Baylor makes top 25 on two lists

By Baylor staff

The list of schools to make U.S. News‘ top 25 for both undergraduate teaching and undergraduate research is a short and impressive one – Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Duke, Elon, Michigan, and Baylor.

In their latest rankingsU.S. News put Baylor at No. 16 nationally for undergraduate teaching and No. 21 for undergraduate research/creative projects. No other Texas or Big 12 school made the top 25 in both categories; in fact, only Rice (No. 4 for teaching) and Texas (No. 19 for research) cracked the top 25 in either listing.

The teaching honor is nothing new for Baylor; undergraduate education has long been a hallmark of the university. Baylor’s growing research effort – as seen in the university’s recent R1 status – is making that undergraduate education even better, as professors bring cutting-edge knowledge gained in their research into the classroom, and undergrads get hands-on opportunities in labs across campus.

“It’s rewarding to have our peer institutions and others recognize Baylor’s high-quality undergraduate programs and how much we deeply value the undergraduate student experience,” said President Linda Livingstone. “Baylor is a Christian Research 1 university with a distinct and compelling mission, including providing our students with a transformational academic education and co-curricular experience that prepares the whole person for worldwide leadership and service.”

Brook Avenue students give 288 pairs of socks to Mission Waco homeless shelter

By Josh Wucher

Brook Avenue Elementary School students hope their “Socktober” service project brings winter relief to Mission Waco’s My Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter. Students collected and donated 288 pairs of socks to the organization.

Brook Avenue Elementary gifted and talented students, teacher Diane Sriram, and Mission Waco’s groups director Libby Barnhill stand in front of the Mission Waco van before donating 288 pairs of socks the campus collected for its “Socktober” project.

“We’re helping people live, and it makes me feel good,” said Ezra Watson, a second grader.

“It feels great because we’re helping the homeless,” said Delvin Dunner, a third grader. “It’s important to me that we take care of them, so they’re not in a worse condition this winter.”

Kindness is Brook Avenue’s theme this school year, which fits well with a goal in Diane Sriram’s gifted and talented class to develop student leaders.

“As leaders, they look for problems either in their school or community and work to develop solutions,” said Sriram. “Our students are very familiar with Mission Waco and what they do in the community. They worked with Mission Waco to come up with an idea, and we did research to find out why socks are important. It’s good because they know what they’ve collected and have an idea of where it’s going and who it’s going to help.”

Libby Barnhill, groups director at Mission Waco, met with students and picked up the socks, which span child and adult sizes. Barnhill says socks are typically a high need for the homeless during the winter. Mission Waco gives many pairs away at the shelter and their December toy store event.

Brook Avenue Elementary first graders show off sock puppets they made during their Socktober service leadership project to collect socks for Mission Waco’s My Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter.

“These kids really put in the effort to get socks for their neighbors, their friends, and people right down the road,” said Barnhill. “This is a community taking care of its own community. This many pairs of socks is huge and makes an impact for hundreds of families. So, we are super thankful.”

Sriram said her students were also excited to create Socktober projects, which included sock puppets and tri-fold boards to showcase their research. Second grader Orlyn Quiroz Jr.’s butterfly-winged themed puppet even “flies to the stores to get the socks.”

Josh Wucher is chief communications officer for Transformation Waco.

Cooper recognized for state and national math education leadership 

By Gracie Ozburn

Sandi Cooper, professor in the Baylor School of Education’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction, was selected as the 2022 recipient of the E. Glenadine Gibb Achievement Award. The award honors a member of the Texas Council for Teachers of Mathematics for contributions to the improvement of math education at the state and national levels. Cooper, Ph.D., received the award at the Conference for the Advancement of Math Teaching in San Antonio in the summer.

Dr. Sandi Cooper

She was nominated by two Baylor colleagues — Trena Wilkerson, professor of mathematics education, and Ryann Shelton, lecturer in Baylor’s online Doctor of Education program in learning and organizational change.

“She is an outstanding colleague and offers significant leadership for the entire mathematics education community,” the nomination said. “She is an exemplary scholar, teacher, and leader.”

“It is an honor to work with [Cooper] in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, and her vision and leadership continue to move our department and the University forward,” said Wilkerson, Ph.D. and interim chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction.

In 2016, Wilkerson received the award, which is named after E. Glenadine Gibb, former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a leader in math education in Texas. Wilkerson said Gibb was known as a visionary. “I think that captures Dr. Cooper perfectly. She is a visionary!”

Cooper has been a longtime member of both the national and state math teachers organizations and served as president of Texas body 2017-2019. She was also president of the Central Texas affiliate 2012-2014.

