When Dr. Larry Lyon, Dean of the Graduate School, arrived at Baylor in 1998, he immediately recognized that the school had to become more competitive. He knew that to achieve that goal, he must first create additional incentives that attracted larger numbers of highly-qualified doctoral candidates to Waco. A few years later, the Presidential Scholar program was underway. It has increased from the two awardees of the original class to double digits recipients in the last few years. Despite this increase, becoming a presidential scholar has remained extremely competitive. Program directors of potential candidates contact the graduate school about their students who they believe would benefit from being a member of the distinguished program. Dean Lyon then reviews the applications and chooses the best of these applicants to receive the designation. While making his decision, Dean Lyon looks for high GPAs and GRE scores, research experience and publications, and professional resumes, but, most importantly, excellent letters of recommendation.
The presidential scholarship, one of the main benefits of the program, is the highest stipend awarded to doctoral students at Baylor. Its purpose is to help make attending graduate school and moving to Waco financially viable for these students and their families. Chris Tweedt, a recent doctoral graduate (and now instructor) in the Philosophy Department and former presidential scholar, spoke about how this extra stipend made his experience at Baylor possible. The father of four wrote, “I wouldn’t have been able to survive as a grad student and support my family without the help of the presidential scholarship.” Ryan West, who is in the last year of his post-doctoral studies and helping to support a family of five, added that “it would have been extremely difficult to make ends meet during graduate school without the stipend and health insurance coverage provided by the program.”
However, the stipend is not the only advantage of the program. It also opens the doors to boundless opportunities. John Duncan, a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in Religion, attested to his time in the program by mentioning that he and his fellow presidential scholars “have increased opportunities to meet, converse, and network with senior officials at Baylor, including President Starr, Lyon, and the Associate and assistant Deans in the Graduate School.” A first year candidate in Philosophy, Christopher Tomaszewski, can already agree. He stated that “by being able to list the Presidential Scholarship on my CV, I’ve gained some opportunities with the help of the prestige of the scholarship in terms of gaining admission to research seminars and summer programs.”
The Presidential Scholar program has succeeded in making Baylor’s Graduate School more competitive. With many of the recipients graduating and moving on to faculty positions at other universities and with the number of awardees continuing to rise, it seems that Presidential Scholars will continue to make the university stronger for years to come.
By Matthew Doyen
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