Kathy Hillman is in her 45th academic year serving Baylor University, where she is associate professor and director of Baptist collections and library advancement, and director of the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society. Hillman was the 2014-2015 president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She is a member of First Baptist Church in Waco.
From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on Christian higher education. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
I taught two years in my hometown—one year of high school English and junior high and high school speech, and the other as school librarian teaching junior high and high school speech. I also coached UIL events and directed the one-act play my second year.
I worked in the Baylor Athletic Department as a student. During summers, I served as a BGCT Invincible Summer Missionary and as a counselor at Camp Waldemar for Girls, where I edited the camp newspaper and taught archery.
Where did you grow up?
How did you come to faith in Christ?
My first “outing” at age 2 weeks was to a Woman’s Missionary Union Circle meeting in Marfa. Growing up in Sunday School, Training Union, Sunbeams (now Mission Friends), Girls Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) and at Paisano Baptist Encampment, I knew a myriad of Bible stories and about God and Jesus.
When I was 10, I realized my parents’ commitment to Christ could not cover me, I needed to know God and that faith in Christ had to be my own decision—not one that came with birth into a Christian family or attending church. So, I made that choice to put my personal trust in Christ and be baptized.
As an adult, I recommitted myself to God and asked him to lead and guide me day by day.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, from Baylor with a major in communications and minor equivalents in English and journalism. I obtained a teaching certificate the following semester in secondary English and speech.
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I received a Master of Library Science degree from the University of North Texas and added all-levels library certification to my teaching certificate. Later to enhance my skills, I took 18 hours of post-graduate courses in business.
About higher education
Why do you feel called into your area of education?
As a girl, I felt called into full-time Christian service. At the time, the only way I thought God could accomplish that was through missions or as a minister’s wife. However, the Heavenly Father chose to call me to be a library faculty member at Baylor.
Librarianship offers a broad range of opportunities to impact the lives of students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and a host of others. At each step in my Baylor journey, God has allowed me to combine my position and profession with service in Baptist life.
How does being a Christian influence your work in education?
Being a Christian expands my work from a job or profession to a calling and adds breadth and depth to the responsibilities. The wonderful aspect of serving at a faith-based institution is the ability to talk naturally about God and church and to assure students of my prayers.
What is the impact of education on your family?
My parents met at Baylor; so, I guess you could say without education, I wouldn’t be here.
Education has impacted my family through five generations and has offered opportunities to serve and make a difference in our communities and in the lives of others.
My great grandmother Kate Ewing Robinson attended Baylor in Independence. When her physician husband died of appendicitis, leaving her a young widow, she supported her two children by teaching music lessons and opening a general store, eventually sending her son, my grandfather, to Baylor.
My grandmother Corinne Richmond Robinson graduated from Howard Payne University and spent almost 50 years teaching elementary school—in several cases, three or four generations in a family.
Through the years, people in my hometown shared with me stories of Candy Mama’s and Ma’s kindness and generosity. Because of their education, God gave them those opportunities.
This has continued through my husband, whom I met at Baylor, and our children—Marshall, Michael and Holly—who all earned Baylor or Howard Payne degrees.
What is your favorite aspect of education? Why?
I love watching young women and men stretch themselves academically, socially, spiritually, and in leadership as they gain the knowledge and confidence to test and practice what they’ve learned.
What one aspect of education gives you the greatest joy?
Having been in education for so many years, I find great joy in the ripple effect.
More than 25 years ago, I served on several Woman’s Missionary Union/BGCT Mary Hill Davis scholarship selection committees. Anytime I participated in interviews for students headed to Baylor, I offered my contact information and assistance once they arrived on campus.
One student and I talked multiple times, and I pointed her toward a student job. She graduated four years later and has become a successful business professional.
Not long ago, I was walking on campus when I heard someone call out in what sounded like a question, “Mrs. Hillman?” We became reacquainted as she introduced me to her daughter, a current Baylor student. Now, I have the wonderful privilege of serving as one of her daughter’s student organization advisors.
What one thing do you wish every student had the opportunity to do?
I would love to see every student travel or study internationally to build relationships, to develop a broader understanding of people unlike themselves, and to expand their worldview. God helped shape me through a trip to the Baptist World Youth Conference in Bern, Switzerland, and a Baylor Choir tour to Israel and Greece one Christmas break.
What one aspect of education would you like to change?
High cost: I wish every student could fulfill his or her college and career dreams regardless of finances. For example, I’ve recently learned a large number of lower-income students are not doing well academically, because they don’t have funds to purchase textbooks and buy food.
How has your place in education or your perspective on education changed?
Technology has totally changed libraries. Processing, purchasing and making materials accessible looks completely different than they did when I began at Baylor. More information is available faster both inside and outside of libraries. Traditional tasks take less time, but new tasks such as interpreting and evaluating information, discovering primary sources and digitizing materials take their place.
