Social Work Professor Gaynor Yancey Honored as Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year

April 16, 2019
Gaynor Yancey Smith Professor of Year 2019

Gaynor I. Yancey, D.S.W., professor of social work, Master Teacher and director of the Center for Church and Community Impact at Baylor University's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, has been named the 2019 Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year. (Matthew Minard/Baylor University)

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WACO, Texas (April 16, 2019) – Gaynor I. Yancey, D.S.W., professor of social work, Master Teacher and director of the Center for Church and Community Impact at Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, was honored April 12 during the annual Academic Honors Convocation as the 2019 Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year.

Yancey also serves as Faculty Regent and as The Lake Family Endowed Chair in Congregational and Community Health, which allows her to teach and mentor students in both the School of Social Work and George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor. As this year’s professor of the year, Yancey received a $20,000 award and will present a lecture on a topic of her choosing during the next academic year.

The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year recognizes a Baylor faculty member who makes a superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor through:

  • Teaching, which is judged to be of the highest order of intellectual acumen and pedagogical effectiveness.
  • Research and creative activity, which is recognized as outstanding by the national and/or international as well as local community of scholars.
  • Service, which is regarded as exemplary in building the character of intellectual community at Baylor.

“While Dr. Yancey has amassed significant achievements in each of these categories, all of them have been directly and immediately focused on improving the lot of her fellow human beings,” said James Bennighof, Ph.D., vice provost for academic affairs and policy at Baylor. “Her extensive teaching, research and service have been aimed at equipping her students to contribute to others’ benefit in just the way that their teacher has been doing for her entire life.”

In her convocation remarks, Yancey thanked administrators, colleagues, staff, and most of all, the Baylor students “from whom I have learned so much” for their encouragement.

“I have listened carefully to the questions that students have raised about class material. I have listened carefully to the things of the heart that students have shared. I have listened carefully to what students have shared that they valued. I have been the receiver of deep loving care from students who practiced showing their care for me, as a person, and not just their teacher. I have listened carefully as students have asked me to share more stories. I have listened carefully, and watched the intensity, of students as I taught through lectures that have been full of concepts that have been challenging to grasp. In the end, I have learned that so many of our Baylor students absolutely love classroom lectures,” Yancey said. “This award really goes to our Baylor students. You have taught me well, and I am still continuing to learn from you.”

About Dr. Yancey

A 1967 graduate of East Texas Baptist University, Yancey earned a master’s degree in religion education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a master’s degree in social work from Temple University and her doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of expertise are social welfare policy, congregational and community-based organization and development, poverty and congregation-based delivery of social services to those populations who are marginalized and under-resourced.

Before coming to Baylor in 1999, she served as assistant professor of social work for five years at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and worked for more than 25 years as a congregational community ministries director in inner-city Philadelphia and for four years as the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Food Bank.

During her time at Baylor, Yancey has received more than $3.5 million in research and program grants with a focus on church and community collaboration on issues of social justice. She has co-authored a number of scholarly articles and has received a number of awards during her career, including the Marie Mathis Award for Outstanding Life Achievement in Lay Ministry from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baylor, the inaugural Clovis A. Brantley Award for Outstanding Service in Christian Social Ministries in the United States and Outstanding Teacher at Baylor in 2006.

Yancey leads Baylor’s Center for Church and Community Impact, which provides research and hands-on training to congregations, denominational agencies and religiously affiliated organizations that bridge the divide between church and community.

Yancey is a member of First Baptist Church of Woodway, where she serves as a Bible study teacher for adult women.

In her students’ words

During the award presentation, Bennighof read testimonials that students shared in letters about Yancey and her teaching:

  • “[She] creates an environment of empowerment in the classroom that propels students to assume new levels of leadership and understanding. As her students develop, she makes herself available beyond the classroom to walk alongside them.”
  • “She clearly states that she expects students to take responsibility for their learning and that they would play the greatest role in their education… I experienced how to navigate difficult and important conversations with other passionate students who passionately disagreed.”
  • “[She] is ruthless in her pursuit of social justice in communities, and she balances her identity as a social worker, educator and faith leader.”
  • “Just in writing this letter, I’ve remembered five or six other moments where she went out of her way to ensure that I had learned the hard lessons that would make me a better practitioner, or that she gave me a shoulder to cry on in my professional and personal struggles alike.”
  • “Every opportunity I have to talk with [her], I walk away with something profound that inevitably benefits my life. Whether it be through her own vulnerability or her ability to create space for the personal or professional quandaries of student life, I leave each conversation a better person because of her wisdom.”
  • “Educators don’t usually hear how their planted seeds grow and flourish, and I am hopeful that awards such as these remind and encourage current and future educators that it is a vital profession and is a unique view of Christ for all. And Dr. Yancey is, perhaps, the only time I’ll see Christ as a smiling, funny, caring Texas woman donning her favorite color of red and her constant attitude of hope for a world that needs it now more than, perhaps, ever before.”

About Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith

The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year honor was inaugurated 16 years ago by the Office of the Provost and is named for Cornelia Marschall Smith, Ph.D., a 1918 Baylor biology graduate who earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1925 and her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1928. She was a professor of biology at Baylor from 1940 to 1967, chair of the biology department from 1943 to 1967 and director of Strecker Museum from 1943 to 1967. She retired in 1967 but maintained an office in Armstrong Browning Library to assist charitable causes. In 1980, Baylor honored Smith with an endowed chair known as The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professorship in Biology. She was celebrated among her colleagues, students and alumni for fine teaching, generous mentoring and her many interdisciplinary interests. She was a lively and continuing contributor to the Baylor intellectual community until her death on Aug. 27, 1997, at age 101.

Past recipients of the award are D. Thomas Hanks (2004, English), Robert M. Baird (2005, Philosophy), Kevin Pinney (2006, Chemistry), Ann Rushing (2007, Biology), Wallace L. Daniel (2008, History), William D. Hillis (2009, Biology), Joyce Jones (2010, Music), Robert F. Darden (2011, Journalism), Roger E. Kirk (2012, Psychology and Neuroscience), William H. Bellinger Jr. (2013, Religion), Joseph A. McKinney (2014, Economics), David L. Jeffrey (2015, Great Texts); Johnny L. Henderson (2016, Mathematics), Alden Smith (2017, Classics) and C. Stephen Evans (2018, Philosophy and Humanities).

Nominations for the award come from all faculty, students and alumni, and the recipient of the award is chosen from among the nominees by a committee of four faculty members and Bennighof. This year’s committee included Julie K. DeGraffenreid, Ph.D., associate professor of history; Marcie H. Moehnke, Ph.D., senior lecturer of biology; H. Stephen Gardner, Ph.D., professor of economics and The Herman Brown Endowed Chair in Economics; and Jay Yoo, Ph.D., associate professor of family and consumer sciences.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 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 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.