Just the Bear Facts

To help you get your bearing in Grad School.

How to Have a Stress Free Finals Week

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I followed the smell of pizza into the Graduate Research Center where Dr. Vincent G. Walford was giving a Life on the Grad Line presentation. Life on the Grad Line is a series of free workshops designed to assist students in their adjustment to graduate school. They are sponsored by the Graduate School and cover such topics as managing stress, handling finances, and preparing theses. Today’s workshop was called “Stress Busters: Learning to Thrive in Grad School.” Dr. Walford is a staff clinician in Baylor’s Counseling Center and discussed the different signals and effects of stress and the many resources we can use to combat it.

Stress comes from tension from demanding circumstances. In graduate school, that could be every day. We could have distress over moving to a new environment and having to create a new social group. We could have distress over our academic demands and higher responsibilities. We could have distress over our financial situation and our career path after graduation. We could even be stressed over things that we love such as family matters and wedding planning. Either way, there is always going to be a lot happening in graduate school. Managing the stress that comes from those activities is crucial. Unhealthy habits like drinking and smoking or sleeping and procrastination are often elevated during times of stress. They are used as a mechanism to avoid studying for a test or preparing for a lecture or planning for a trip.
leslieSignals of stress can be recognized by a change in feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It can affect us both mentally and physically. Luckily, there are many ways to relieve ourselves from stressful situations. Dr. Walford recommends trying to either talk it out to a good friend or family member or write it out in a journal, which will usually help bring relaxation. If that doesn’t work, get physical! The SLC has a wide variety of exercise machines and facilities that will meet anyone’s needs and a good work out might help relieve some of our tension. If sweating isn’t working, try breathing exercises and focusing on the positive things. We all have been guilty of viewing the glass half empty at times, which does no good for our bodies or minds.

To avoid getting to that state of stress, Dr. Walford has some tips. He advocated to manage our time wisely. Set short-term and long-term goals that are manageable to accomplish. Prioritize the important things that need to be done and save the Netflix binge-watching to the end as a congratulation to ourselves when we meet those goals. We also need to nurture our bodies. A good dose of healthy and organic foods will not only give us more energy during the day, but help us sleep better at night, as well. It may be hard not running down to the Taco Bell, but it is worth it!

If nothing seems to be working, Baylor does have a multitude of resources for us to use. The Graduate School and Counseling Center host “Let’s Talk” every week in the Graduate Resource Center. This program is a walk-in, no appointment, consultation service for students where they can informally meet with someone to talk about whatever issues we have. The Counseling Center provides counseling for individuals, couples, and groups and is located on the second floor of the SLC. These programs, along with the Medical Nutrition Therapy, help students guide the stressful waters of graduate school.

Just remember, you can do it! You have to so you can watch the latest season of House of Cards guilt free.

By Matthew Doyen

The New Graduate Research Center

In the spring of 2015, the Baylor Libraries opened a space exclusively for graduate students and faculty entitled the Incubator. The Incubator, named so because it was an area full of new ideas and possibilities, has been immensely popular over the past three semesters. In the fall of 2016, the Incubator officially outgrew its room in the Moody Library, moved to the second floor of the W.R. Poage Legislative Library, and became part of the new Graduate Research Center.

The official opening of the Graduate Research Center began with a student reception during the second week of school. The reception, which included catered food, door prizes, and presentations, was the first glimpse that many of the students had of the new space. In addition to the Incubator, the Center also includes five collaboration rooms, a conference room, a lounge, and a breakroom, as well as, a new visualization studio. The visualization studio, home of the “viz wall,” will soon be available for students looking to incorporate digital scholarship into their classes.

The Graduate School also uses the space to host some of their events and programs. The Graduate Writing Center, co-sponsored with the English Department, the “Let’s Talk” program, presented by the Counseling Center, and graduate student workshops, hosted by the University Libraries, are now all located in the area. In addition, the Graduate School Association will now hold their annual three-minute thesis competition in the Center, as well.

The Graduate Research Center is open from 8:00am-8:00pm on weekdays and closed on the weekend. However, the Incubator’s hours are extended and mirror that of the Central Libraries:

Sunday: 1:00pm-1:00am
Monday-Thursday: 7:00am-1:00am
Friday: 7:00am-11:00pm
Saturday: 9:00am-11:00pm

Visit the Center’s website and social media pages for more information and updates. And remember to always bring your ID card for access to the Incubator!

