Seeds of Faith

July 1, 2021

Sandeep Mazumder brings passions for God and learning into his new role as Hankamer dean

By Justin Walker

Learning has always been important to Sandeep Mazumder. Whether experiencing different cultures, finding a passion for economics, or building a relationship with God, Mazumder enjoys unearthing new information and sharing it with others.

Mazumder was born in London in 1982. His parents had moved to England from India to serve as medical doctors but raised him and his older brother with Indian heritage. The family would spend summers in India visiting extended family.

"I was used to traveling a lot when I was young," Mazumder said. "That was a big feature of our lives."

The English Premier League was another prominent feature in his childhood. Growing up just miles away from White Hart Lane, the former home to Tottenham Hotspur F.C., Mazumder backed the club for as long as he can remember, attending his first game with his father in 1989.

Initially being from India, Mazumder's family were raised as Hindus. They attended the major yearly events, he said, but it was never an active part of their everyday life. Even at the age of five, Mazumder had doubts about Hinduism, especially the concept of multiple gods and deities.

"I remember—even from a very young age—thinking through what that meant for me and what that meant for the world," Mazumder said. "I just never believed it, to be honest. That was something that just did not reconcile with my thinking and it would confuse me a lot."

As Mazumder began his education, his parents enrolled him at a Church of England school, where he was introduced to the Christian faith for the first time. He learned the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, which he now believes planted seeds that would one day bloom.

At 15-years-old, Mazumder's brother began pursuing an economics degree from the London School of Economics. This sparked an interest in the subject in the younger brother.

"I was 15 and I knew I wanted to do economics," he said. "That is a funny thing to say, but I took it at school and fell in love with it. I made the decision then that I just wanted to do this as long as possible."

Mazumder's studies would lead him to the University of Cambridge. It was a fantastic experience for him, he said, featuring opportunities to learn from Nobel Prize winners and create lifelong friendships. In 2003, Mazumder earned a bachelor's degree in Economics, but a desire to further his education was just beginning.

His next goal was to earn a PhD in Economics, but from where? This problem led Mazumder to a decision he never thought he would make.

Leaving London.

"I had always planned on staying there for my whole life," he said. "I just loved it that much that I didn't even want to leave. That was my hometown."

But an opportunity too good to pass up awaited Mazumder across the pond. In 2004, he packed up and left for Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University.

The move from England to the United States didn't seem like a significant shift on paper for Mazumder. After all, he was used to traveling and learning about other cultures. How different could the Americans be?

"I think it did come as a shock in some sense and it was more of an adjustment than maybe I expected it to be," he said. "London is a huge metropolis, one of the biggest cities in the world. When I went to Baltimore, I remember at first thinking, 'This isn't really a city. It's more of a small town.'"

Over time though, Mazumder came to love Baltimore and his cohort at Johns Hopkins. It was a diverse group of students from all over the world. The group bonded over their shared challenges and helped one another transition into a community of their own.

Being busy with academics helped pass the time as well. As Mazumder tried to narrow down a research topic for his dissertation, he traveled back to London for a visit with a stack of economics papers to read over and generate ideas. He returned to his advisor with a list of 50 research topics, ranked in order of most interesting in Mazumder's eyes.

The idea his advisor thought was most interesting?

"I laugh about that to this day because it was literally number 50 on my list," he said.

There is a model in macroeconomics called the New Keynesian Phillips Curve, which reflects inflation behaviors, Mazumder said. It is an elegant model, but Mazumder noticed significant issues in it at the time.

"There were some serious problems in the way we were using data to estimate this model," he said. "My dissertation was about that. How do we do a better job of monitoring the data and come up with real-world implications and policy ideas from it."

While the internet had been around since 1983, its use as a tool in research was just starting to take strides in academia. Mazumder benefited from the internet from a research standpoint, but it also impacted his life in unexpected ways.

In 2006, a friend suggested he and Mazumder create online dating profiles, partially as a joke.

"We thought, 'Let's just try to do this for fun,'" Mazumder said.

He matched with one person—a woman named Gretchen. They were in towns 40 miles apart, which Mazumder believes would have prevented them from ever meeting without the internet. They began talking, which progressed to dating not long after.

Soon, several significant life events occurred that accelerated the relationship, Mazumder said. Just after they had first met, he was involved in a bad car accident. It left him with a broken ankle and a few other injuries, but he also knew it could have been a lot worse.

A few weeks later, Gretchen's father—who had been battling late-stage cancer—passed away. The pair had only been dating for a short time yet had already experienced so much together.

