The 7 Wonders of Waco

By Ben Murray

During my time at Baylor, I’ve heard a variety of opinions regarding the city of Waco.  For many people, Waco is great.  They like the rural beauty, nice people and small town vibe.  Others, however, complain that there’s little to do outside of school and have even gone so far as to call this place downright boring.  Well, to all the Waco haters out there: maybe this city is boring.  Maybe it’s a run-down little town with nothing to do in it except stare longingly at the sky wishing you were in Austin or Dallas. A place where fun cannot be found, happiness is impossible, and good times are expressly forbidden.  Or maybe, just maybe, you’re a boring person who hasn’t given Waco a chance.  It’s time to remember that we live in a unique location with its own set of attractions.  It’s time to recognize the 7 wonders of Waco.

  1. McLane Stadium

In case you’ve been on a media fast for the last few years, let me introduce you to what has become the crown jewel of Waco.  I’m talking about an 860,000 square foot, $250-million-dollar shrine to the greatness of Baylor football. This is the house that Art Briles (and RG3) built.  It is one of the most modern, high-tech stadiums in college football to date and it is where you can find more than 45,000 screaming fans every game-day during the season.  The new location features 93 acres of tailgate space, a 5,018 sq ft scoreboard, hundreds of concession stands, escalators, elevators, sail-gating and more—all within walking distance of campus.   Though it has only been open for a year, McLane Stadium has already begun to make history as the site of the Bears’ second consecutive Big 12 Championship and what has to have been one of the greatest comebacks to ever happen in collegiate sports (61-58).  McLane Stadium is more than just a place to play football.  It is the spark a revolution taking place at Baylor and in Waco.  The stadium is the largest project in the history of Central Texas and has the potential to transform the city—creating new hotels, restaurants and shops for the game-day crowds along with nearly 6,000 jobs in its first year alone.

  1. George’s

One thing that big cities have over Waco is a vast array of dining options.  But who wants to go to some stiff, cookie-cutter, chain restaurant for every meal out?  Though Waco has several food gems, there is one place that stands above the rest.  George’s Restaurant and Bar has been filling the stomachs of Wacoans for 85 years.  With a track record that long, how could it not be awesome? The restaurant serves everything from burgers and fried chicken to quesadillas and catfish—all of which are good.  They’ve been in the same building all these years, so the atmosphere has a warm “broken in” feel that is just plain comfortable.  When you sit at one of the old, scratched up tables eating a placemat-sized chicken fried steak and gulping down a “Big O” (an Arthurian goblet of beer unique to George’s), you can almost sense the generations of Baylor students who did the same exact thing years before you.  To put it simply, George’s is a special place.  There is no better location to watch the game and have a few beers with friends.  Just make sure to get there early.

  1. Cameron Park

Many undergrads make the mistake of neglecting to explore the natural beauty that can be found in Waco.  One useful way to keep your head from exploding due to coursework is to take a trip to Cameron Park.  More than 100 years ago, the William Cameron Family donated the 400-acre park to Waco and residents have been enjoying it ever since.  Located right along the Brazos River, Cameron Park features a zoo, disc golf courses, picnick areas, hiking/biking trails and scenic views which are excellent for life contemplation.  The park also holds parties, festivals and other events on a fairly regular basis.  It’s a great place to go for a run or just hang out and it offers a much-needed escape from the daily grind.  If you’re not visiting Cameron Park on a weekly basis, you’re missing out—it’s a five minute drive from campus!

  1. The Hippodrome

Are you fond of food, drink, movies, live entertainment or historic buildings?  What if I told you that all of these great things could be enjoyed simultaneously in the same spot?  For those of you who aren’t aware, The Hippodrome offers all of these amenities to Wacoans every day of the week.  Here’s the coolest part: the theatre’s opening night was just over 100 years ago in 1914—featuring a live seal act, a magic act and a five-piece orchestra.   This stately theatre has gone through its fair share of closings and openings, but it seems to always land back on its feet. In 2012, local developers Shane and Cody Turner bought the place, renovated it, and re-opened its doors in 2014.  The Hippodrome now has a retractable wall that allows for two films to be shown at the same time.  It also features two kitchens, a concession stand, a full service restaurant and a bar on the 2nd floor.  So next time you’re looking for something to do, head on down to 724 Austin Ave. and catch a show!