By Matthew Doyen

SET: Enhancing Student Motivation, Attitude, and Interest

Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) holds a series of lectures every semester titled “Seminars for Excellence in Teaching.” These seminars help graduate student teachers, tenured professors, and everyone in between to meet the university’s historic expectations for teaching in the classroom. These are my accounts.

Photo courtesy of the Waco Tribune

Dr. Byron Newberry is a professor of mechanical engineering at Baylor University and is also the chair of the faculty senate. He loves teaching and has been doing it for the last 25+ years. On October 18th, Dr. Newberry lead a seminar for instructors about better connecting with students and therefore enhancing their motivation, attitude, and interest in the classroom. He shared pointers and stories to help others become their best at teaching.

The first thing that Dr. Newberry did was personally introduce himself to everyone as soon as they walked into the room. I thought that he was just being friendly, but it was actually a very important teaching technique. He wasn’t just introducing himself, but he was learning our names and would remember them as he called on us throughout the seminar. The fact that he remembered our names made it seem personal and that he deeply cared about sharing his knowledge with us. The same technique, as he demonstrated, should be used in the classroom, even if it is a large class and takes several weeks.

Dr. Newberry went on to speak about how important an instructor’s vibe is to the students. If it’s not positive, then the kids can pick up on that right away and feel the same way. There are different ways that an instructor can give a positive vibe: verbally, physically, and written. Each one is expected to remain in favor with the students. Additionally, communication is paramount when teaching. Weekly messages should be given out that not only goes over the curriculum, but also connects it to the real world. Dr. Newberry calls it the “terminator eye-view,” which is when someone sees the world through the lens of their career.

Another important lesson that I learned was that it is okay to make mistakes. It shows the students that they are not expected to be perfect and removes the fear of failure. It is also a perfect time to add some humor into the classroom setting. One time, Dr. Newberry lead an entire session around a problem that was incorrect. He admitted his mistakes and had a little fun during the next class when he handed out rubber bands, stood in front of the class, donned protective eyewear, and let the students fire away.

The last thing that Dr. Newberry presented on was the value of teacher immediacy, which is when instructors exhibit behaviors that decrease distance between themselves and their students. It not only gains them power and respect in the classroom, but also promotes cognitive learning, as well. Examples of teacher immediacy include using people’s names, moving closer to students, making specific eye contact, and treating them as part of a special group.

It was apparent that Dr. Newberry loves teaching and that he wants to help other people love teaching, too. It’s a valuable position that can help students reach extrinsic (grades) and intrinsic (enjoyment) goals and set them on the right path to success. Everyone can learn to become great teachers, especially the knowledge seekers among us. “If you want to learn more about something,” Dr. Newberry end with, “Then teach it!”

By Matthew Doyen

GradFocus: Stephanie Peek

In partnership with Baylor University, the IABCU began co-sponsoring the Baptist College and University Scholars Program in 2008. The BCU program sponsors Ph.D. and MFA students who completed degrees in IABCU schools and wish to serve as faculty members in Baptist schools. Scholars have a chance to maintain their ties to the larger Baptist community of higher education through focused study on Baptist identity and history, participation in events on faith and learning, and a chance to meet with the IABCU network of colleges and universities.

Many of us had a chance to meet BCU Scholar Stephanie Peek at our June gathering in Asheville. North Carolina.  Her paper, entitled “Christian Education: Turning Tourists into Pilgrims,” offered attendees a glimpse into her personal educational journey and its influence on her as an educator. She argued that great teachers attempt to cultivate intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual growth in their students. Teachers and administrators must live whole, well-rounded lives in order to teach their students to do the same. She offered thanks for the multitude of faculty and staff throughout her education who provided an excellent example of what it meant to lead a faithful life and instill those values in students.