She earned her Ph.D. in math education at Texas A&M University in 1994 and is professor of mathematics education, coordinator of mathematics education, and coordinator of the SOE’s minor in informal education. She was the founding program director of the online Ed.D. in learning and organizational change, Baylor’s largest doctoral program.

Cooper’s main research focus is related to early number development of children in PreK to second grade and the effectiveness of teachers who teach these early learners. She has applied her research to founding and leading the Math for Early Learners Academy, a summer intervention program launched in 2016 to provide positive learning experiences while developing early number concepts for children entering kindergarten and first grade. The MELA research team is developing a curriculum and assessments customized for early interventions.

In her acceptance speech at TCTM, Cooper spoke about how thankful she is for the recognition and for the hope and promise she saw in the roomful of math educators.

“I am honored,” Cooper said. “I became a math teacher in 1985, and I have loved every minute of it. We all know we are facing a crisis in education right now. When I look out and see you, I have hope. You are here spending your time learning, and you’re going to go back and take this information to help your school grow. Thank you for what you are doing in your classrooms and schools. You are really the true champions, and I am honored to be a part of this profession.”

A longer version of this story can be read on the Baylor School of Education’s Instant Impact page.

Mayborn becomes first Smithsonian affiliate in Central Texas

The Mayborn Museum announces its new status as a Smithsonian Affiliate. The museum joins a network of more than 200 Smithsonian Affiliates in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Panama. The Mayborn will now be the Central Texas connection to the Smithsonian and its many resources. This recognition makes The Mayborn Museum one of 13 Smithsonian Affiliates in Texas and the only one in Central Texas.

“Smithsonian Affiliates are collaborators on many Smithsonian strategic priorities, adding local content, context, and expertise to help tell a fuller story,” said Myriam Springuel, director of Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Smithsonian Affiliations. “Including the Mayborn in our Affiliate network provides greater access to the rich history and culture of Central Texas and we look forward to creating experiences that align those stories with national initiatives at the Smithsonian.” 

Smithsonian Affiliates represent the diversity of America’s museum community and serve all audiences. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the Mayborn will have the opportunity to collaborate on unique, public programs and workshops, professional development opportunities, co-develop youth programs, host traveling exhibitions, borrow artifacts, and co-host public lectures by Smithsonian scholars. 

As part of the first phase of collaboration, the Mayborn is bringing the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership Program to Waco. The initiative works with local schools to empower young people to act on environmental issues. With support from the Smithsonian, the Mayborn will develop young people’s leadership skills with the goal of inspiring climate-literate leaders in Central Texas. Earth Optimism Youth Action and Leadership for Sustainable Communities is funded in part by a Jeff Bezos gift to the National Air and Space Museum.

“Our partnership with the Smithsonian will facilitate new exhibits and programs for our visitors that will inspire a deeper understanding of our world and how it can be changed for the better,” said Charlie Walter, executive director of the Mayborn.

New CREW in town; MCC fights basic needs insecurities among students

By Clara Lincicome

College students often face circumstances that make pursuing their education especially challenging. An online student at McLennan Community College recently let the school know that a broken had prevented him from finishing a semester.

Shanna Rogers is project director for MCC’s Campus Resources Education Web (CREW), which is a program to help students struggling to meet their basic needs. Rogers learned of the student’s broken laptop and connected him to the library, which had recently received a grant to lend laptops to students in such situations. The student had no form of transportation, so Rogers drove the laptop to him in Killeen.

“When he got the laptop he got reinvigorated,” she said. “He was able to get back on his feet.”

CREW is funded by a federal grant and is MCC’s latest initiative to support students with their nonacademic needs. CREW “strives to ensure every student who wants an education can receive one without being hindered by basic needs insecurities.”

CREW meets with students and faculty on an individual basis to assess their needs and connect them to a resource that can help, ranging from child care, to groceries, to gas money. 

Another resource CREW provides is Paulanne’s Pantry – a stop-and-go place to shop for free groceries. Shoppers at the pantry are given autonomy to select their food, rather than given a bag of miscellaneous items. On the backend, CREW orders food and gets shipments twice a month to fill the pantry. Student volunteers are also a part of keeping the pantry stocked.

Not only does CREW offer their own resources, they also partner with other organizations in Waco and McLennan County to best serve students.

“We work to connect them with different resources off campus,” Rogers said. “That means learning about the resources, but also building those relationships with the resources off campus so we know that we have them. For instance, Shepherd’s Heart.”

Shepherd’s Heart is a food pantry in Waco that provides the community with free groceries through mobile distribution, hosting food pantries in four local schools and delivering groceries to seniors.

