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Category: GradFocus

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

GradFocus: Brian Rundle

Brian Rundle wasn’t too surprised when his latest publishing started to gain international attention. “Contagious yawning is something that everyone experiences,” Rundle explains, but there is more to his study than just those familiar involuntary movements. His research was focused on who is catching these yawns, or rather, who is not.

It has been theorized that the contagiousness of yawns is due to empathy. We understand that the yawner is tired and, in an attempt to console that person, we yawn, as well. It makes sense. It is also recognized that psychopaths suffer from a disorder that causes them not to feel empathy, hence their often violent social behavior. Again, makes sense. If these were indeed true, Rundle hypothesized, then it should also be true that psychopaths would not be victim to the same contagious yawning.

Rundle and his team, which included his mentor Dr. Matthew Stanford, evaluated a sample of Baylor students in the aggression laboratory to find the answer. First, they tested the group to see if they displayed psychopathic traits. Then, they put the same group in an environment to study if there was a difference in yawn catching between those who displayed psychopathic traits and those who did not. The results were published and began to rapidly spread across the Internet with the speed of a Kardashian scandal (poor Rob). People were intrigued at this new information that could help them determine if someone could be a psychopath and the author has been enjoying his “short limelight.”

Rundle, a San Antonio native, came to Baylor as a psychology undergrad in 2006 and returned a few years ago as a doctoral candidate in the behavioral neuroscience program. After almost a decade in Waco, he is excited to see that the city is continuing to improve.  The downtown area has become safer and has seen an uprising in diversity among the activities and restaurants it offers. Rundle agrees that it has become “significantly better” because of the amount of money being pumped into cleaning up the area and he has been a part of that revitalization. In his free time, he works at a vegetable stand at the popular Waco Farmer’s Market and enjoys experiencing and working in the city’s “unsaturated” artisan scene.

When asked if he could give one piece of advice to prospective BU graduate students, Rundle responded, “Baylor is great. They are real supportive of people. It’s a very warm culture here. People are very interested in getting to know you. And, in a positive way, they are very Texan.” He continued, “The academics are great, and they are improving. You won’t regret having a degree from Baylor.”

But you may regret the next time you yawn, and your date across the table doesn’t.

By Matthew Doyen

GradFocus: Dr. Michael Scullin


By Ben Murray

I recently met with Dr. Michael K. Scullin, Director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory in Baylor’s department of Psychology.  Scullin is something of a newcomer to our university, arriving here last December.  He began his education at Furman University and graduated in 2007 with a B.S.  After finishing at Furman, he moved to St. Louis where he attended Washington University and completed his doctorate in the Behavior, Brain and Cognition program.  Scullin then worked on a post-doctoral fellowship in the Neurology and Sleep Medicine program at Emory University’s School of Medicine before finally landing at Baylor.

Our meeting was about a project that he actually started about five years ago.  During his time in graduate school, Scullin took on a leadership position with the American Psychological Association (APA)—the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the U.S.  They asked him to chair a new science committee at the school.  He says he was unsure of his role at the beginning, but after being told to “dream big,” Scullin began to plan for a new project.  He recalled some of the frustrations that he had encountered during the publishing process.  When he submitted papers to journals, Scullin often found the reviews from his future colleagues to be unhelpful and pedantic—frequently littered with arbitrary corrections and unnecessary edits.  He realized that the peer review process could be greatly improved, and with this realization he decided to start his own peer reviewed journal for graduate students, by graduate students.

Fast forward five years and TPS (Translational Issues in Psychological Science) is a full-fledged, critical issues translational journal, with each issue focusing on a different topic representing multiple viewpoints on psychological science.  Scullin says the journal’s road to completion was not easy.  At first the idea was met with substantial resistance.  He explains that “journals marked as graduate student journals are usually not considered to be reputable.  This is because they are always put on by small agencies and never sponsored by large, reputable publishers.” TPS is unique in that it is backed by the APA.  This basically acts as a stamp of approval and legitimacy for scholars.  Perhaps the most innovative element of TPS comes from its website where a training portal is available for those who are new to peer editing.  The portal begins with general info such as the peer review process and why it is important.  Then, it goes into depth on how to write an effective, constructive review.  For example, how to avoid unhelpful critiques, evaluate theories used, and frame constructive comments.

In the past, when people were asked to review papers, they would often mimic the types of responses they themselves received when their papers were reviewed.  Too often, these new reviewers would repeat the same bad habits as reviewers before them because they didn’t know any better.  TPS’s program is designed to break that cycle.  When a graduate student writes a review, their review is reviewed (ha) by experienced post docs who operate under an established professor.  This forces reviewers to watch what they write because they know that their work will be evaluated by a second set of eyes.  As Scullin says, “Peer review is essential to every scientific article that’s ever been published, and how the author’s results are finally reported can be greatly altered by their editors.  Teaching individuals at an early stage in their career to give effective, non-arbitrary reviews will not only improve the process but will also help to improve science in general.”