Dr. Laine Scales, Dr. Roger Ward, and Stephanie Peek at Oxford University

Peek, a graduate of Southwest Baptist University and PhD Candidate in the Religion Department is currently finishing her degree in New Testament. She joined the Baptist College and University Scholars in 2012, and in the years since she has participated in various seminars, offered presentations on Baptist history and theology, and attended Baylor’s annual faculty retreat focusing on communal development and pedagogy. This past year, Peek was selected to receive the Schmeltekopf Fellowship awarded to one BCU student annually. As part of the fellowship, Peek was mentored by Dr. Robyn Driskell, Divisional Dean of Arts and Humanities, where she learned about various aspects of university administration.

Peek participated with other IABCU member schools in the Seminar for Academic Leadership held annually at Baylor University. The BCU Scholars program also sponsored Peek’s attendance at the Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy Seminar at Oxford University in July. The seminar this year was devoted to papers interacting with the work of the Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes. There she presented a paper entitled, “Sacrifice, Service, and Radical Inclusion: Participating in the Divine Critique According to the Gospel of Mark.”

As Peek nears completion of her degree program, she offers her thanks to her undergraduate sponsor, Southwest Baptist University, Baylor University and the IABCU for their continued support and for the opportunities she has been given to learn and grow as an educator and an academic.

Uploaded by Matthew Doyen

The Fastest 180 Seconds in Grad School

The 3 Minute Thesis competition began in Australia less than a decade ago, but has already begun to spread internationally. The competition challenges students to present their research in a simple, yet engaging fashion. Over the past three years, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) has helped Baylor join the over two hundred schools now hosting the event. On October 18th, eleven graduate students, representing eight different departments, came together in the Incubator to share their research with family, friends, and colleagues.

There were two groups in the competition: PhD candidates and Master’s students. In each group, there were prizes for first ($300), second ($100), and third ($50), as well as, an audience choice prize ($30). The judges for the night were Dr. Larry Lyon, Dean of the Graduate School, Pattie Orr, Dean of the University Libraries, and Dr. C. Kevin Chambliss, Professor of Chemistry. They rated each presenter on two main categories: comprehension/content and communication/engagement.


The competitors were as followed:

Sarah Rude (English) spoke about her work of sight perception in Medieval Literature. Sarah is studying how the trend from extramission to intromission effected literature during the thirteenth century.

Su Jin Kang (Sociology) presented on her research on inequality studies. Su Jin is looking at the effects of social status on potential health outcomes in the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Michael Spiegel (Chemistry) shared his findings on the new drug selenomaltol. Michael is researching the effects of the drug on heavy metal poisoning and its potential to be selective in that process.

Bethany Smith (Sociology) talked about her research into entrepreneurial success. Bethany is interested in finding the motivations for financial success in women and minority groups to eventually make their business plans more effective.

Andrew Cox (Biology) relayed information about his studies to develop a new genetically modified nectar in impatiens. With malaria affecting over two million people every year, Andrew’s nectar would be toxic to the parasite that causes the disease, but not to the plant nor the mosquito.

Bekah Burket (Environmental Science) displayed her research over the last year of looking at the waste water of Hong Kong. Bekah is gathering information to discover how healthy communities are during different seasons of the year.

Scott Prather (Religion) presented his research on the evolution of penance. Scott shows how different factions of Protestantism evolved in their own ways to use penance for social control.

Ian Anthony (Chemistry and Biochemistry) spoke about his exploration of chemical identification. Ian is using both a mass spectrometer and a vacuum ultraviolet spectrometer to more accurately and fully identify a chemical.

Tim Orr (Religion) introduced his examination of communities in sixteenth century Europe. Tim argues that different communities were both resonant and dissonant of each other, but eventually, because of their stubbornness, choose the latter.

Lauren Bagwell (Curriculum and Instruction) talked about her belief in adding spoken word poetry to social studies classes. Lauren believes that it can help with bettering the class’s curriculum, as well as, each student’s relationship to each other and with themselves.

Jared Hanson (Geology) shared his findings on the Marcellus Shale. Jared is researching the importance of how the Shale grew both laterally and vertically to help extract more of its naturally gas.


Everyone did excellent, but in the end there had to be winners. The Master’s student winners were Andrew Cox (1st), Lauren Bagwell (2nd), and Jared Hanson (3rd), while the PhD candidate winners were Ian Anthony (1st), Tim Orr (2nd), and Scott Prather (3rd). The audience choices were Andrew Cox and Bekah Burket. After the prizes were presented, Dr. Lyon admired everyone’s research and spoke about how important a skill it is to succinctly discuss it to someone with little previous knowledge.