“We have Shepherd’s Heart that comes on to campus now to help deliver food to students, faculty, staff, or anyone in the community that could use it,” Rogers said. “It provides a location where students don’t need to drive all over town to get food.”

CREW hosted a Resource Fair Sept. 15, where dozens of organizations from the Waco area came to MCC’s campus to talk to students about what they provide.

In addition, the first “Third Thursday Thoroughfare” will be hosted in the Student Life Center Oct. 20, where several local resources are going to be available to talk to students over lunch about their services, the student’s eligibility, and how they can apply.

CREW hopes to remove any stigma around using available resources. Emma Cartisano, a doctoral intern for student engagement at MCC, researches stigma in her study of higher education. 

“The biggest act towards removing stigma is by talking about it,” she said. “Stigma gains its power through silence. As much as we can, we will talk about resources available for students. There is no shame in using them.”

Rogers noted that many students need help, which is why MCC is dedicated to the effort. “I haven’t met many college students who haven’t needed extra help,” she said. “Usually the ones who don’t need help are the exception to the rule, not the rule.”

For more information, check out the webpage.

Clara Lincicome is a senior journalism major on the PR track at Baylor University from Washington state. Her minors are corporate communication and leadership studies. She is a PR intern for the Department of Marketing and Communication at McLennan Community College and a tour guide for Baylor University.

Member of MCC Dance Company recalls time in Marine Corps this Veteran’s Day

By Clara Lincicome

On your way to class through the McLennan Community College campus, you might run into Morgan Wishart, a 22-year-old human development and family studies major from Mineola. Her zip-up jacket boasts the words MCC Dance Company, and she presents herself with a bright smile and excitement for a challenge.

Off the bat, you might assume she is a member of the dance company, a student at MCC, and that she came to MCC directly out of high school. What you likely will not imagine upon first glance is that Wishart spent the past four years as a corporal in the Marine Corps before arriving at McLennan Community College. 

Wishart grew up in an Army family — parents, uncles, and both sets of grandparents. But after talking to an Army recruiter, she said she did not get the “homey” feeling she was hoping for. Then, Marine Corps recruiters visited her school in September 2017. 

“You know how they come to high schools and you do the pull-ups and everything?” Wishart said. “Well, I did that, and I got their number from there. … I signed the papers that day.”

Wishart graduated from Lindale High School in June 2018 and left for boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina one month later. She described boot camp as nerve-wracking, especially since she was one of few females. The process of getting there was a blur for Wishart, she didn’t know where she was flown into and was without a phone or any form of communication.

“You get off the plane, then they put you on this bus. They’re just screaming at us, and we’re putting our heads down for the whole ride to Parris Island. I don’t know how long it was,” Wishart said. “It was dark, and my legs were shaking, I’m flustered just thinking about it.”

Upon arrival at Parris Island, Wishart recalled seeing the infamous yellow steps in person for the first time.

“That is your ‘entering into learning how to be a Marine,’” she said. “And there are literal yellow footsteps on the ground, every Marine has stepped on those footsteps. It was like, ‘I’m really here.’”

Wishart emphasized that the purpose of the three-month boot camp was to “break you down from individuality and build you up as a Marine.” When calling her parents for two minutes to let them know she arrived at Parris Island, she read a script, and could not use the words “I,” “me,” or “love you.” “There is no ‘I’ or ‘me’ in boot camp. No one cares about you,” she said.

The culmination of boot camp and the last step in becoming a Marine is the Crucible, notoriously the hardest three days of the three months spent at Parris Island, Wishart said. She got four to six hours of sleep total as they completed obstacle courses that simulated war, with the goal of completion without losing gear or a teammate. After completing the Crucible, recruits receive their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, the emblem of the Marine Corps.

After boot camp, Wishart went to San Diego for Marine Combat Training. 

“You’re just shooting guns, out in the field for weeks,” Wishart said. “You only get one porta-potty, and you’re sharing it with your company, like 300 people. No showers, lovely baby wipes, and sleeping under the stars. It was not the time of my life.” 

From there, Wishart was sent to Jacksonville, N.C., for a short time before being stationed at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., where she worked and attended Pensacola State College. 

“They just put you wherever they want you,” she said. “You’ll hear it forever in the Marine Corps, where they need you is where they’ll put you.”

Wishart worked in supply and was in charge of a $4 million account managing the station’s money and tracking where it went, making sure students had everything they needed to complete their training. 

Marines have a four-year contract, starting the day before departure for boot camp, followed by a four-year reserve. Wishart’s contract was up on July 15. She decided to fulfill her goal of becoming a member of the MCC Dance Company.

