living-Learning Center. “The Bear Care program allowed me to re-invest the typical time I would have with students to support their college journeys. One student I spoke with had a family member pass away recently. Though at a distance, I was able to empathize with the student in that challenge through our communications and direct them to resources in both the Counseling Center and the Spiritual Life areas.”
Students who are not currently connected with a Bear Care Coach but would like to be involved in the program can opt in by emailing BearCare@baylor.edu.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.