  1. Dr Pepper Museum

What is the oldest major-brand soft drink in America?  If you guessed Coca-Cola, YOU GUESSED WRONG.  Dr Pepper holds that claim and this beloved soda was originally concocted in… guessed it…. Waco, Texas.  The beverage was conceived at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in the late 1800’s by a young pharmacist names Charles Alderton.  The Dr Pepper Museum commemorates Alderton’s accomplishment and features a multitude of artifacts from Dr Pepper’s historic life.  Opening in 1997, the Museum is home to the W.W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute that educated people about the economic system that underlies American life.  Though I can’t say the Dr. Pepper Museum can provide you with hours of entertainment on a regular basis, it is certainly worth checking out.

  1. Suspension Bridge

As far as Waco scenery goes, this one has got to be near the top.  It sounds corny, but there’s a reason every single sorority event takes pictures here.  It is beautiful.  The 3-million-brick bridge spans 475 feet across the Brazos River and has been there since 1869.  To give you an idea of how old that is, travelers along the Chisholm Trail had to use a ferry to get across the river before it was built.  Today, the bridge is not as crucial as it used to be.  But it’s an awesome place to stare dramatically at a sunset, propose to a future spouse, or yell at boaters.  Also, for those grad students who aren’t familiar with Baylor traditions, I should probably mention tortilla tossing.  This activity is exactly what it sounds like and can be performed in three simple steps: 1. Buy tortillas 2. Go to the Suspension Bridge  3. Throw tortillas off the Suspension Bridge and try to land them on the pillars sticking out of the river.  If you’ve always wanted to insanely throw Spanish flatbread off a high place without judgement, now is your chance. NOTE: The Baylor Graduate School does not condone yelling at boaters, wasting food or staring at the sun.  These are merely a collection of possible activities that can be performed at the Suspension Bridge.

  1. Dichotomy

If you’re a coffee lover, you may surprised to hear that some of the best coffee in the U.S. can be found right here in Waco.  Then again, if you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably already done your research and are infinitely more aware of the exact ingredients that go into Dichotomy’s drinks than I am.  All that aside, Dichotomy is a relatively new coffee shop/bar that has already begun to be seen on “greatest coffee shop” lists.  Though I’m no coffee drinker myself and know nothing about the process of making coffee, I can tell you a few things about the place.  First of all, it looks really cool inside.  The place has a 40’s drugstore vibe mixed with a modern aesthetic.  There’s a massive marble bar that covers most of the downstairs—complete with a bunch of brass, steampunk-looking contraptions and laboratory glassware that I can only assume are essential for crafting fine coffee.  The shop is manned by a team of friendly coffee fanatics who look like they would get along well with Mumford and all of his sons.  There’s also an area with tables that is great for studying and an upstairs porch that offers a scenic view of downtown Waco.  Bottom line: If you like coffee, you will like this place.

And there you have it: The 7 Wonders of Waco.  Now, get off the couch and start exploring!

GradFocus: Stephanie Wong

By Ben Murray

This week, the Graduate School met with Geology PhD student, Stephanie Wong, to talk about her recent research and accomplishments.  Last month, Stephanie became one of four people selected for the Farvolden Award.  This accolade is presented to students whose presentation or poster stood out at the annual NGWA Groundwater Summit.  Interestingly enough, winning the award is nothing new for Stephanie.  She’s won it twice before!  As a recipient of the award, she will receive recognition from sponsoring employers, a $1,000 scholarship, and most importantly: bragging rights.