“MCC has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “My sister went here from 2017-19, and I got a glimpse that this was what I wanted. Ten-time national champions? I want to be a part of that!”

Dancing since she was 12 years old, Wishart grew up attending MCC workshops and competitions. She spoke highly of director Ashlee Keyes, as well as the alumni base of the dance company. 

“So many alumni come back and talk to us, and I love that,” Wishart said. “I love to have people that have been in my shoes give me advice on how they became national champions.”

Being part of the Marine Corps has impacted every aspect of Wishart’s life, including her role as a teammate on the MCC Dance Company.

“My formative years, 17-21, I was in the Marine Corps. It’s crazy how different you become,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine myself without the Marine Corps and what I was taught. Everything I think about is from my Marine Corps standpoint. It’s all I know.”

Wishart regards Veteran’s Day as an opportunity to honor and remember those who paid the price for us to live in the United States. 

“My whole family was in the military, and they have friends that aren’t with us today,” she said. “My Marine Corps brothers and sisters, my family’s Army brothers and sisters all went out there and fought for us to live this life that we have. It has always been the same for me, respecting our veterans that are here and aren’t here with us today.”

Clara Lincicome is a senior journalism major on the PR track at Baylor University from Washington state. Her minors are corporate communication and leadership studies. She is a PR intern for the Department of Marketing and Communication at McLennan Community College and a tour guide for Baylor University.

Loftin-Conner, Hutchison honored as MCC alumni

The McLennan Community College Foundation’s Highlander Alumni & Friends Association honored Mandy Loftin-Conner and Killian Hutchison recently with two MCC alumni awards. Loftin-Conner received the Distinguished Alumni Award, and Hutchison received the Distinguished Leader Award.

2022 MCC Distinguished Alumna Mandy Loftin-Conner (left) with McLennan Community College President Dr. Johnette McKown

Loftin-Conner is a graduate of China Spring High School and attended MCC as a theatre major 1991-93. She then continued her education at Texas Tech University and has taught locally for 25 years. During that time, she earned 13 trips to the regional UIL One Act Play Meet and eight trips to state.

In addition to teaching and directing, Mandy is an established playwright. She has published the well-received play, “Lafayette No. 1,” which has been produced in 31 states, Canada, and AustraliaShe has also published “AGO,” “Should Not Cause Harm,” “Unclaimed,” “Dirt,” “11,” and “Rue.” 

Most recently, Mandy partnered with Creative Waco to create a pair of life-sized Columbian Mammoth puppets that will be used by Mayborn Museum and the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

“Mandy is deeply grounded in her personal faith and values,” said Creative Waco’s Fiona Bond. “She embodies those values in her work and creative practice, inspiring others, and giving those who feel unseen the opportunity to find their voice and shine.”

2022 MCC Distinguished Leader Killian Hutchinson (left) with McLennan Community College President Dr. Johnette McKown

Hutchison, of Waco, came to MCC as a Presidential Scholar. She maintained a 4.0 GPA at MCC in the nursing program, while working a part-time job, serving on the Student Advisory Committee and volunteering at several Waco nonprofits.

Killian did all of this during the peak of a pandemic. She volunteered to help vaccinate our community. Killian is an all-around incredible person, and is the epitome of McLennan’s drive to build future leaders and heroes. Killian will continue to serve our community as a NICU nurse at Ascension Providence.

EdD student puts Baylor mission to serve into practice with therapy dog

By Mary Sage

Adrianna Prado, a third-year doctoral student in Baylor School of Education’s online EdD in Learning and Organizational Change, has combined her love of education and of animals to provide meaningful service to communities as part of a therapy dog team. She said her certified therapy sheepadoodle, Stella, has been the “paws of Christ” in settings ranging from library reading events to tragedy recovery.

Stella and Adrianna Prado

A special education specialist in San Antonio’s Northside ISD, Prado took Stella to Uvalde in the aftermath of the school shooting at Robb Elementary in late May, serving with Therapy Animals of San Antonio to offer comfort and support.

“Having had family suffering loss on account of this tragic event and grieving such loss among peer educators, it was an honor to return to Uvalde . . . to give back to the community and support through the love and compassion of Stella,” Prado said.

When Stella and Prado visited Robb Elementary, Stella was able to provide comfort and love to many, also paying their respects to the families who daily visited the last place at which they dropped off their children. The two spent time with first responders at the Uvalde EMS station, funeral home, and flower shop where people were first responders, as well as the church gathering for families of those lost.

“I learned several lessons responding to this horrific event in Uvalde, but the most important one is that humanity is not lost,” Prado said. “A common theme among my visits to the community was the overwhelming graciousness the individuals had by the many blessings offered to them from all over the world.”

