GradFocus: Dr. Bill Jordan

By Ben Murray

This week, we sat down with Dr. Bill Jordan, the Department Chair for Baylor’s Mechanical Engineering program.  For the last few years, Dr. Jordan has been conducting some fascinating research in an area of study that is somewhat unexpected when one thinks of engineering.  He and his students are researching the potential uses and applications of materials derived from banana plants.  Though this may sound like a random avenue of work, the idea for the project actually came from one of Dr. Jordan’s greatest passions: mission work.

Jordan explains that the opportunity to combine his faith and occupation was one of the largest deciding factors in pulling him away from his former position at Louisiana Tech University.  Once at Baylor, Jordan began leading engineering students on trips to foreign countries.  He has been to Haiti, Kenya and Rawanda multiple times.  During his trips there, Jordan realized that many communities had resources that were being under-utilized.  Inspired by former Baylor professor Walter Bradley’s work with coconuts, it occurred to him that banana plants could have the potential for a multitude of uses.  Although the study is still in its infancy (they’re currently working on the characterization of the properties in banana fibers), Jordan has had many students take the project in directions that were previously unforeseen.  Students have looked at utilizing banana fibers for adobe bricks and water filtration systems along with the plant’s primary potential use in reinforced plastics.  Jordan explains that in the auto industry, for instance, companies are looking go more green.  It is possible that banana fibers could be used in making car panels and other parts.  Although rural communities such as those in Rawanda do not have the means of creating these products, Jordan’s hope is that people can earn money by separating the fibers from the plants and selling them.  The ultimate goal is to create a market for people in the developing world and to help them profit from materials that they would usually throw away.

A native Coloradoan, Dr. Jordan is an avid Broncos fan and Baylor sports supporter.  He enjoys travel and is excited to be journeying to The Azores next month for the very first conference solely dedicated to natural fiber composites.  It is always exciting to hear about the unique ways in which Baylor educators and students are helping to change the world.  We’re very grateful for Dr. Jordan’s time and look forward to hearing more about future developments in the project.

GradFocus: Rachel Scalzo

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                                            By Ben Muray

At Baylor, you don’t have to search far to find students conducting innovative research in their respective fields.  This week, the Graduate School sat down with Rachel Scalzo, a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Psychology at the Baylor School of Education.  Scalzo recently received the James L. Kopp Memorial Scholarship for her dissertation, “The Analysis of Behavioral Indicators as a Measure of Satiation.” Her research focuses on the behavioral indicators children with special needs exhibit when they have become satiated or satisfied with their favorite toy (the iPad).  Scalzo explains that these children often engage in “challenging behavior” (aggression, screaming, crying) when they are unable to play with the iPad due to their inability to express desires verbally.  Scalzo’s study allows the children to play with the toy until they no longer want to use it.  She then analyzes the child’s behavioral indicators of satiation and tests to see if they exhibit challenging behavior once the teacher begins a lesson.

Scalzo is one of only three candidates chosen for the scholarship and she is the first Baylor student to ever be selected.  As a longtime member of the Texas Association for Behavioral Analysts, she had seen the scholarship awarded to people in previous years and decided that her dissertation would provide a good opportunity for submission.  Winning the scholarship means that a portion of Scalzo’s expenses will be covered as she travels to San Antonio to present her research at the Applied Behavior Analysis International Conference.

Although her academic path was initially uncertain, Scalzo knew one thing: she wanted to help people.  After earning a degree in Psychology from Siena College, she went on to Stony Brook College in Albany where she earned her Masters in Social Work.  During her time there, she began working for Autism Speaks—a non-profit organization that sponsors autism research and outreach activities.  It was here that she developed a passion for helping children with disabilities. Although she had found her calling, Scalzo felt that she hadn’t yet acquired all of the necessary skills to teach children the way that she wanted. So, eager for a change of scenery (preferably one with a warmer climate), she began applying to schools in the South.  After one visit to Baylor, Scalzo says she knew it was the place for her.