"We had these two, big, life-altering events happen early on in our relationship," Mazumder said. "I think that brought us close together early on."

One thing that Mazumder recognized in Gretchen was her deep Christian faith. She grew up in a Christian home in Pennsylvania and church was an essential and meaningful part of her life. As their relationship progressed, he knew he needed to start attending church with her and understanding what her faith looked like and what it meant for both of them.

Gretchen took him to her home church one Sunday and Mazumder was impressed. The pastor, William Read, was academic in his sermon delivery, which fascinated the scholar in Mazumder.

"I became very interested in this pastor, and after attending church for a few months, I become more and more interested in the content as well," he said.

With a desire to know and understand the Lord's word, Mazumder began to read the Bible independently. As he read, he was deeply impacted by a passage in Jonah, but not the one most would expect. It is the story of the vine God sends to protect Jonah from the heat as he is about to talk to the Ninevites. After the vine died, Jonah began to grumble to God, but God responded that the way Jonah cared for the vine, God cared about the Ninevites more.

"Growing up in Hinduism, where God was this impersonal deity, that made me realize that God is a personal deity," Mazumder said. "He cares about us individually and collectively, and we can know Him. He's there to be known. That changed my thinking about our relationship with God."

Mazumder's faith continued to grow. He was eventually baptized by Pastor Read, who would then go on to officiate his and Gretchen's wedding in 2009.

That was a busy year for Mazumder. Within the calendar year, he was married, graduated with his PhD from Johns Hopkins and hired as an assistant professor of Economics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Looking back on his life, he didn't expect to be working in academia or living full-time in the U.S., but God had different plans for him.

"I never really set out to want to be a professor. That wasn't a goal I had in my life early on," he said. "Rather it was, I wanted to do economics. I just wanted to do economics as much as possible and study it and research it. Teaching it became a natural outflow of that love for economics."

While at Wake Forest, Mazumder enjoyed working with students and leading them through core economic principles. He also began to rise in both title and roles within his department. In 2015, he became an associate professor. A year later, he became associate chair for the Department of Economics.

Mazumder was elevated to the department chair in 2017, and two years later, he was voted Chair of Chairs for his college. In this role, he worked closely with the dean and served as a representative for the faculty members and departments.

"I learned a lot about how the university works, what some of the issues that we deal with are and what some of the things we need to think about are," he said. "That gave me this thirst and desire to do more leadership going forward."

As Mazumder's interest in leadership continued to grow, he became aware of an opportunity in Texas. The Hankamer School of Business at Baylor University was searching for a new dean, so he put his hat in the ring.

"Reading about Baylor's mission, the Christian faith and the fantastic work that has happened here got me very excited about this opportunity," he said.

He also recognized the excellent foundation laid by the outgoing dean, Terry Maness. Hankamer was in a great position with a tradition of success. If God was leading Mazumder to be dean, Baylor was a great place to be.

On April 1, 2021, Baylor and the Hankamer School of Business announced Mazumder as the incoming dean. Almost immediately, he began visualizing how to further the School.

"It is a really good time for us to sit down and start to dream," he said. "Where do we want to see the Hankamer School of Business going? How do we enhance the scholarship and research our faculty and students are doing? How do we add to the amazing work that is already going on here and how do we think about further plans to promote that?"

Mazumder is excited to join the Baylor family and experience what Waco has to offer. He looks forward to attending Baylor sporting events, especially the football and men's and women's basketball games. He has already had more success as a Baylor fan—with the men winning the basketball national championship just days after he accepted the dean's position—than he has in more than 30 years with Tottenham Hotspur.

While his free time is less these days, Mazumder still enjoys running, fishing and cooking when the opportunity arises. He especially appreciates teaching his children—Olivia, 9, Gabriel, 7, and Ethan, 4—about proper kitchen etiquette, which he believes involves jazz music in the background.

Mazumder wants his children to experience the same traveling childhood he had, learning about new cultures and foods. He understands the value of an education and knows it doesn't always have to occur within the four walls of a classroom.

Just as he guides his children through educational experiences, he hopes to expand the way students in Hankamer learn as well. But no matter the lesson, he hopes for students to remember their purpose within God's plan.

"I think it is okay to have big ideas and dreams in our life. It is a good thing. We should want to think about long-term vision and dreams and where we are going. But it is important to be faithful in whatever it is we have been given," he said. "What I'm saying is, be a good brother. Be a good sister, a good son or daughter. Be a good neighbor. Be patient and be kind and just be faithful with the things that we do in the habits we form and the relationships we have."