By Derek Smith, adapted from “Baylor Connections,” KWBU-FM
Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke became education dean at Baylor after 15 years at Texas A&M where she was an award-winning professor of special education and head of the Department of Educational Psychology. She began her career as school teacher and previously served on the faculties of the University of Georgia and University of Oregon.
You came at an unusual time, in the middle of a pandemic. Getting settled into the Baylor culture, what stood out to you?
One of the greatest challenges has been that my connections have been mostly virtual. There are many people I've still not met in person. I'm so grateful for how welcoming and gracious everyone has been during the transition.
Could you tell us about your experience with Baylor prior to coming as dean?
There are no accidents. God began paving the way for me to come to Baylor in 2015; I just didn’t realize it. My son was exploring colleges, and Baylor was on his list. We visited Baylor several times, touring engineering faculty labs, attending law lectures, and meeting with faculty in the Business School. I was introduced to Baylor from a parent’s perspective, and I fell in love. It was definitely my first choice for our son. At some institutions, faculty can receive mixed messages that undergraduate programming is a lesser priority. That clearly wasn't the case at Baylor.
However, this story doesn't end well. During his senior year, our son visited another school. My dreams were squelched when he ultimately decided to attend there. However, I now realize that the countless hours I spent as a parent on this campus gave me the information I needed to accept this job, even though my extensive two-day interview was completely online.
Can you share your early trajectory as an educator?
My undergraduate major was special education. After graduation I spent four years teaching inner-city children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders — some of the most rewarding work I've ever done.
But I found myself wanting to do more. There were countless other children who needed help, and a severe shortage of teachers qualified to work with them. I left to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Oregon in hopes of broadening my impact by learning to prepare new teachers. My doctoral program was very research intensive, and I initially thought that would hinder my teaching goals. However, I quickly learned that, in the social sciences, research looks a lot like helping people. The interventions we developed and tested were implemented while directly supporting children and families.
How does research enhance what we might call some of the "long-term strengths" of the School of Education, now in its hundred-plus year?
A robust applied research agenda should enhance teaching. A greater emphasis on research does not need to detract from the School of Education’s teaching mission, but it does enable us to secure more resources to help others, all while providing our students a world-class education and impacting society.
Listen to the full interview on the KWBU Website: CONNECTIONS with Dr. Shanna Hagan-Burke