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Saluting Service - PhD alumnus honored for his academic career

Daniels School alumnus Beck Taylor (MS ’95, PhD ’97), president of Samford University and the 2024 recipient of the John S. Day Distinguished Alumni Academic Service Award, decided on higher education as a career destination while still an undergraduate.

“I chose to pursue a PhD in economics because I wanted a career in academia,” he says. “It was a seed of inspiration that I got doing my undergraduate work at Baylor University, where I fell in love with the discipline and had great mentoring from faculty members.”

Taylor found a similar welcoming environment at Purdue.

“As I was doing research about various graduate schools, I learned that Purdue’s economics program ranked highly,” he says. “I looked at some of the research and scholarship that Purdue faculty members were doing in economics, and thought it was intriguing. I also had the opportunity to speak on the phone with a faculty member about his research interests and how they might align with my own. I felt there was a good synergy.”

Beck Taylor and his wife Julie, who taught at Harrison High School, found a welcoming community in Greater Lafayette.

Family and finances also played a role in Taylor’s decision to attend Purdue.

“My wife Julie and I were newly married and we knew it might be important for us to be near some support systems. Her aunt and uncle lived in West Lafayette, so that was appealing,” he says. “And the school offered me a very generous assistantship and tuition stipend, which made it affordable as well. Julie was an educator and taught high school while I attended school at Purdue, so it was very important that I'd be supported financially.”

Outside of his collaboration and work with classmates and faculty members on research, Taylor particularly enjoyed going to Purdue basketball games with his wife. “Those were the days of Glenn Robinson, so we have some great memories,” he says. More memories came on the basketball court itself, where PhD students from the business school played against faculty members each week in morning pickup games. “That was a lot of fun. It was a way to connect outside of academia.”

As his time at Purdue came to a close, Taylor found no shortage of offers. “Universities were eager to hire me in part because of the quality education I received at Purdue’s business school,” he says. “The opportunities I had to do groundbreaking research with Purdue faculty members certainly contributed to that. I also think the opportunities I had to teach when I was a PhD student, beginning with recitation periods for undergraduates and ultimately teaching my own sections of undergraduate economics classes, really prepared me well for life as a faculty member.”

Beck Taylor had offers from numerous universities upon graduating from Purdue, where he earned a MS and PhD in economics.

Ultimately, Taylor chose to return to Baylor, where he joined the faculty of the Hankamer School of Business and was named the first holder of the W.H. Smith Professorship in Economics. He went on to become dean and professor of economics for Samford’s Brock School of Business, then served as president of Whitworth University for 11 years. He returned to Samford as president in 2021, helping secure a $100 million gift to support the university’s strategic plan.

Taylor says his Purdue education gave him a strong foundation to pursue, excel and succeed in a career in higher education. “My Purdue degree has helped me as an administrator and university president,” he says. “I'm the chief executive officer of a large, complex organization and having an economics degree is certainly a benefit as I lead my institution through decision making and strategic planning.

“As an administrator, my number one responsibility is to serve others by providing resources or removing constraints that allow people to succeed. For faculty, it's making sure they have all the resources they need to be great scholars and educators. For students, it's making sure they have great spaces to not only learn, but also live on a residential campus like we have at Samford.”

“I'm the chief executive officer of a large, complex organization and having an economics degree certainly helps me as I lead my institution through decision making and strategic planning.”

In his work with faculty and networking with employers and others that hire Samford graduates, Taylor’s job as president is that of a facilitator. “That's the job that I love most — equipping others for success and ensuring that I can use my influence as president to allow students and faculty members to pursue their dreams and aspirations,” he says.

After all, that’s precisely what Taylor’s Purdue degree has done for him.

“As life goes on and we get older and more distant, some relationships can fade a bit,” he says. “But what hasn't faded has been my deep appreciation for the investment that Purdue and the Daniels School of Business made in me, the opportunities they gave me to grow as a person and as an academic, my incredible faculty mentors, and the relationships I had among my peers.”