While the 3 Minute Thesis is still in its infancy at Baylor, GSA hopes to keep building it and possibly send representatives to national and international competitions soon. As for now, it serves as a great way to support and celebrate fellow students and their research.

By Matthew Doyen

The Baylor-Palm Beach Atlantic Connection

Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) is located on the sandy shores of West Palm Beach, Florida, about an hour north of Miami. A small liberal arts institution with a total student population of 4,000, PBA strives to “offer a curriculum of studies and a program of student activities dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives, and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideals.” Despite being 1,300 miles from Waco, Texas and having a quarter of the student population of Baylor, PBA has a strong connection with this city and with our school.

This unusual linkage can be traced back over three decades to 1981 when Baylor hired Dr. Naymond Keathley. After graduating from Baylor with a bachelor’s degree in history, Dr. Keathley made stops at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and Palm Beach Atlantic University before returning to his alma mater. Five years later, in 1986, Dr. James Kennedy, now an associate professor in the Department of Religion, also joined the Baylor family after realizing that teaching and studying the Bible was his passion during his undergraduate time as a Sailfish at Palm Beach Atlantic.


In 1999, Dr. Laine Scales, now Baylor’s Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Professional Development, came to Baylor as a faculty member in the School of Social Work. Previously, she was redeveloping PBA’s service-learning program, Workship. Around the same time that Dr. Scales arrived at Baylor, three students, who would, unbeknownst to them at the time, strengthen the BU-PBA relationship, enrolled in the university’s religion graduate program.

Kathy Maxwell and her husband, Nathan, came to Waco in 2002 to pursue degrees in New Testament and Old Testament, respectively. Of the twelve new students to the program that year, only two students would be studying Old Testament: Nathan Maxwell and Nathan Lane. “Through the forge that is first semester doctoral students,” Dr. Kathy Maxwell wrote, “we formed deep friendships with our colleagues and their families.” While graduating at different times, the group continued to meet at national conferences, plan visits to each other, and share academic postings. Then, without fail, the calming palm trees and soothing ocean breeze of West Palm Beach started calling them one by one.


It started in 2005 when former Bear, Dr. Kris Pratt, joined the PBA staff and taught in their MacArthur School of Leadership. With his support, Dr. Lane made the same move two years later. One short year after that, a faculty spot came open and, on the advice of her old friend, Dr. Kathy Maxwell applied because the “opportunity to work alongside a fellow Baylor Bear was impossible to resist!” She was hired and her husband, Dr. Nathan Maxwell, taught as an adjunct and worked in online learning for several years at PBA before coming on as full-time faculty. Two years later, Dr. Myles Werntz, who received his doctorate from Baylor in 2011, came aboard as an assistant professor. As Dr. Lane wrote, “For three semesters, we (PBA) had a religion department dominated by Bears!”

There are endless examples of the BU-PBA connection that have continued to this day. In 2016, Dr. Scales was invited to speak at Palm Beach Atlantic University during their annual Founder’s Day Chapel. The Workship program that she and her colleague, Dr. Hope Haslam Straughan, redeveloped from 1993-1996 was celebrating its three millionth hour of community service. While there, she reconnected with associate professors Nathan Lane and the Maxwells.

And so the relationship goes on.


By Matthew Doyen

Balancing Philosophy Homework with World Championships

In July, the USATF Mountain, Ultra, and Trail Running Council announced the team for the 2016 International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Trail World Championships. The 52-mile race will be held at the end of October and will traverse the beautiful mountainous border between Portugal and Spain. Incredibly, one of the ten athletes (five male, five female) selected is not only an accomplished ultrarunner, but also a successful Baylor PhD candidate in Philosophy.

Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of Northern New Jersey, Sabrina Little came to Waco after receiving her undergraduate degree at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. There, she raced competitively for the Griffins, but her love for running can be traced back even further. “My first ultramarathon was a bit of an accident,” she recalls. “My mom was in remission from cancer. I like grand gestures, so I ran 100 miles as a fundraiser for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition to celebrate her. It was published in the local papers and I received a lot of phone calls about it being one of the fastest 100-mile times in country that year. I actually had no idea it was a sport at that point.” Sabrina immediately enjoyed success in her new sport by winning both 50 and 100 mile races. At the 2013 World Championship, she even set the national record in the 24-hour run by traveling a little over 152 miles and helped lead Team USA to gold.


To compensate for spending 80+ hours a week training, Sabrina likes to intertwine her scholarly interests and personal goals with her athletic pursuits. For instance, training and racing is part of her overall approach to a well-ordered life. “I appreciate the discipline it offers, and it helps me to be a good steward of my body. I sleep, eat, and train intentionally. I try to be very present.” A healthy version of one’s self is important to a lot of the students and professors in the department. “It’s funny because I think the caricature of philosophers is that we can be a bit abstracted and adrift in the cosmos, but people in our department bike, run, rock climb, and garden. They’re not like what I might expect reading Walker Percy.”

Another way Sabrina combines academics and training is through moral pedagogy, or how we teach virtues. She explains, “It’s very easy to read in a book that perseverance is to ‘remain under a burden.’ It’s a very different thing to have those moments daily – in the middle of workouts, when I have to tell myself to remain. Virtues are hard. They feel awful to learn, and I don’t think we understand that just by reading about them. I think I am a more courageous person because I give myself the opportunity to be brave so often in running.”


Sabrina, and her husband, David, have made Waco home. They both attend Baylor and coach a local cross country team at Live Oak Classical School. Because of the city’s elevation of only 38 meters, which she calls “comical” when training for mountainous races, the ultrarunner has to do a lot of hill repeats. “I like them – up and down. It’s like Sisyphus.” She’ll keep training on those hills for the next few weeks before heading to Peneda-Geres National Park in Portugal for the big race.

We wish her the best of luck! Sic’em Sabrina!

Talking to Bears, Alumni Edition: Erin Dixon

Talking with Bears is a series where we take a few minutes each week to talk to some of the current graduate students at Baylor and discuss their experience at the university and in Waco.


Hometown: Houston, Texas

Undergraduate Degree:  B.S. in Nutritional Sciences

Undergraduate University:  Baylor University

Graduate Degree:  Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction

Graduate University: Baylor University

Year of Graduation:  August 2015

What was the biggest factor that persuaded you to attend Baylor for graduate school? And to come back to teach? 

I attended Baylor for my undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees.  I did leave Waco for a few years after finishing my undergraduate degree; I moved to Oklahoma City to complete a dietetic internship and to work as a dietitian.  After working in a hospital as a clinical dietitian for about two years, I realized that wasn’t my “calling” or passion in life.  I had always thought I would enjoy teaching and education.  After much thought and prayer, I decided to move back to Waco to complete the Strickland Scholars program, a combined masters and teacher certification program in Baylor’s School of Education.  After completing that program, I taught high school science at West High School and then Rapoport Academy.  I decided to pursue a Ph.D. as a way to grow professionally as an educator.  I looked around at other programs, but I decided to stay in Waco and to attend Baylor’s program because this allowed me to continue teaching at West and then Rapoport.  (I taught high school at least part-time for the duration of my doctoral program.  The classes are all offered at night, and so this allowed me to teach during the day.)

I finished my doctoral degree in August 2015.  For the 2015-2016 school year, I continued teaching at Rapoport Academy and also taught a night class at Baylor as an adjunct instructor.  My plan was to continue teaching at Rapoport for another year or two, really taking my time in the search for a job in higher education.  However, that plan changed when Dr. Suzanne Nesmith (my mentor professor) contacted me in the Spring of 2016 to see if I might be interested in a position as a visiting lecturer in the School of Education.  My responsibilities in this position include supervising student teachers and teaching science methods courses.

What was one thing that surprised you about graduate school at Baylor?

I was surprised by how willing the professors were to work with and mentor graduate students.

If you had to describe your graduate school experience in three words, what would they be?

Rewarding, diligence, community.

What activities were you involved with outside of the classroom?