As for her time at Baylor, Scalzo says, “It’s been an amazing experience.  The faculty have been so supportive of anything I wanted to do in terms of research, funding, and conference attendance.  I’m also deeply indebted to my mentor, Dr. Davis, for everything she’s taught me.  Between the Department and working at the Baylor Clinic for Assessment Research and Education for assessment research and education, I couldn’t say enough about how much Baylor means to me.”  Rachel will graduate in August.  She hopes to become a professor and teach others how to work with disabled children.  When she’s not conducting research or attending conferences, Scalzo enjoys golfing and playing with her dog.

Don’t Panic! There’s a Thesis and Dissertation Workshop

By Ben Murray

Many Graduate students share a common bond with one another.  We have all experienced a bone chilling terror, a nauseating knot in our stomachs that few others ever know.  This feeling of desperation, fear and anxiety can be elicited by one word: thesis.  Writing a thesis or dissertation is one of the most valuable takeaways as a Graduate student.  In many ways, it is the culmination of your education–a way to show the world everything you’ve learned and apply your skills in a unique way.  However, there is some added pressure that simply did not exist for other papers you may have written in the past.  This time, your work will bare the institution’s name and you will likely have to defend the paper before you can graduate.  With this in mind, (not to mention the deadlines that tend to sneakily creep up on you) completing a thesis can often be a stressful affair.  Thankfully, Baylor offers some excellent help along the way that can ease the trepidation.

Last week, I attended the Graduate School’s Dissertation and Thesis Workshop.  The information session is conducted by Baylor’s veteran thesis and dissertation coordinator, Sandra Harman and her Graduate Assistant, Lacy Crocker.  The session was relaxed and highly informative (there was PIZZA!).  Mrs. Harman covered the overall process of thesis submission while Lacy went over the numerous formatting rules required by the Graduate School.  One of the advantages about attending graduate school at Baylor is the access to personal attention students have.  Sandra and Lacy are more than happy to answer questions from students and are very accessible should problems arise during thesis writing.  It’s refreshing to know that your paper won’t be just another number on a list.  Sandra and Lacy work with students individually to ensure submissions are completed on time and meet university standards.  Despite dealing with numerous questions and submissions every day, Sandra and Lacy are committed to meeting students with cheerful attitudes and helpful advice.  So, next time you hear the word “thesis,” relax a little and know that you are not alone in the process!

From Salutes to Sic ‘Ems: The Story of A Veteran and a Football Player

232858by Natalie Saleh

“I’ve learned so much through football. How to overcome adversity, how to persevere, how to work hard and achieve something you’ve worked for. To me, it’s more than a game, and I want to be able to give that back to other kids,” says Nelson Ehirim.

Not only is Nelson on Baylor’s football team, but he is also a graduate student and veteran.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Midwestern State, Nelson earned a commission as an officer in the United States Army, where he served four years on active duty. Nelson currently serves in the Army Reserves while working on a master’s degree in sport pedagogy and playing football at Baylor University.

For many years, Nelson has dreamed of playing for Art Briles’ team, a dream that began in 2006 when Briles had recruited Nelson to play for the University of Houston. Then a senior in high school, Nelson was not able to attend due to an injury and would subsequently play at Midwestern State University. Now, eight years later, Nelson is finally able to fulfill his dream.

“My experience on the team so far has been great. A lot of the younger guys really look up to me and like listening to my boring military stories. The coaching staff has been very welcoming. Coach Kazadi (strength and conditioning) and Coach Briles along with my position coach have really helped me feel at home,” says Nelson.

Nelson’s humility and work-ethic are characteristic not only of his time practicing for the football team but also in his classes. Though he has worked hard to earn his place at Baylor, Nelson attributes much of his academic success to the help of the Veteran Educational and Transition Services (VETS) program, which provides student veterans with support and resources to help with the transition from military service to college.

Dr. Janet Bagby, coordinator of the VETS program, and LaNette Thompson, VETS transition coach, worked closely with Nelson to ensure his successful transition to graduate school at Baylor.

“Janet and LaNette went out and used the VETS funds and bought me all kinds of study materials. And because of that, I was successful with the GRE. That, and she [Dr. Bagby] actually went and talked to Dr. Kramer in the graduate office and vouched for me,” says Nelson.

