April 2006

Faculty Feature

Dr. Susan Bratton

Dr. Bratton

Dr. Bratton's childhood love for the environment has translated into world travels, multiple degrees, and a position at Baylor that allows her to study the environment, its management and protection through a Christian lens. In addition to her roles as a professor and the Chair of Environmental Studies, Dr. Bratton has been a major part of efforts to increase opportunities for undergraduate research and publication.

While she was an undergraduate student, Dr. Bratton took courses in Scotland and the Colorado Rockies, and then as a graduate student she studied and conducted research in Costa Rica, the Adirondacks, and the Great Smoky Mountains. She earned a Ph.D. in ecology from Cornell, a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Ethics from the University of Georgia and an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Seminary. She also obtained a second Ph.D. in interdisciplinary humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. She arrived at Baylor in 2001, quickly became an avid Lady Bears Basketball fan, and is currently researching environmental ethics in Christian art.

Dr. Bratton understands the desire of bright students to take part in existing or new research projects, and she recognizes the value of opportunities to channel these aspirations into real practice. After some initial difficulties getting involved in research as an undergraduate, Dr. Bratton finally began working on a project in graduate school at the Lamont Geological Lab, where she said she learned independence and the ability to notice patterns and determine how to correct them. As a graduate student, Dr. Bratton involved many undergraduate students on her project, many of whom became junior or senior authors for the final paper.

At Baylor, Dr. Bratton has continued to provide opportunities for undergraduate research. In the Environmental Studies department, she has been involved in separating reading courses from research courses and creating new classes that specifically focus on research, thereby "providing a wider context for creative projects," she says. Dr. Bratton was also instrumental in adding internship courses for undergraduates that may incorporate off-campus research opportunities. She has encouraged faculty participating in freshman seminars to look for young undergraduates who are interested in starting research as early as their freshman or sophomore year. Campus-wide, Dr. Bratton conceived and authored a Quality Enhancement Proposal that would provide for an annual undergraduate research meeting at Baylor and a summer research college.

Dr. Bratton's hard work reflects her passion for providing opportunities for students to enhance their educational experience through research. Doing research as an undergraduate "increases the level of challenge and allows students to actualize what they are learning in class" says Dr. Bratton. She adds that for students who wish to go on to graduate or professional school, early research experience can lead to admission, funding, or fellowships. Dr. Bratton also notes that women in particular who develop strong writing skills as undergraduates tend to fare better later in their careers. Plus, "if you're on the right project, it's fun and enjoyable, and you can form great relationships" with professors and other students along the way. Dr. Bratton encourages students to be patient, to be willing to "climb the ladder" to doing more important tasks on a project or in a lab, and to demonstrate dependability. The rewards are far-reaching and many as Dr. Bratton has seen first-hand, which is why she continues to help make these opportunities available for undergraduate students.