Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine: Circles in a Circle

The Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky’s Circles in a Circle (seen above) created quite a stir when it was first shown in 1923. Marcel Duchamp admired this work and suggested it offered “a new way of looking at painting.” For those of us who are drawn to such ways of seeing things, this overlay of colors, innovation and creative process continues to be instructive nearly 100 years later. Indeed, though many of us are not artists, this mysterious and evocative painting seems an ideal way to begin to show you some of our discussions and plans tied to creating our own circles within a circle here in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Why is the entire Spring 2018 issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine devoted to the topic of engaged learning? Because coupled with our plan to become the premier Christian research university is an equally ambitious goal of becoming a top tier undergraduate institution. These two endeavors complement one another, and the energy and excitement on campus right now regarding the increased push for research accomplishments is matched by our enthusiasm for providing a life-changing experience for our students. Some schools achieve research greatness by sacrificing their commitment to the undergraduate experience, but we plan to redouble our efforts with our students. At the heart of our strategy for delivering a life-changing undergraduate experience is to transform our present College of Arts & Sciences Office of Engaged Learning into an expanded and enhanced Center for Engaged Learning.

This special issue of the magazine offers you glimpses into a picture that we have been creating across many years, but that now is being given even more focus and resources. We will show you in these pages our own A&S circles (with apologies to Kandinsky) representing values, ideas, programs and dynamics that are in the process of enhancing and extending our classroom initiatives. This issue tells the story of programs through which faculty and staff are nurturing students and linking transformative academic studies to real world opportunities. These connections enable students to learn the value of collaboration while also gaining competencies via internships, civic engagement, undergraduate research, study abroad and national scholarship programs. Each of these endeavors creates additional spheres within which students may hone their critical thinking skills as well as enhance and extend the circles and colors of their classroom experiences in interconnected ways.

Our goal of one day expanding our efforts to create a new Center for Engaged Learning will involve supporting every student in discerning ways to link their education within and outside the classroom. This might be accomplished through finding the perfect internship, joining a research team in a lab, going on a study abroad trip to Latin America, taking an interdisciplinary, research-based course, polishing a Fulbright application or working with at risk students in middle schools within the Waco community. While encouraging our well-established and successful study abroad initiatives, the Center will focus its efforts in four key areas: major fellowships and awards, undergraduate research, informed community engagement, and transformational academic pilot programs.

We have already achieved recognition for our outstanding program supporting students applying for major scholarships and awards, and we have a vibrant community of students engaging in undergraduate research that is buttressed by other university initiatives and student groups. We want to build on these strengths. We are initiating academic programs that will help students engage and serve the community beyond our campus.

Finally, we are working on new ways to support faculty seeking to engage with their students in innovative ways such as through offering interdisciplinary courses or other alternatives to traditional classroom instruction. Our rendering of “circles within a circle” for the Center for Engaged Learning in Arts & Sciences shows our initial plans (see the graphic that follows).

Those of us working on the Center for Engaged Learning are dreaming big. We hope to help our students win more major scholarships, awards and internships. We want to achieve a Carnegie Classification in community engaged learning. We want more of our students to be able to enjoy the benefits of study abroad programs and professional internships, and we want the number of students publishing their own original research to soar. Most importantly, we want to expand and enrich the circles within which our students move and have their being.

Now, enhanced by this new Center, Baylor students will have even more support for maximizing their opportunities here, for crowding their undergraduate hours with meaning, and for becoming circles of light within larger circles of light in the world.


Elizabeth Vardaman and Dr. Brian Raines are associate deans in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Reproduction of “Circles in a Circle” is courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arnsberg Collection, 1950

Leave a Reply