I’ve often been asked how I could work at the same job for so long. The answer is quite simple: With the way education and libraries continually change, I essentially get a new job every five to seven years. And every time, my perspective changes.
How do you expect education to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
The pandemic has put a spotlight on what already were challenges in education. Accountability, affordability and financial pressures likely will lead to the closing of some institutions and a shift to more technical and job-related training and community colleges.
For those remaining, I expect to see additional consolidation, cooperation and partnerships across all levels to maximize impact and minimize cost and duplication. That includes making technology and access to learning available to students regardless of where they live or their family income.
With the world changing so rapidly, schools and colleges also will need to provide opportunities for re-education for jobs and careers we can’t even imagine today.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing education.
• Affordability—escalating costs, proliferation of high-dollar athletics programs at all levels, aging infrastructure, student and teacher debt, food and housing insecurity, etc.
• Student success—mental health and wellness, career counseling and placement, ability of students to find meaningful jobs related to their educational achievement, readiness for employment, food and housing insecurity, etc.
• Technology—access to hardware, software and broadband internet connectivity, especially in rural areas; changing educational delivery, personal disconnectivity, ethics, assessment of information, etc.
What do you wish more people knew about education?
There are no simple solutions to educational issues at all levels, and a career in education isn’t easy, but if it’s a calling, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. As a former public school teacher, I especially admire elementary and secondary school educators.
Why are you Baptist?
I grew up Baptist as part of the last “Training Union Generation” where we learned what Baptists believed and I still believe.
One summer at Paisano Baptist Encampment, the youth participated in an informational study of what other denominations believed—looking at six denominations in six hour-long sessions. That comparison did it.
Being part of the WMU age-level organizations and understanding the value of missions, the cooperative program and partnerships helped me make the decision to remain a Baptist as an adult.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
• Politicization, polarization and the rise of Christian nationalism.
• Place and role of women in the local church and in the denomination.
• Social and racial issues.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
One of my favorite songs is “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” by Black gospel composer Doris Akers. Oh, how I wish we could sing those words honestly about the Baptist denomination at all levels.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
Outside my family, God blessed me with mentors who led me to do and be more than I could ever have asked or imagined.
Margaret Rountree and Dorothy Ratliff were two of my Sunbeam and GA leaders.
Margaret Rountree remained a mentor from my preschool years until she passed away, at which time her husband Bill took her place until he died at age 94. When I was elected president of Texas WMU, Bill gave me the biggest hug, and several times he “crashed” all-female WMU meetings to be there for me.
As a freshman in high school, Mrs. Ratliff encouraged me to teach Sunbeams at St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church—a responsibility that literally changed my life.
As a young mother, our children’s minister Joanne Cresson listened, supported and gently guided.
As an inexperienced missions leader, Gerry Dunkin, Wilma Reed, Ann Pitman and, later, Joy Fenner took me under their strong and nurturing wings.
At Baylor, I owe much to Jean Tolbert and now 100-year-old Sue Margaret Hughes who believed in me and told me and showed me appropriate paths and listened and encouraged when things became difficult.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?
I wish I had been prepared for being the only woman in the room and known how frequently that would happen.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
When I was in elementary school and junior high, I read almost every young adult book in the Eldorado Public Library and still love Nancy Drew.
One of my favorites is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott because of the strong but varied female characters.
Giant by Edna Ferber and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee both influenced me growing up.
As a college freshmen, a required novel was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward. Little did I know that years later I would direct a center that prominently displays Solzhenitsyn’s photograph.
Today, I find inspiration from Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
For mysteries and fun, I listen to audible books by John Gresham, James Patterson, David Baldacci and Mary Higgins Clark.
Mary Brooke Oliphint Casad’s children’s series about Bluebonnet the Armadillo is also very special.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
My favorite Bible verses and passages have changed and evolved over time. Many of them, I memorized as a GA, like Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come,” and Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Before I speak publicly, and at other times as well, I pray Psalm 19:14.
In recent years, Hebrews 12:1-3 has become especially meaningful as I picture those who surround and encourage me, and also as I see myself as one of those in the great cloud of witnesses encouraging others.
Who is your favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus? Why?
That’s a tough one. I’ve always admired Esther’s strength, Ruth’s loyalty, Hannah’s prayer life, Deborah’s leadership, Jesus’ mother’s love, Mary’s devotion and Priscilla’s professionalism. However, I most identify with Martha—sometimes too busy, but also faithful and faith-filled.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.
I loved being a camp counselor, and for 29 years—I missed 2020 due to COVID—have volunteered organizing and distributing lost and found for term closings at Camp Stewart for Boys.
My husband says to tell you I can out-ride, out-swim and out-shoot him with a bow, but he wants a rematch with a rifle. I have the target, certified by an FBI Agent, to prove who won our one head-to-head riflery competition.