As I mentioned above, I taught high school science at least part-time for the duration of my doctoral program.  For the first two years, I taught full-time at West High School.  For the last three years, I taught part-time at Rapoport Academy.  When I was teaching part-time at Rapoport, I also had a graduate assistantship with Dr. Nesmith.  The combination of being a teacher, student, and GA took up most of my time; however, I do think that it is very important to try to maintain some type of balance.  For me, that meant working out regularly and being involved at my church.

What does your average Saturday look like now as compared to when you were a graduate student?

Saturdays are a lot more relaxed and low-key now.  During the work week, I focused most of my attention on preparing for my teaching responsibilities and completing GA tasks.  So the weekends were when I focused on my graduate course work.  I was up pretty early on Saturdays to get started on that.  I’m definitely enjoying sleeping in and relaxing on the weekends now.

How has the city of Waco impacted your time here?

With the exception of the three years that I lived in Oklahoma City, I’ve been in Waco since 1999 when I started my undergraduate years at Baylor.  It’s been so exciting to see the changes that have taken place in Waco during that time.  Growing up in Houston, Waco initially felt too small to me.  Waco has grown on me throughout the years though, and now I can’t imagine myself in a big city.

What is your go-to lunch spot in Waco?

Lula Jane’s or Alpha Omega

Lula Jane's WTX

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective graduate students that are interested in Baylor, what would it be?

Go for it!  You won’t regret it!  The combination of Baylor’s Christian environment, top-notch graduate programs, small classes, and excellent professors provides for a great graduate school experience.

Compiled by Matthew Doyen

Gradvice: Make the Move!

Growing up, Bruce Springsteen was always a favorite of many people in my hometown. Maybe it was because of his patriotic songs that continue to be anthems to generation after generation. Maybe it was because of his rock star persona that earned him one of the best nicknames ever. Maybe it was because of his local and musical ties to the City of Brotherly Love. I never quite understood the obsession until his song “My Hometown” came on the radio during my summer vacation road trip.

The last verse reads:

Last night me and Kate, we laid in bed,

Talking about getting out, packing up our bags and maybe heading south.

I’m thirty-five, we got a boy of our own now,

Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said,

“Son take a good look around, this is your hometown.”

Then, it finally hit me. Perhaps the reason why so many people in the area loved The Boss was because of the fact that they could easily identify with the lyrics of hometowns and glory days. Perhaps, like Bruce and Kate, they missed the opportunity to leave and have been stuck in the same city ever since. Perhaps they are now always finding themselves wondering and “talking about getting out.”

Attending Graduate School gives you the opportunity to avoid wondering all of the “what ifs” and “could have beens.” The best advice that I could ever give is: take it!


I don’t say this because I think that people should be wanderlust travelers or because I think that never leaving the same place shows a lack of ambition or because I think that I have a poor relationship with my hometown. In fact, I plan on returning to eastern Pennsylvania because it is home and nothing ever beats home. I say this because when I do go back, I know I won’t ever wonder if I belong somewhere else.

I didn’t apply to a school in central Texas by accident. I was always decent at geography and knew what I was getting myself into moving a two-day car ride away. The truth is that I’m using my time in Graduate School as a trial period – a trial period for discovering if I can live away from my entire family and lifelong friends and everything that I have known for the first twenty-two years of my life. I did it now because I want to know where to look for employment after I graduate. I want to know if I can look in Texas or further away on the West Coast or if I need to look closer to home. I want to know this before I accept a job that I’ll have to leave in a few months because I’m too lonely or scared and send my career careening backwards.

Graduate School is not only a time for challenging ourselves inside the classrooms and research labs, but it is also a time for learning what environments we enjoy. Our time in school, despite some of our best efforts, has an expiration date. Our job is to be as prepared as possible when that time inevitably comes. It doesn’t matter if we end up where we started or halfway across the world. If we took the time to learn in Graduate School where we can make it, then we’ll know that it won’t matter.

Written by: Matthew Doyen

Dr. Chen’s Unlikely Journey to a Biostatistician

Wencong Chen grew up a world away from the low-hanging trees and sunny skies of Waco in the southeastern coastal province of Fujian, China. Despite being one of the most affluent provinces in the country, his early life was littered with poverty and “battle-testing” moments. Still, he persevered and graduated top of his class from Zhejiang University of Technology in Hangzhou. After graduation, he received a position at a test agency that dealt with Japanese and Korean languages, but his curiosity soon got the better of him. He would often wonder the difference between a passing and failing mark among the thousands of test records he was handling. As a result, he came to the United States and enrolled at New Mexico State (NMSU) in Las Cruces, where his wife was obtaining her PhD, to pursue a master’s degree in statistics.