Prado has always been fascinated with the research that shows the value animals have in supporting mental health, anxiety diffusion, and emotional well-being. Prado and Stella work as a team and first worked in Lubbock when Prado was a special educator in Lubbock ISD. That’s where they completed therapy training and certification and began serving the community, attending reading sessions at the library and visiting nursing homes. They also joined the “Muttley Crew,” the K-9 therapy program of Lubbock ISD.

“I feel blessed to be Stella’s handler because she has provided an opportunity for us to be the feet and paws of Christ on the ground,” Prado said.

Prado said she continues to explore research about the effectiveness of dogs in everything from emotional comfort to improving educational outcomes. She said her first experiences in Lubbock taught her that Stella helped her students build positive emotional and mental capacity.

“Stella is a gift,” Prado said. “She can reach individuals in a way that I never could do without her. Stella has saved lives, she has built families up, she has built academic bridge gaps, and she has brought peace to those who have needed it the most. Stella is a true blessing from above that allows me to continue to serve as I was put on this earth to do.”

This story was shared by Baylor Instant Impact, news from the Baylor School of Education. Go to their site to sign up for their emails.

MCC in top 5 of vocational & cosmetology rankings

McLennan Community College has been ranked as the top medical administration program by Washington Monthly‘s “Vocational Program Rankings,” and MCC’s cosmetology program has been ranked second best in Texas by

Washington Monthly is the first publication to rank America’s best colleges for vocational certificates. Rankings were released for the 10 most common undergraduate certificate programs in the U.S. Department of Education’s college scorecard dataset and are based on the median earnings of students one year after graduation.

MCC secured the top spot for Medical Administration with a median annual earning of $77,234 and a 19% debt-to-earnings ratio based on median federal student loan debt. In comparison, Ferris State University (Michigan) was second on the list with a $60,924 median earning and a 47% debt ratio.

To view the complete rankings, visit is a leading higher education research organizationThe rankings are based on three criteria with data collected from a DOE National Center for Education Statistics survey — an average annual cost of no more than $30,000, a median salary no lower than $30,000, and accredited programs by recognized bodies.

To view the complete rankings, visit

For more information about these and other MCC programs, visit  

Upward Bound grants extended to help students finish high school, plan for college

By Katie Johnson

Every year, over 1.2 million students in the United States drop out of high school, and about 14% of high school freshmen fail to graduate on time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In hopes of redirecting this trend, Education Service Center Region 12 implements three grants in Connally and La Vega, Waco, and Killeen ISDs. These three Upward Bound grants have been awarded a continuation, providing $297,600 per year per grant for the next five years to aid Central Texas high school students.

Upward Bound students in Waco

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Upward Bound is an innovative program aimed at closing the gap and increasing the academic achievement levels of first-generation and economically disadvantaged students to succeed in high school, post-secondary education, and beyond.

“One of the most gratifying elements of this program is to have our Upward Bound alumni come back and work with our current participants as an ESC Region 12 Intermittent employee,” says Tammy Horner, ESC Region 12 Upward Bound project director. “Their presence in working as tutors, instructors and chaperones, while they continue on their own post-secondary education path is an encouragement to our students as they see that college can become a reality.”

Upward Bound supports participants in their preparation for college entrance and offers opportunities to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Projects offer academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages.

Upward Bound students from Connally & La Vega high schools

ESC Region 12’s Upward Bound program constitutes three separate grants as each contributes to helping high school students in different cities. One grant serves students at Connally and La Vega high schools. The second grant supports Waco and University high schools. The last grant is geared toward students at Killeen and Pathways high schools in Killeen ISD, and Richard Milburn Academy, a Killeen charter school.

The Upward Bound programs at ESC Region 12, which began in the fall of 2012, assist up to 60 students each year, per grant. Students are selected through an application and interview process, where report cards, transcripts, and teacher recommendations are evaluated. Once accepted into the Upward Bound program, rising ninth through eleventh-grade students are tracked through high school and six years beyond graduation to ensure completion of post-secondary education.

Since parent involvement is one of the driving factors behind overall student success, the participants’ parents also receive support during their child’s high school career and college application process. This aid and involvement includes informational meetings, financial aid and scholarship information and counseling, college requirement counseling, and financial planning.

Kick-off celebrations for each Upward Bound program is Sept. 24. Upward Bound Waco will meet at ESC Region 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Killeen will meet at Killeen High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upward Bound Connally and La Vega will meet at Connally High School, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

For more information on the Upward Bound program, please visit

Katie Johnson is graphic design & communications specialist with Education Service Center Region 12.