New provost embraces year ahead

Every morning as she prepares to leave for her four-minute drive to campus, Dr. Melissa Baumann snaps a photo of her rescued Boxer, Schatz, to send to her daughter. Schatz is still adjusting to the sounds of life in the city, but Baumann seems to already have a firm grip on her new role as Xavier’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

The search for a new provost ended last spring after Baumann was selected to succeed Scott Chadwick who stepped down from the position in June 2016. She began officially June 15, 2017.

A native Ohioan, Baumann earned her Master’s and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and then went on to serve as a faculty member and administrator at universities including Michigan State and Auburn.

“(Learning) is like a balloon. You have regular balloons, but sometimes you have a balloon that’s actually more complicated. You just can’t tell right away because you haven’t blown enough air to fill out all of the nooks and crannies,” Baumann said.

“Sometimes what faculty does is help students push air into those nooks and crannies to become what they really could be. To me, that’s why you go to a university. It’s not the subject that you’re learning — it’s more important for us to teach people how to think and how to learn. And if we’re always doing that, then students will be prepared for anything.”

Now at Xavier, Baumann plans to use her experiences from the larger universities to ensure that students here receive the best academic experience.

“At any job, I think, you see what it can become,” Baumann said. “Here, I can take all of the things that I’ve learned from two other institutions to use here to figure out how do we blow up our balloon and get in all of the nooks and crannies?”

Baumann described the role of the provost as “encouraging and shepherding the academic mission of the university.” That role is actually a very large umbrella under which fall university entities ranging from student affairs to the academic colleges to rec sports and Title IX.

Although the job may seem like a lot to take on, Baumann’s sturdy background in problem solving via three degrees in the challenging field of engineering has left her up for the challenge.

“I still have my hard hat and steel-toed boots,” she said.

Baumann sees the various entities and people under the provost’s umbrella as different facets of the same goal.

“It’s all related,” Baumann said. “Giving students a good experience in the classroom helps retain them, but you also need students to have a good life outside of the classroom. So that’s where housing or the Center for Faith and Justice would come in. Part of (the job) is getting people to see that this is a holistic experience for (students).”

After leaving larger universities, Baumann is ready to embrace life at Xavier and get to know what students love about the university.

“My short-term goals are really to learn about the people and the culture of Xavier. So far, the students that I have been able to meet all love this university. There’s a Xavier Kool-Aid and every- body’s drinking it, but it’s really good. There’s a heart and spirit to this place.”

Unpacking the university’s mission and seeing how it is reflected in everything that is done on campus is also a priority, as evidenced by the copy of the mission statement she keeps next to her computer.

“Long term, it’s always about creating the best academic experience for students. End of Story.”

By: Jessica Griggs ~Editor-in-Chief~