Stephanie’s journey to Baylor is certainly unique.  A native Canadian, she attended Carlton University in Ottowa where she earned a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Geology.  Eager to learn more about the subject, she began searching for graduate programs, hoping to find a Christian school where faculty were conducting relevant research.  However, narrowing down the options was no simple task.  So, she did what anyone would do in that situation.  She consulted a higher power, an all-knowing entity that can answer the deepest questions at a moment’s notice.  She got on Google.  Actually, her dad got on Google; and after seeing Baylor’s Geological research, she decided it was the place for her.

Stephanie’s work at Baylor has been primarily focused on the Edwards Aquifer (for those that don’t know, an aquifer is a body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit ground water) which begins in Bell County and follows the I-35 arc all the way to San Antonio.  The origin of her geological research stems from an unexpected topic: salamanders.  According to her, there was a petition several years ago for the government to classify a native species of salamander as endangered, meaning that commercial development in the northern area of the Edwards Aquifer would be impeded. The salamanders are aquatic, which provided an opportunity for water research in the area.  Although she and her colleagues weren’t  biologists, they were able to begin conducting research. This allowed her to learn a great deal about the ground water in the Salado area where a group of springs are vital to the salamanders’ survival.  For her presentation, Wong studied how natural radon can be used as a tool to understand groundwater flow.  They were able to discover the direction of groundwater flow as well as the chemicals and substances present in the aquifer.

Thanks to her work, inhabitants of Salado were able to prove to the government that the salamanders were being properly monitored and also learn more about the water supply upon which the salamanders and human inhabitants are so dependent.  Although, Stephanie will finish her program in the next year, she says there is ample opportunity for future research in the area as well as a variety of directions the project could take.  Upon graduation, Stephanie could see herself working in a state/government agency or a local management entity.  In her time off, Stephanie enjoys exploring Waco’s local shops and restaurants, hanging out with friends, and getting involved with her local church.

The Graduate School Travel Awards Program



By Ben Murray

Are you interested in presenting your work at a conference, yet don’t quite have the funds to travel?  As a graduate student at Baylor, you have access to financial help. The Graduate School is happy to support students who are conducting exciting research in their respective fields.  Specifically, two types of financial support are offered: Travel to Professional Meetings and Travel to Support Doctoral Research.  According to Dissertation and Thesis Coordinator, Sandra Harman (who also supervises the travel awards program), Travel to Professional Meetings is the award most frequently used.  Students are eligible for $300 per year.  However, if there is money left after the two trips; multiple trips within the same academic year are possible.  The award for Doctoral Research is slightly different.  In this case, the Graduate School will match funds with the student’s department, up to $300.  Doctoral students are only eligible for one such award during their time at Baylor and the money is specifically intended for dissertation research.

If you’re worried about paperwork, don’t be.  The process is actually relatively simple.  First, a student must present proof that they are a part of the conference—a program showing the student as a speaker or a letter of acceptance from someone in charge of the conference will suffice. Next, simply fill out the application, provide a supporting note from a resident faculty member, and you’re good to go!  Naturally, students must be currently enrolled in at least one credit hour at Baylor to earn an award.  If the meeting is during summertime, the student must show that they were enrolled in the Spring semester or plan to be enrolled in the Fall.

The Graduate School asks that all students submit the application 30 days before the conference in order to obtain the money before the travel date.  However, they are understanding.  Sometimes students won’t know if they will be able to attend a conference that early.  If that’s the case, the Graduate School can work with you to make sure you’re covered.

These awards have helped a multitude of students over the years.  Last year, the Graduate School funded 426 Travel to Professional Meeting Awards and they will likely surpass that number this year.  Because of these awards, students are given the opportunity to present their research and to network in their fields.  The Graduate School Travel Awards Program has helped students travel to Europe, South America, and Canada, along with locations throughout the U.S.

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


                                            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


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.