Multidisciplinary Poverty Studies Program Begins This Fall at Baylor

Aug. 23, 2007

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

Baylor University students, faculty and staff from across the university will begin a groundbreaking interdisciplinary poverty studies program this fall that is designed to create a catalyst for social change around issues of poverty, civic engagement, and social and economic justice.

Only the third undergraduate program of its kind, the Shepherd Poverty Program at Baylor is based on Washington and Lee University's nationally recognized Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability. Rice University in Houston also has established a poverty studies program for undergraduates.

Begun in 1997, Washington and Lee's program integrates structured, sustained academic coursework focused on issues of poverty with sustained internship experiences, where students from all academic disciplines work firsthand with impoverished communities. University leaders say the program "cultivates compassion and intellectual rigor as preparation for civic and professional engagement to diminish poverty."

"The Shepherd Poverty Program represents a wonderful opportunity for Baylor University to partner with the community to address issues of poverty, civic engagement, and social and economic justice through discipline-based service learning, internships, research and evaluation," said Rosemary Townsend, director of business affairs, who will serve as coordinator of the Shepherd Poverty Program at Baylor.

The program will be under the administrative auspices of the Division of Student Life and the supervision of a faculty director and faculty-directed steering committee. Dr. Gaynor Yancey, associate dean for baccalaureate studies and professor of church and community in the School of Social Work, and Dr. Jon Singletary, assistant professor of social work, will serve as faculty directors. Ten faculty members from across various disciplines will serve on the program's faculty steering committee.

A three-year strategic plan for the Shepherd Poverty Program at Baylor includes multiple initiatives, such as:

• creating a forum for students to develop their strengths in preparation for answering a call to sustained leadership, whether in private life, private enterprise, social issues or the church,

• beginning the interdisciplinary process to establish a minor in Poverty, Civic Engagement, and Social and Economic Justice, housed in The School of Social Work, which would be available to all degree programs across the university,

• providing competitive grants that will be available to outstanding faculty and qualified student interns involved in discipline-based projects, and

• launching regional, national and discipline-related international internship programs in 2008.

Baylor's interdisciplinary approach will provide courses that are designed to supplement all majors and fulfill Baylor's educational and Christian mission to "educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community." The program also will help fulfill the Division of Student Life's mission to "enhance the Baylor experience through life changing programs and services resulting in an integrated education known for leadership, service, Christian faith, and the total development of students."

Dr. Harlan Beckley, The Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion at Washington and Lee and the Shepherd Program's founder and director, met with faculty, staff and Waco community leaders, as well as Baylor President John M. Lilley, during a visit to Baylor Aug. 21-22.

"I think it is a wonderful fit for Baylor," Beckley said. "What's significant about students working firsthand with impoverished communities in the areas of healthcare, business, education and law or a number of other fields is that these students will not change their career path because of this kind of study, but they will have their studies and their preparation for their career path greatly enriched and focused in a different kind of way. They'll be much more sensitive to what's going on regarding poverty."

Beckley noted that Washington and Lee's program is both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. He said the academic study of poverty from this perspective enables students to pursue professional careers with a critical social consciousness.

"It's important that students have courses that focus on poverty where they learn from economics and psychology and sociology and ethics and religious ethics as well. At the same time it's important that they have courses on poverty that are associated with their own majors in economics or psychology or English literature or whatever it might be," Beckley said. "That's the way in which you can relate these studies to every student no matter what his or her major is at the university."

Beckley was accompanied to Baylor by Richard P. Cancelmo Jr. of Bridgeway Capital Management of Houston. Bridgeway provided Dr. Dub Oliver, vice president for student life at Baylor, with a three-year $150,000 grant for the Shepherd Poverty Program's initial funding.

"It was a perfect fit from very early on," Cancelmo said. "When I learned about the program, I was very intrigued with it and the idea not to replicate [the Washington and Lee program] but to take it to other schools really resonated with us. Baylor seems to be the perfect fit, and we're very excited about it."

The Shepherd Poverty Program is one of the initiatives that supports Imperative VI of Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision: Guide all Baylor students through academic and student life programming to understand life as a stewardship and work as a vocation.

Baylor's undergraduate programs emphasize the central importance of vocation and service in students' lives and help them explore their value and role in society. At a Christian university, questions such as "Who am I?" and "How should I best use my talents?" should be taken seriously and should guide students as they make life's key decisions. To assist students in addressing such issues, Baylor has develop multiple opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular, for students to discern and understand their life work as a calling and all of life as a stewardship of service.

For more information on the Shepherd Poverty Program at Baylor, contact Rosemary Townsend at (254) 710-4988.

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