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Making a Positive Difference
William Montgomery '92

The Glenn and Mallie Ireland Chair recognizes exemplary teaching and other significant contributions in support of the mission of the school. Honorees are selected annually through a nomination process, and appointments are for three years. Recipients receive an annual stipend and a medallion worn at graduation and other school ceremonies. Recipients retain the medal and the title of Ireland Chair for the remainder of their tenure at Baylor. Our current Ireland chairs are Floyd Celapino, Heather Ott, , Chris Watkins, Perry Key, Joli Anderson, Betsy Carmichael, Vic Oakes, Amy Cohen, Jean Lau, David Conwell, and Lorraine Stewart. Suffice it to say, that’s a pretty impressive bunch, and today we will add one more to their ranks.

I have the honor this year in presenting this honor to Dr. Dawn Richards.

This year, Dawn will serve witness to her sixteenth Baylor commencement. This year, serving witness, of course, may have to mean peering from the window of the lab on the second floor of Weeks. While Dawn’s work over these past few months to help Hamilton County operating for COVID-19 testing has been impressive to say the least, I think it’s important to note that Dawn’s and Dr. Elizabeth Forrester’s accomplishment was only possible because it was already standing on the shoulders of the profound giant that Dawn has been and the incredible foundation that she had laid in her nine years as chair of the science department, and it is for her work over those nine years, as well as the seven years at Baylor prior to them, that we honor her with this award.

In her 16 years at Baylor, Dawn has demonstrated that she is an educator of the highest caliber and has taught biology, Honors Biology, Honors Chemistry, AP Environmental Science, and helped out the department by teaching other subjects when there’s been a need. Most notable in her teaching is the number of students who’ve gone on to major in some field of science due to the influence she’s had on them.

If Baylor’s mission is to foster in its students the ability and the desire to make a positive difference in the world, Dawn not only models that ability and desire personally, she also inspires her students to do so every day.

Beyond teaching, Dawn demonstrates an insatiable curiosity for the workings of science in the world around her. In her time at Baylor, she has used two Global Study grants to stay at the forefront of developments in her field as an environmental scientist. She traveled to Norway (above right) because of that country’s focus and success in sustainability, and she most recently traveled to Italy for training in a new analysis technique that she’s passing along to students in her research classes.

Speaking of Baylor research, as one nominator put it, “Dawn has created, from scratch, a high school research program that is unrivaled by any high school in the country. Students are doing real research that has already resulted in recognition at regional and national science competitions. Talented teachers and inspired students are integral to the success of the program, but Dawn’s vision, leadership, tenacity, and organizational skills are what have made Baylor research successful. Putting the program together took hours and hours of planning and hard work, as well as a fair amount of confidence and audacity.”

Dawn not only planted Baylor research and grew it from a seedling, but she also built the labs for it, staffed it with two additional and amazing research scientists, drew in nearly 100 students annually to participate in it, built and hosted several iterations of the annual science and research symposium in Weeks, and is now helping to design an adjustment to Baylor’s science program that will infuse all levels of science with research components.

To put it succinctly, if Baylor’s mission is to foster in its students the ability and the desire to make a positive difference in the world, Dawn not only models that ability and desire personally, she also inspires her students to do so every day.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The above remarks were made by William Montgomery ’92, dean of faculty, while naming Dr. Dawn Richards the latest Glenn and Mallie Ireland Chair recipient at the final faculty meeting of the 2019-20 school year. The meeting was held via Zoom.)

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