Dr. Scullin is excited to see Baylor students get published in future issues of TPS.  The journal is an excellent opportunity for them to gain experience and is surely a resume booster for anyone involved with the publication.  It’s great to hear about innovative ideas that can really change academics for the better.  As always, we’re grateful for Dr. Scullin’s time in explaining his groundbreaking work here at Baylor.

GradFocus: Lindsay Wilkinson


By Ben Murray

The coolest thing about working at the Graduate School is that it allows me to meet a variety of people who have dedicated themselves to an array of different passions. Talking to these people is a rewarding experience because their excitement is often contagious and directs my interest to areas I would have never thought to look.  The most recent example of this phenomenon? Gerontology.  For those who don’t know, Wikipedia (don’t judge, it’s a good source) defines Gerontology as the study of the social, psychological, cognitive and biological aspects of aging.  It turns out that studying the aging process can provide us with some great insights on how to live a healthy and fulfilling life.  I met with Baylor’s Dr. Lindsay Wilkinson to discuss this interesting topic in more detail.

Dr. Wilkinson hails from Rofford Illinois (not far outside Chicago for the southerners who know nothing about other states [me]).  For her undergrad, Lindsay went to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa where she double majored in psychology and sociology and minored in gender studies. After much deliberation as to whether she should go the psychology or sociology route, Lindsay chose sociology and was accepted into the masters program at Purdue.  In her time there, she received PhD’s in both Sociology and Gerontology.  She says she was initially interested in studying inequality but didn’t know which direction to take it until her mentor mentioned that she could study health inequality.  Lindsay says that this was something of an “aha!” moment for her.  She had never thought of health in those terms before.  As she explained to me, health is really the ultimate form of inequality.  “Everyone is going to get older and die some day and so that carries a lot of significance,” Lindsay said. “If we can understand that better, we can improve our quality of life.”

As a medical sociologist, studying health inequality means a lot more than simply going over people’s medical records. For Lindsay’s most recent project, she looked at the great recession and its effect on adults 51 and up.  She wanted to understand the effect that money strain can have on an individual’s mental health (turns out it has a big effect).  Her work earned her the junior scholar award—a national honor handed out by the Gerontological Society of America. To gather data for her study, Wilkinson used the largest source of information on older adults: a massive 30,000 person study funded by the National Institute of Health.  The study has gathered detailed records on the same people’s lives every two years since 1992.  Thanks to the success of her previous project, Lindsay will now be able to take the next step in her research.  She plans to look at resiliency amongst the elderly during these difficult times.  This means analyzing participants whose mental health was unaffected by their difficulties and trying to discover which characteristics set them apart from the rest.  Answering this question could have exciting implications in learning how to maintain a healthy state of mind when challenges arise in our own lives.

Dr. Wilkinson currently teaches research methods, sociology of aging, and will soon begin a health class in the fall. When she’s not conducting research or teaching, she enjoys relaxing with her husband and two dogs Pax and Lexi (named after Chicago sports legends), going to sporting events and watching good movies.  We’re very thankful to Dr. Wilkinson for her time and look forward to hearing about the discoveries she will make on the next project!

GradFocus: Nicholas Pruitt

Scales, Pruitt, and Maxwell, 2015 2bhhs_panel_2

By Ben Murray

A few weeks back, I sat down with Nicholas Pruitt, a PhD student in History, to discuss the Baptist History & Heritage Society conference he attended in Nashville, Tennessee.  At the conference, Nicholas gave a presentation along with Baylor’s own Dr. Laine Scales and Melody Maxwell—assistant professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University.  Their topic of discussion centered upon the important historical role Baptist women have played in improving race relations in the U.S. According to their panel, Baptist women were decades ahead of male religious leaders in this aspect.  They pointed out that personal friendships between black and white Baptist women actually date back to 1901 when the Women’s Convention and National Baptist Convention joined to fund two African American Missionaries.  If you would like to know more about what went on at the convention, click here.

Nicholas’s path to this unique subject began at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas.  It was there that he earned a BA in History, then moved to Waco to earn his MA in Church-State Studies from Baylor in 2009.  After teaching for two years back at Wayland, he returned to Baylor for his PhD and will graduate this year.  He says his time at Baylor has been great and that he has enjoyed the close community of graduate students within the history program.  Nicholas’s area of focus involves twentieth-century American religion and its relationship to social, cultural, and political trends.  He hopes to continue teaching in a Christian setting and looks forward to seeing what the future holds for his career.

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.

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.

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