Meeting Future Needs: Strategic Focus on Health, Data and More

February 6, 2020
For 175 years, Baylor University’s mission has been lived out through the students and alumni who follow their calling as leaders in their chosen field. That mission—to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community—has, by its very nature, shaped leaders in some of the world’s most consequential industries, such as healthcare, technology and business.

Baylor alumni shine in fields that call for interdisciplinary problem solving, leadership, ethical decisions and care for neighbors and communities. Over the years, the university’s strengths have intersected with societal needs, creating a roadmap for Baylor’s focus as the University officially pursues R1/Tier 1 research status. Illuminate, Baylor’s strategic plan, features five signature academic initiatives, including health and data sciences, for strategic focus and investment to grow the University’s research portfolio and impact:

A recent Baylor University-Texas Business Journals survey focused on Texas business’ leaders insights into the 2020 Texas economy, innovation, university research partnerships, the Texas workforce and more. The nearly 600 business leaders who responded were bullish on the Texas economy, with 74 percent saying they are “confident” or “extremely confident” in the state’s economic performance in the year ahead. Baylor is poised to make an even deeper impact in fields that impact our neighbors across Texas, and around the globe. In analyzing Baylor’s strategic initiatives, respondents identified Data Sciences (58%) and Health (56%) as the two most beneficial areas of research for the state’s overall economic landscape.

“Baylor University is focusing, through Illuminate, on key interdisciplinary research areas in which we believe we can have a growing impact in addressing our greatest challenges,” Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., Baylor University President, said. “Baylor University’s founders set out to create a university capable of meeting the needs of all the ages to come, and we see this as an opportunity, in this moment, to meet the needs of future generations by becoming a preeminent Christian research university. These initiatives are areas in which we already have a strong foundation, and where we see a need for increased research and innovation.”

Each initiative presents opportunities for students and faculty from numerous disciplines to bring their own skills and perspectives to the table, seeking holistic solutions and innovation borne from purposeful collaboration. Data sciences and health are dynamic fields that provide two such examples.


Job search engine and work review site has ranked “data scientist” among the three best jobs in America each of the last five years—number one from 2016-2019. Those rankings, based on salaries, starting salaries, job satisfaction and postings available highlight the demand in this emerging field.

“There’s an explosion of data across numerous sectors,” Dr. Amanda Hering, Associate Professor of Statistical Science, says. “The amount of data that’s being generated and collected through search engines, social media, text messages, financial sectors, facial recognition and more is growing at an exponential rate. Combine that with the fact that our computing power has also grown and people are realizing how vital it is to harness the information in this data to make better decisions.”

Baylor elevated Data Sciences as a signature initiative, recognizing a need for skilled, ethical leaders across a variety of disciplines to address areas such as bioinformatics, data storage, data usage, security, business analytics, environmental data and more. Hering, recognized internationally as a leader in the intersection of data sciences and the environment, is part of a team comprised of academic leaders from top national universities and research laboratories who recently won a $100 million grant from the Department of Energy to address U.S. water treatment through desalination. Even closer to home, she was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Sciences Foundation (NSF) to develop a core data sciences curriculum and undergraduate research program, which offer students early exposure to the role of data in their field.

“The NSF has what they call an ‘ecosystem’ of proposals they’re seeking to fund called ‘Harnessing the Data Revolution,’” Hering says. “As part of this effort, they are seeking to bring more data science curriculum, training and research to the early undergraduate stage. As a result, we’re developing a new course at Baylor this spring called Introduction to Data Science.”

This new Baylor class puts students at the forefront of the data revolution using authentic datasets and problems. It introduces them to skills like statistical modeling, data collection and storage, analytics, data visualization, oral and written presentations of data and is taught by professors from Statistical Science and Computer Science.

“Oftentimes, students won’t take their first real statistics course until their junior year,” Hering says. “We see an opportunity to engage students earlier in their academic careers and to inspire them with the challenge and excitement of real-world data-driven problems. As we think about Illuminate, my hope is that this class builds a pipeline of students with blended skills to take into the workforce. It’s a great place for Baylor to have an impact.”


Baylor University has built a reputation for excellence in preparing students for the healthcare field. Around one out of every three students who attends Baylor enrolls planning for a career in some aspect of health. In concert with Baylor’s Christian mission and commitment to service, a healthcare focus has been a natural fit and a clear calling in the formation of Illuminate.

The University’s expanded healthcare programs complement the dynamic nature of the industry. While many of the health-inclined students take a traditional pre-med route through the sciences, still others approach health across a variety of disciplines thanks to dramatic growth of Baylor’s health-related schools and programs. In recent years, the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences and Robbins Institute for Health Policy & Leadership within the Hankamer School of Business have enhanced the ways students can hone their calling to serve.

Dr. Dwayne Simmons, Cornelia Marschall Smith Endowed Professor and Department Chair of Biology, joined the Baylor faculty in 2016, bringing with him an internationally-recognized research portfolio in the brain, aging and auditory function. Drawn by Baylor’s commitment to meaningful research and Christian mission, Simmons analyzes healthcare in Texas through a perspective shaped at leading R1 universities. His background on the faculties of UCLA, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and others provide him with unique insight into the Texas healthcare landscape.

“Texas is extremely diverse in geography, demographics and industry,” Simmons says. “It’s a dynamic, high-tech state. This brings diversity of opportunity for the students we train, both in healthcare practice and health technologies. This is a state that is pioneering methods in areas like remote physician access and more. We’re also a unique space in that there are so many areas to serve and learn. We’re here at the forefront of biomedicine and next-generation cures that will protect the health of not only Texas citizens, but the world.”

The healthcare field’s dynamic nature further demands practitioners with a flexibility to lead in the midst of change, utilizing their training to address challenges they might not have foreseen while a student. That’s true for future doctors, but also for healthcare administrators and businesspeople.

“The landscape for healthcare is constantly shifting with changes coming from political, economic, sociological, legal and environmental influences,” Dr. Forest Kim, Program Director of the Robbins Master in Business Administration in Healthcare and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, says. “There are competencies within our model that relate directly to managing in uncertainty such as change leadership, innovative thinking, strategic orientation, organizational awareness, healthcare environment and information technology management.”

Students within Kim’s program partner with Baylor Scott & White Health for experiential learning opportunities, observation and interviews, service projects and more. Close to home, Kim says students can apply what they learn to the unique challenges and opportunities provided by the state Baylor calls home.

“The Texas healthcare industry will continue to face a dichotomy. That is, alongside the favorable job and economic growth statistics, Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured and the most rural hospital closures.

“What does this mean for Baylor? As Texas grapples with these vexing issues, there are many opportunities for Baylor faculty, students, and staff to continue to make a positive difference. From conducting health policy research to developing new cures. From educating the next generation of health administrators to preparing future clinicians. Not only is Baylor well-poised to tackle the future challenges of healthcare from a research and education perspective, our Christian mission stirs us to view this as a calling.”

Learn more about the Baylor University-Texas Business Journal Business Outlook and University Research Partnership, and click here for the complete results and a market breakdown.
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