An Online Community of Baylor Scholars
Last Fall, Annmarie Crum, Ed.D. ’22, was honored by the Baylor University Graduate School with a prestigious Outstanding Dissertation Award for her capstone work exploring inequalities in STEM education. For Crum, who has served for over 25 years in New Jersey schools, earning an online Baylor Doctorate of Education was a significant step in her career. Receiving the Outstanding Dissertation Award was a further recognition that a topic that mattered deeply to her—equitable practices for students, like the second graders in her diverse public school district— was one that she had elevated through her work.
Like any graduate student, Crum experienced challenges along the way. At Baylor, she found a team ready to step up and meet the needs of an online student several states away.
“My first year in the program, the pandemic hit,” Crum remembers. “It was definitely a challenge for everyone, but everyone stepped up and used the technology even more intently to foster connections and help us all feel like part of a team.”
As she wrote her dissertation, she experienced another challenge.
“While I was going through the dissertation process, my mom unfortunately went through a time where she wasn’t well. So, I was dealing with helping with a family illness, working full-time, and trying to get this program done. It was definitely challenging."
While Crum’s challenges were distinct to her situation, they may feel familiar to online and hybrid graduate students. Many are juggling families, a full-time career, rigorous degree plans and more as they move forward on a journey toward greater impact or opportunity in the field of their calling. As the number and scope of Baylor’s online programs have grown, so too has Baylor’s intentionality in meeting the more than 3,000 online and hybrid students where they are—and demonstrating that Baylor’s renowned caring community isn’t limited to students who regularly set foot on campus.
“The support that came from my classmates, professors, advisors and the Writing Center was so invaluable during that time,” Crum said. “I had a set meeting with my advisor every two weeks, just to check in. She’d offer guidance and support. But, I could also reach out to them any time if I had any questions or concerns. I found people who were supportive and understanding of everything I was going through.”
When that support was added to the skills and determination that Crum brought to her degree plan, she couldn’t be stopped—and her award is a measure of the excellence with which she did it. Her experience provides a snapshot of the way Baylor seeks to meet the needs of this population of students.
Academic Support—Making it Easy to be an Online Student
“I want to be careful how I say this—we want to make it easy to be a student,” Gary Carini, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Institutional Research and Professional Education and Professor of Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation, said.
“Not that the coursework is easy—it’s rigorous. And, our online and professional students have a lot on their plate. But, we want to make it, administratively, easy to be a student, with faculty who meet them where they are and give them a great Baylor University experience that is unmatched.”
Baylor is distinct as an R1 Christian research university—big enough to call elite national research universities as peers, but with a focus on faculty-student relationships that are a hallmark of the Baylor experience. Traditionally, that experience was in-person, but the online and hybrid educational opportunities have become an important part of that focus. Now, Baylor faculty are demonstrating the same level of care and availability to students wherever they are.
“You have access to your professors, even when it’s an asynchronous course,” Carini says “When you have questions on an assignment or a project, you don’t want to get stuck. I teach online classes, and students can call me. Our professors are intentional about that linkage. Or, when they need to connect with their fellow students, or administrators, financial aid or the registrar, we don’t want students to say, ‘I have to clue where to go.’ They have access to the Career Center, the Writing Center or other resources that can help them on their journey while they’re a student and after they’re a student.
“So, we build those student services like we have for decades, but expressed in this particular context to meet the needs of online students so they can achieve the goals that God has laid upon their heart.”
Community—Bridging the Gap Between Online and In-Person
Waco is Ronnie Guardiola’s hometown, but her role as a second-year occupational therapy student provides a different setting than most hometown Baylor students. Guardiola is embedded in the community through her clinical work, but her classes are online. A UTSA graduate, Guardiola chose her hometown University to pursue her heart’s calling as an occupational therapist in a community setting. Feeling a call to serve her fellow students as well, she has taken on the role of online community chairperson in Baylor’s Graduate Student Association (GSA).
“What we’re here to do in GSA is address the challenges and needs that online students face, and to connect people in different programs together virtually on campus so there’s more collaboration between students in Baylor’s online programs,” Guardiola says.
Online and hybrid students may come to campus over the course of a semester, which provides intentional opportunity to build community. GSA has scheduled movie nights, volleyball, meals and more at times these students are on campus. That focused approach—determining when online programs welcome students to campus and creating programming to serve them—has helped students make friends and discover others at similar stages of their life.
“GSA is very receptive to any opportunity to serve online students. I haven’t had pushback from anyone across campus either—all departments are willing to spread the word about our events so that their students can be included.”
For students who want to be involved with opportunities on campus, GSA has grown resources to serve them, including online GSA meeting debriefs and notes, workshops recorded and made available online or activities that are entirely virtual, like a holiday gift exchange.
“As I look around right now, the camaraderie among students and their cohorts remains strong, and it’s been great to deliver information to them in ways that meet their needs, and allow them to participate. Our faculty and administration are so flexible to these new opportunities, and I feel like being an online or hybrid student is very doable, whatever season of life you’re in.”
You can read more about the Baylor Graduate School's efforts supporting its growing hybrid and professional programs in the 2023 Annual Report.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.