Not only did the VETS program provide Nelson with the resources he needed to meet Baylor’s rigorous acceptance requirements, but Vets in Transition, the new student experience course for veterans, provided him with emotional support during his transition back to college.

”What that class provided me was a debriefing zone,” explains Nelson. He describes his relationship with his classmates as “a family, because at one point in time, you swore that you would die for each other.”

Though you may not see Nelson on the field just yet, keep an eye out for him cheering on his teammates from the sidelines and playing in the seasons to come.

If you’d like to learn more about the VETS program and the great things Baylor is doing for its student veterans, click here.

Honors roll in for Baylor’s first mechanical engineering Ph.D. student

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Baylor alumna and doctoral candidate Sarah Stair’s interest in science, math and engineering began innocently enough, as she built Lego towers and entered egg drop contests as a child. These days, her work is a little more advanced-and it’s bringing quite a bit of attention to bother her and Baylor. Read the full story on Baylor Proud.

New PhD Combines Research and Hands-On Experience

234513By Natalie Saleh

“Higher education is in a critical stage right now. We believe the future of higher education depends on the thinkers, scholars, and leaders in higher education. Because of Baylor’s focus on research and faith, we thought it was in a prime position to produce these future scholars, thinkers, and leaders,” says Dr. Rishi Sriram, assistant professor and graduate program director of Educational Administration.

Dr. Sriram is one of the leaders of Baylor’s brand new PhD program in Higher Education Studies and Leadership. This new program is in its first year and is off to a great start, offering students a unique balance of hands-on professional experience and academic research to produce scholars and leaders in higher education.

Jessica Robinson is currently in the first cohort of graduate students in this program. After earning a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Baylor, she decided that the new PhD program was perfect for her continued studies.

“At Baylor I found a connection between ideas that I was passionate about and Christian formation. I think by and large across the PhD and higher education world there are a lot of secular institutions where those things just aren’t talked about. Here that connection is very well and alive, with Baylor being a highly faith-based and highly research-oriented university,” explains Jessica.

In addition to the emphasis on integrating faith with research and practice, the Higher Education faculty is passionate about working closely with their students. The PhD program is restricted to three to four students per year, which allows professors to give students plenty of support and guidance while still allowing students the flexibility to customize their degrees.

“One of the benefits of it being a small program is that I receive a lot of individualized attention. My classes are small, which means that discussions go really deep,” says Jessica. “That individualized attention makes me feel very supported, like I have four or five advocates helping me through this academic journey.”

All students in the program are also assigned an apprenticeship based on the student’s background and interests. This allows them the opportunity to get hands-on experience working in higher education.

Some examples of apprenticeships are at Baylor University Press, The School of Education, The Vice President of Student Life’s Office, and McLennan Community College.

Jessica Robinson, for example, was assigned to work at McLennan Community College, a rewarding experience that has allowed her to learn about the unique challenges and opportunities at community colleges.

“I appreciate being slightly removed from Baylor, because it gives me a different perspective and a different context to apply the things I’m learning in class,” says Jessica. “To help Baylor and MCC align in the larger Waco community is really cool.”

After graduating from Baylor, Jessica plans on becoming a faculty member and professor at a university. With the great support of Baylor’s Higher Education professors, that dream is sure to become a reality.

If you’d like to learn more about Baylor’s new PhD in Higher Education Studies and Leadership click here.

Graduate Instructor’s Innovative Teaching Inspires Sociology Students

235090By: Natalie Saleh

It’s not every day that you come to class and see your professor pour his entire soda over his head to illustrate a concept in his lecture. However, in graduate student Joshua Tom’s Intro to Sociology class, this is exactly the dedication to teaching you will find.

“Josh does not stand behind a podium or desk. He stands in front of these barriers to be fully present and engaged with his fellow learners. Interaction is central to his teaching philosophy. With self-deprecating humor, he relates sociology to his own life experiences and encourages students to do the same,” says Dr. Kevin Dougherty, associate professor of sociology.

