Q&A with Dean Jason R. Carter

September 6, 2022
Jason Carter

From Kingdom building to sleeping horses to cheering on the Baylor Bears, get to know Jason R. Carter, PhD, new Dean of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor University, in this Q&A.

"I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life career building, and I looked at Baylor and thought, what a great opportunity to Kingdom build—and to do it in a way that still fits with my background and my experiences." —Jason Carter

Tell us a little about what brought you to Baylor University and the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

The number one thing that first attracted me to Baylor was its unique mission. You can count on one hand the number of Christian universities that aspire for excellence in both research and teaching. That Christian R1 mission was what initially caught my eye, but what really closed the deal was my visit to campus—the energy, the excitement, the faculty, the alignment with upper administration, and President Livingstone’s leadership. There are so many great things happening for Baylor, all underpinned by that foundational Christian mission combined with a commitment to be an outstanding place for discovery-based research and learning.

Also, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life career building, and I looked at Baylor and thought, what a great opportunity to Kingdom build—and to do it in a way that still fits with my background and my experiences. When I hear President Livingstone say “the world needs a Baylor”–I’m in 100% agreement!

What are some of your “big picture” priorities as you get started in your new role?

One of the things that I want to do at Robbins is to think big. I want to work with the faculty, staff, and students to reflect on what it means for the Robbins College now that Baylor has obtained this Carnegie R1 designation, and where we’re going to be five years from now.

As we start to formulate these big plans as a College, I’ll be asking, “How can we support the faculty and students in this desire to be excellent in research?” Excellence in research is something that takes time. It takes persistence. It takes infrastructure. So, I’m going to be focused on listening and learning, and talking to our faculty and students who do that research—trying to figure out how the Robbins College can provide them with a stronger platform to be successful and to make an impact with their scholarship.

That’s one priority. Another thing I’m really interested in is building community. I want to learn more about the programs in Robbins College. I also want to learn about other areas within Baylor and our neighboring institutions. I’m a big believer in collaboration and partnerships. If there’s one thing that my path has had, it’s a lot of partnerships with other schools, colleges, and institutions outside of universities. That’s where the magic occurs. I’m looking forward to exploring those opportunities when and where they make sense to really elevate the level of educational experiences and scholarship within Robbins.

Not only are you a seasoned administrator with a track-record of supporting and advancing research initiatives, but you are also an avid researcher yourself. Tell us more about your work and area of expertise.

I study sleep and sleep disorders and the impact of that on our cardiovascular health. I’ve studied that for many years, and I’ve really become fascinated with it. My roots are actually in exercise physiology. I started to make a pivot when we were studying the impact of strength training on blood pressure, and I realized that there was a real shortage of research looking at the impact of sleep and what sleep does to athletic performance. As we started to go down that road, I realized that there’s really a lot we don’t know about sleep. We sleep approximately one third of our lives as humans, and we still don’t completely understand why. We have species of animals like horses and elephants that sleep 3-4 hours a night and lions that sleep up to 20 hours a night, and we don’t understand it! For me, it was one of these mysteries that God has for us to try and understand a little bit better.

I think organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine have done a great job helping the public understand that exercise and physical activity are great for you. I think we all understand the importance of nutrition and diet. But I think sleep has been that one pillar of health that most people tend to dismiss or compromise, and we really shouldn’t because it has such a dramatic impact. It’s so interconnected with the way we eat, the way we exercise, and our mental health.

That’s what I love about it and why I continue to carve out time stay active in the field.

Programs related to health, wellness, and human flourishing remain a central focus of the Robbins College. Thinking back on your desire to “Kingdom build” and the Baylor mission, how do you think the University’s Christian perspective impacts or integrates with a college of health and human sciences?

That’s what I love about the Christian foundation at Baylor and Robbins College’s mission of health and human flourishing. They go together so well. Jesus Christ was a perfect example of how we need to love our neighbor. He was always helping and healing the disparate and those with burdens. When we look at what we’re dealing with today regarding health disparities—rural health disparities, racial and ethnic health disparities, individuals with disabilities —this is something as Christians that we’re called to address.

The way that Jesus talked to us about caring for others is such a great model for how Robbins can be unique, how Robbins can carve out a niche in this area—this space of health and health professions—to do our work with a compassionate and genuine heart. There are so many research and scholarly questions that we can ask from that perspective.

Especially as we look at research, I want our faculty to realize that it is about much more than the expenditures. The awards and expenditures are a result of the impactful research being done. If we focus our attention on studying societal health issues and problems that plague every human, we’re helping other people and making an impact. Then, the funding agencies will want to fund more of that research. My goal is to put impact first, and then the other things that we need to sustain it will fall into place.

Outside of research and your work as dean, what are you looking forward to as you join the Baylor community?

My family and I are so excited for all of the Baylor athletics and arts events that we’re going to get to see. I played college basketball so I have a sweet spot for basketball, but I really can’t wait to cheer on all of the sports. And even though I wouldn’t classify myself as musically talented, I love listening to music, and I can’t wait to take in some of the great performances that are offered. I’ve heard that the Baylor Orchestra is absolutely mind-blowing. We’re really looking forward to immersing ourselves in the Baylor lifestyle as a family and seeking out those opportunities to be part of the Baylor Family and Waco community.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?

I’d like people to know that my family and I are super excited to be here in Waco and to be a part of this amazing university. We look at life as a journey and full of different chapters, and we’re so grateful that God has laid out this next chapter for us.

Texas is going to be a big adjustment for us. One thing I can tell you already in just the first few weeks is that there are a lot of really warm and welcoming people here in Central Texas. Our family is wanting to get very engaged with the community and to know people, so if you see me around, I’m very approachable. I hope to lead the Robbins College with an authenticity that people will see and want to be a part of. That’s what I’d like people to know about me.

Dean Carter was appointed Dean of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences in August 2022. Prior to his appointment, he served as the Vice President for Research, Economic Development, and Graduate Education at Montana State University. Read Dean Carter’s full biography here.