Whitney Luce is a fifth generation Baylor graduate. She once thought she might attend another university, in another state, but while on a trip to visit, she couldn’t sleep, so she took out her Bible and began to read and pray ... it was then she realized Auburn wasn’t the school for her. It would be Baylor.
Finding social work
Whitney grew up in Waco and went to Waco High. She was exposed at an early age to the profession of social work as her mother’s Baylor roommate and best friend, also known as Aunt Carolyn, was Carolyn Cole, a social worker (who is also an award winner this year). Whitney knew upon arrival at Baylor that social work would be her chosen field.
"I grew up knowing that I wanted to help people," Whitney said. "My grandfather was on the Home Mission Board, and I was exposed to those facing poverty or oppressed in some way. I felt led to this work."
Faith played a large part in Whitney’s decision to choose social work.
"Social work is exactly what Jesus called us to do...loving those who society doesn’t love, advocating for those who may not have a voice," Whitney said.
According to Whitney, her time at Baylor as a student in the School of Social Work was a very formative time, both personally and professionally. She loved everything she was learning and watched as her professors lived out what they taught in the classroom.
After graduating with her BSW in 2003, she moved right into the advanced standing program and received her master’s degree in 2004. One week later, she got married and moved to San Antonio where her husband was in law school.
A career of difference-making begins
Whitney took a job at Methodist Mission Home, an adoption agency, where she served as the adoption counselor for the Newborn Domestic Program. It was a voluntary adoption program, and she was responsible for the adoptive parents, working with them as facilitator from match to birth and finally through six-month follow-ups.
"I drove all over Texas doing education and home studies, getting parents emotionally ready. I started hosting weekends for adoptive parents to come in from all over the state," Whitney said. "It was such an honor to be a part of the entire process but when I was able to be in court on adoption day or even pick up babies at the hospital and take them to their new parents, it was especially incredible! Through this job, I gained such a respect for birth mothers and the selfless choice they make through the act of adoption. They loved their children so much that they knew it was the best option for them."
After her husband's graduation, the two moved to Dallas when Brandon took a job in the district attorney’s office. Whitney took a job with Baylor Medical Center in the Stroke and Dialysis Unit working with the older adult population, but only stayed for about nine months. A job came open in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and she moved back to working with babies.
It was here that Whitney found some of her most rewarding work. She worked in the NICU, Antepartum and Postpartum Units working with high-risk pregnancies.
"I loved advocating on behalf of these families and mothers. There were many difficult times, such as when mothers lost their babies," Whitney said. "I learned so much about just being with people even when you can’t 'fix' it … just being comfortable being there in the midst."
Providing necessary resources
While in this position, Whitney was able to work as part of an interdisciplinary unit including a psychologist, occupational therapist, dietician, physical therapist, and others. As families dealt with very difficult situations, they noticed gaps in support and a lack of organization of resources.
"We decided to pull together to form an organization that would provide counselors who specialize in that area, support groups that provide information about grief and even things like cremation and funeral services for infants," Whitney said, "all of the things you never want to think about but now all of a sudden you have to, and you need someone to help."
The organization is called Perinatal Support of Texas and is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support parents who receive a terminal diagnosis for their child during pregnancy or shortly after birth.
Whitney officially left her job at Baylor Medical to serve as executive director of the organization until she and her family moved back to Waco in 2011, when her husband took a job here, and she went to work for Heartland Social Work.
A love of teaching takes root
It was at this time Whitney began her teaching career. She accepted a position with McLennan Community College in the Mental Health Department.
"I was so excited to get the chance to teach," Whitney added. "Now looking back, I think there was a teaching aspect to all of my jobs, and I always liked it."
Then the opportunity to teach at Baylor arose and returning on the other side of the aisle had actually been a goal of Whitney’s, though she didn’t know if it would really happen. She feels that returning as a colleague has been a bit surreal but feels blessed to be given the chance to use her social work skills both to teach and to mentor.
These days, Whitney finds herself taking the role of walking alongside her students much like she did with her clients. It goes beyond teaching to just being there when they need her, to help them grapple with whatever they may be facing.
Written by Nikki Wilmoth
Award Photo by Sam Smith
Photo of Carolyn Cole Meyer, Whitney and her mom by Nikki Wilmoth