Because of Josh’s excellence in teaching, he has recently received the 2013 Outstanding Student Instructor award. One of the many things that makes Josh such an exceptional instructor, is his ability to connect with his students. Josh shows his students that the study of sociology is not only interesting but it pervades all aspects of their lives.

His interactive teaching style inspires his students to engage both in class and outside class. For one of his homework assignments, Josh allowed students to watch a documentary instead of reading an article, which inspired his students to come together outside of class and have movie nights in their dorms.

“Sociology is easily relatable to the students’ lives, because the subject is concerned with the world they live in,” says Joshua. “At its best, sociology sheds light on their past experience and shapes their understanding of their futures, and meeting this potential is the major motivation behind why and how I teach my courses.”

In addition to his passion for sociology and teaching, Josh makes sure that his classes are not only informational but also interesting to his students. He includes entertaining videos and uses many pop culture references, which makes the class and the subject more enjoyable to students.

“Josh made learning about Sociology fun and I truly looked forward to going to his class each week. I even once brought a friend from home to class with me so she could see why I liked my professor so much. She had such a good time in class that she told me if she ever ended up coming to Baylor one day, she would take Josh’s Intro to Sociology class,” says Gillian Chant, one of Josh’s students.

Though Josh excels at making his classes enjoyable for his students, his lectures and assignments do much more than entertain. While many professors rely on textbooks to outline curriculum, Josh chose not to use a textbook. Instead he handpicks journal articles and primary sources, to tailor the curriculum of his course to suit the needs and interests of his students.

To learn more about the opportunities in Baylor Graduate School’s outstanding Sociology program visit their website.

Graduate Student Community Housing Brings Together Students from a Variety of Backgrounds

235371Baylor University offers graduate students the rewarding opportunity to live in community with each other in Graduate Student Community Housing. This community includes three apartment complexes conveniently located near campus: The Quadrangle, Browning Square, and the new Centre Court Apartments, which host a variety of social and academic events for residents every year.

“It’s fantastic to get to know one’s neighbors,” says Karl Aho, community coordinator of The Quadrangle. “In graduate school we get locked into our own academic silo. It’s tremendously rewarding and refreshing to break out of the academic silo and find out what other folks are doing and find out about the good things happening at Baylor.”

The flourishing communities at The Quadrangle and Browning Square are made up of students from many backgrounds. English students, chemistry students, and even seminary students call this community their home. Not only are The Quadrangle residents from a variety of academic backgrounds, but also a variety of cultural backgrounds.

“At The Quadrangle, we are looking into doing more international student family events. One thing we’ve talked about doing is something for Chinese New Year,” says Karl.

One distinction between the two housing communities is that Browning Square has one-bedroom apartments, while The Quadrangle has two-bedroom apartments.

The Quadrangle, because it has two bedrooms, attracts many families. In order to meet the needs of the families who reside there, The Quadrangle hosts family-friendly events, including movie night and family night, where parents can socialize with plenty of supervision for their children.

“Community living has really helped us to have a built-in support structure,” explains Jay Beaver, resident of The Quadrangle. “We were able to make friends with other families who could help us balance work and family. Baylor students tend to be remarkably friendly, and living in close proximity has given us lots of opportunities to witness their generosity and try to return it.”

Like Karl, Cara Allen, community coordinator of Browning Square, is working to ensure that her residents have plenty of opportunities to get to know one another as well. Browning Square has recently established a leadership council made up of residents who brainstorm new ideas to meet the changing needs of their community.

“One of the new events we are doing this year is a Marina Day, where our residents are going to get together and go to the marina. We are trying more to utilize things on Baylor’s campus that our students have access to but don’t always use,” says Cara.

In addition to the great community and life-long friendships established at Browning Square and The Quadrangle, residents also have the opportunity to plant fruits and vegetables in an all-organic community garden. Here, students can learn about gardening alongside their neighbors while growing their own fresh produce.

Graduate housing is one of the many ways to get involved in the exciting Baylor community. All graduate students are eligible to live in Browning Square, The Quadrangle, and the new luxury Centre Court Apartments. However, it is important to reserve your spot as soon as possible, because they fill up fast!

If you have any questions or would like more information about the Graduate Student Housing Community emailGSHC@baylor.edu.