While at NMSU, he discovered that his true calling was to be a statistician. He continued toward his dream when he joined the Baylor family in 2013 as a doctoral student. The decision to choose Baylor was admittedly a difficult one as other schools from around the area were also interested in the recent Aggie graduate. Ultimately, he was most impressed by our beautiful campus, small class size, recent awards (we were honored by the American Statistical Association with the Statistical Partnerships among Academe, industry, and Government Award in 2012), and cutting-edge Bayesian research.

As he was researching pharmaceutical companies to intern at over the summer, the doctoral student was also welcoming a baby to his family. Unfortunately, his newborn daughter could not be taken home and was keep in the NICU of the Baylor Scott and White Medical Center under the watchful eye of Dr. Patel. After some observation, the doctor strongly suggested that Wencong’s daughter had to take the Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) genetic test, which maps the genetic material in a person’s cells. It is usually used to visualize specific genes or portions of genes and to help spot abnormalities.

The new father was at a loss. He didn’t know if his newborn had a genetic disease that was still baffling the science community. He didn’t know how to tell his wife that their baby girl might not have a “normal” life. He didn’t know if he was ready for such heavy responsibilities. He didn’t know what to do. Then, a colleague reached out and encouraged him to share a picture of his daughter with their department. What came next can only be described by Wencong as a “happy blessing from our warm community.”

The next few weeks were some of the longest and hardest as they waited for the test to return from a genetics lab on the West Coast. While still searching for a summer internship, Wencong lived in the parking lot of the hospital during this period to “save small pieces of time” and to make sure that his daughter was never alone. He made it through the screening process at one of the only companies still recruiting, Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, which, according to their site, is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to bringing to market novel products for the treatment of rare and ultra-rare diseases, with a focus on serious, debilitating genetic diseases.

After two more rounds of interviews, Wencong finally got the offer. He had to divert from his preferred topic of survival analysis and his dissertation work on time-to-event data, which was challenging since his entire time at Baylor had been devoted to the subject, to topic that is required for most genetic drug developments: longitudinal data analysis. Fortunately, he had an understanding mentor in Dr. James Stamey, a professor in the statistical science department, who lent his support the throughout the process. Wencong’s internship experience at Ultragenyx in Novato, California shocked him. The soon-to-be Baylor grad never realized the large amount of genetic diseases that lack the available drugs to cure. In fact, he said that there are over 7,000 types of rare diseases in the world and three million people in the United States who suffer from them. It’s no surprise that after graduation he returned to Novato to work at Ultragenyx as a biostatistician.

During our email conversations, Wencong shared a Washington Post article about Julianna, a four-year-old girl in Washougal, Washington. She was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT), which, according to the article and to the National Institutes of Health, is one of the world’s most common inherited neurological disorders. There are many mutations of CMT that have symptoms that range in severity. Unfortunately, Julianna had one of the worst cases and, after speaking with her parents about it for weeks, decided one day to forgo the painful treatment. She passed away soon after.

Wencong wanted to share his story, but, more importantly, wanted people to know that Baylor grads are fighting to find the cure for these rare genetic diseases. Baylor is also a leader in the research of cancer, which, according to the American Cancer Society, affects more than one million people in the country each year. As written in the spring edition of the university’s Arts and Sciences Magazine, “Arts and Sciences faculty have helped Baylor bring in more than $5 million in grants and other funding during the past six years to study cancer, and the University’s current strategic plan, Pro Futuris, provides a foundation for even more growth in the future.”

I love going to the football, basketball, and baseball games, but these stories and accomplishments make me more proud to be a Baylor Bear then anything that happens inside a stadium or arena. It shows that our university is trying to make a difference and I really couldn’t ask for anything more. As for the results of Wencong’s daughter’s FISH tests, they came back negative and she will enjoy a long, healthy, and happy life.


By Matthew Doyen

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