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.
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.
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!