New Library Space for Graduate Students Fosters Community and New Ideas

236396By Natalie Saleh

Baylor graduate students are constantly challenging ideas, making discoveries, and conducting groundbreaking research. This academic excellence inspired library staff to launch The Incubator, the new library space for graduate students and faculty.

Library personnel came up with the name the Incubator, because it is a space full of new ideas and possibilities.

“My ideal would be if it fostered not only interactions between faculty and graduate students but that it might foster some interdisciplinary connections,”explains Jeff Steely, Associate Dean of the Libraries.

The Incubator is a pilot program open to graduate students from every department, which they can use for quiet study or as a meeting space. The idea for The Incubator came about when the libraries did some restructuring which left The Incubator space available. Currently, library staff is seeking feedback and monitoring The Incubator’s use to determine even more ways to support graduate students in the future.

“We would really like to have a conversation about what services are needed and what the libraries might be doing to support graduate students beyond just the space,”says Mr. Steely.

The Incubator is off to a great start, and the library staff has received encouraging feedback from students. Many graduate students are appreciative to have a space of their own, where they aren’t interrupted by lots of people coming in and out.

The Incubator also houses many great resources for graduate students. For example, the Graduate Writing Center is housed in The Incubator. The library staff has also provided a Mac Pro with extra software and programs not found on other campus computers.

As graduate students have begun spending more time in The Incubator, a sense of community has developed.

“You all end up supporting each other, and I’ve gotten to meet people through The Incubator. You see each other there all the time, and you end up introducing yourself and trying to encourage each other,” says graduate student, Elise Leal.

In addition to being a great study space, The Incubator can be reserved as an event space. The Graduate Student Association, for example, has reserved the space for its three-minute thesis contest. Because of The Incubator’s size, it will be easier for the GSA to host a big crowd at this fun event.

“It’s still in its formative stages so there’s so many possibilities that could end up making it even more unique,” says Elise.

Though the space is on a trial basis, the library staff is devoted to making sure that the needs of graduate students are met, whether through The Incubator or another graduate space in the future.

To learn more about The Incubaor, reserve a room, or leave feedback, click here.

Electrical Engineering Student Conducts Research on Electronic Warfare.

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By Natalie Saleh

Baylor University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science is a center of innovative new research. Professors and graduate students are working on many exciting projects, as Baylor is a high research university.

Willis Troy is one of the many electrical engineering and computer science graduate students who came to Baylor to pursue new avenues of research.

“I do electronic warfare, which is basically modeling mission planning scenarios with escort jamming support,” explains Willis. “What that means is you’re basically flying somewhere you don’t want radars to detect you, and you have another plane that jams the radars as you go.”

Willis completed his undergraduate degree at Baylor in electrical engineering. After graduating, he spent some time studying at Virginia Tech, but he was eventually drawn back to Baylor for the opportunity to conduct research alongside Baylor professors.

“I decided to come back, more so because the relationship the professors have with the students is so personal which allows a lot of freedom,” says Willis. “They lead you where you’re going. It seems like genuinely all the professors care about you, not just on an academic level but a personal level.”

Willis spends most of his time researching in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), which houses state-of-the-art research equipment. In addition to the many meeting and work spaces, the BRIC houses many technologies that aid in graduate research, including a powerful scanning electron microscope.

“We obviously have plenty of computers and there’s lots of space. I have access to several labs. We have radars, VNAs, antennas, and there’s space so I can construct models here. It pretty much has all you need,” says Willis.

After graduating, Willis hopes to continue researching and teaching at a university. He is excited about the opportunity to work independently on research projects while impacting his future students. Though he could find employment in the private industry, he prefers to go the academic route.

“There’s more resources available to teachers. Plus it’s nice to be doing something where you’re helping someone else. In the industry, it’s kind of self-preserving. You ask, ‘What do I do to maintain my job?’ As a professor, you ask ‘how do I help these students learn?’”

With all of Baylor’s resources and support for engineering research, Willis is sure to have all the experience and knowledge he needs to be a great researcher and professor after he graduates.

To learn more about the research and opportunities in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science click here.