Bob Baumann retires after five decades with UMSL Global
As high school graduation approached, Bob Baumann didn’t know if he would be able to attend college.
His father had lost his job and enrolling didn’t seem financially feasible. However, the University of Missouri–St. Louis had just opened near him in Overland, Missouri. The new school offered comparatively affordable tuition, and Baumann could live at home.
“I think my first semester cost $165 for the fees and tuition,” Baumann recalled. “Plus books, we figured it was going to cost about $400 for the year. We weren’t too sure we could afford that. Then I got a great little Curators’ Scholarship, and we said ‘OK, we’ll give it a try.’”
Baumann came to UMSL in 1965 as part of the university’s first significant freshman class, and he never really left.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, Baumann stayed on campus as a temporary research assistant at the Center for International Studies, now UMSL Global. That position turned into a 45-year career with the department, where he rose to assistant director and opened new worlds to students.
He retired from the institution he helped build at the end of the school year, leaving behind a legacy of learning and cross-cultural cooperation.
Baumann had a natural aptitude for math as a student, but it was political science – international relations in particular – that excited him.
“I was a creature of the times,” he said. “Our concern about the war in Vietnam was foremost in our minds, especially all of us who were male and of draft age.”
It was partly the politics of the era that informed his academic interests, but he was also fascinated by cultures to which he previously had little exposure. A history class on East Asian studies during freshman year cemented his major.
“I hadn’t been taught anything really about East Asia in high school,” Baumann said. “It was just a whole new thing to me, and it got me interested.”
While working as a research assistant after graduation, Baumann took part in several research projects focused on international conflicts in the post-World War II era.
“This led to a database we built on overt military intervention in the post-war era,” he said. “That database is still being used by some researchers today.”
Eventually, the temporary position with UMSL Global became permanent, and Baumann moved away from research and started working on administrative issues such as grant proposals and budgets. He also began overseeing certificate programs in international studies and study abroad opportunities.
UMSL’s offerings at the time pale in comparison to the options students have today.
“Before we had a full-time or even part-time study abroad advisor, I was the contact person for students who came in and asked questions about study abroad,” Baumann said. “We didn’t have any of our own programs at that time. So I would help direct students to programs sponsored by other places that UMSL would accept credits from.”
During Blanche Touhill’s tenure as chancellor in the ’90s, the director of UMSL Global convinced her that the university should invest in its own study abroad programming. At first, there was only funding to hire a graduate student as a part-time study abroad advisor, but as the department developed relationships with exchange programs, a full-time advisor was hired.
Now, UMSL Global offers about 20 faculty-led short-term programs and a number of semester-long programs in locations across the globe such as China, France, Guatemala, Japan, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.
Working to make sure students – many of whom had never been out of the country or been on an airplane – were able to reach those places was one of the most rewarding parts of the job for Baumann.
“In most cases, when they come back, they have acquired a travel bug,” Baumann said. “They’re more interested than they ever could’ve imagined, meeting people from other places. It’s fantastic to see that development in people.”
Baumann said study abroad also helps students learn to become more independent. He recalled one student who wasn’t so worried about a transatlantic flight but something seemingly much simpler: laundry.
“She went to a program in London because she didn’t feel fluent enough in any foreign language,” he said. “She was kind of nervous at the last minute, and when I asked her about it, she said, ‘I don’t even wash my clothes. I don’t know how to do that. My mom still does that. I just put them in the basement, and then they’re back in my room.’
“Of course, when she wrote me from London, the first thing she said was, ‘Well, I didn’t really pass the test because I washed some red things with the other things, and now I have all pink clothes.’”
In addition to his support and guidance, the Bob Baumann Prize for International Studies has helped students get where they want to go. The scholarship awards $2,000 to students working toward a certificate in international studies or participating in a study abroad program, and preference is given to African American students.
Another gratifying project was an exchange program with countries of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Baumann wrote the proposals for the program, working with the U.S. government and other funders to make it possible. UMSL hosted nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students over the course of 15 years after the Berlin Wall fell.
“Here I am, a guy from North County, and it never occurred to me that I would ever meet people from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia,” he said. “I now have friends in all those places. That’s probably the most rewarding thing, personally, to see the students who just made tremendous progress in their studies coming to UMSL and how they changed in their year or two here.”
Baumann is retired, but he still expects to “go back and do some stuff with UMSL” to support international studies when he can, and of course, the scholarship bearing his name will still be offered.
It seems he’ll never truly leave UMSL. There are too many students ready to expand their horizons.
“It’s very valuable to see things from other vantage points, other eyes and learn from other people,” Baumann said. “It makes you rethink some of the things you’ve taken for granted or never challenged in your own mind before about the way you live and the things that you do. I think UMSL Global is committed to the idea that that’s really important for a lot of people and trying to give more students that experience.”
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